What Impact Will The Train Crash In Spain Have On The Rail Travel Industry?

CNN and other news networks have been airing dramatic clips of the train crash in Spain that killed 80 people on Wednesday over and over again this week. And if it weren’t for the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, the coverage might be even more intense. We’ll learn more about the cause of the crash in the weeks and months to come as the investigation unfolds, but based on what we know now, how will the crash impact the public’s perception of train travel safety?

According to press reports, the train driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, now reportedly in police custody, was driving twice as fast as he should have been on the section of track where the crash occurred. He posted messages on Facebook last year boasting about driving trains some 200 kilometers per hour and reportedly told rescue workers, ‘I’ve f***ed it up. I want to die.” All this points to the conclusion that this is a case of driver error rather than a structural issue with Spain’s high-speed trains. And statistics indicate that Spain’s rail safety record is better than the European average. But will these facts be enough to reassure nervous travelers?Train travel is my favorite mode of transport. For me, a day spent on a pleasant train ride is infinitely more pleasant than a day spent on an airplane or a bus. I’m traveling to Spain over the Labor Day weekend, and just as the crash transpired on Wednesday, I was actually looking into schedules and tickets for a planned train trip from Barcelona to San Sebastian. But I have to admit; watching the footage of the train crash scared the hell out of me and I have yet to buy the ticket, though I probably will.

There is a risk every time you attempt to go anywhere- by car, foot, boat, train, plane, or donkey. Crashes will happen but it’s somewhat rare to see such dramatic footage like this one. I think the crash will have only a short-term negative effect on the rail industry because most travelers are aware of the risks and the fact that all pilots and drivers can make mistakes.

But let’s hope that something positive comes from this disaster so that something like this never happens again. Spain has invested heavily in developing its high-speed train network, but now it needs to implement a system where drivers are being monitored more closely. Authorities can’t track every comment a driver makes on Facebook, but surely there is a way to flag drivers who have been guilty of driving too fast and removing them before they have a chance to cause harm.

What’s An Appropriate Penalty For Defacing The Lincoln Memorial?

The Lincoln Memorial was closed early Friday morning after police discovered that someone had splashed green paint on the iconic 19-foot tall statue shortly before 1:30 a.m. A National Park Service spokesperson said that there appeared to be no permanent damage to the statue. The memorial’s portico reopened this afternoon after the cleanup was complete.

Honest Abe is a beloved national hero. Historians consistently rank him as one of our best presidents, and the Lincoln Memorial holds an important place in American history as the site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. The online reaction to the brazen act of vandalism ranged from despair to anger to disbelief.”There’s not many things left in the country that could be considered sacrosanct..but this would have to have been one of the few,” wrote one Huffington Post reader. “Shame on whoever did this.”

CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin said on air that the defacement “made her furious.” Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill and Hillary, tweeted that it was “very upsetting” using the hashtag #Protectthemall.

“Unreal! What is happening to this country?” tweeted Shari Starkey. And @Trinaelephant tweeted, “Someone vandalized the Lincoln Memorial? Here’s an idea. You don’t like the country, then LEAVE.”

I used to live and work in Washington, D.C. and the Lincoln Memorial was one of my favorite places to take visitors or to visit alone, especially late at night when few tourists are around. Police say they are reviewing surveillance footage to determine who committed the crime and I pray that the perpetrator or perpetrators of this senseless act of vandalism are caught and given swift, harsh justice.

Vandalism is typically a crime that merits just a slap on the wrist, but I hope the perpetrators do some time. Perhaps a little time behind bars would give them an opportunity to brush up on their American history. What do you think is an appropriate punishment for defacing this cherished memorial?

Why Are Customs Lines So Long At U.S. Airports?

Delta CEO Richard Anderson made news on Wednesday when he vented about U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) alleged inability to quickly screen passengers coming off of international flights at major U.S. airports.

“I must say I think it’s an embarrassment for our government that as much as we as an industry pay into Customs And Border Patrol that we have issues at not just JFK but at Newark, at Chicago, at Los Angeles where we cannot seem to get our government to perform a very basic service,” he told Airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co, according to a story in the Dallas Morning News.

I don’t disagree with Anderson. In fact, I wrote a piece venting about the fact that I waited 90 minutes to clear customs in Houston in February. But as a former Foreign Service Officer who has interviewed thousands of foreign nationals applying for U.S. visas and once spent a day alongside a CBP officer working at JFK, I can offer a little more context as to why the lines are so long, other than the obvious fact that there aren’t enough CPB officers to control the crowds.Most U.S. airports have two lines: one for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (LPR’s or green card holders) and another for foreign nationals. Interviews with American citizens are nearly always perfunctory but screening LPR’s can take longer. Many Americans don’t realize that green card holders can lose their legal status if they remain outside the U.S. for more than a year unless they can prove extenuating circumstances.

Because we don’t typically stamp travelers on their way out of the country, it can be time consuming for CBP officers to verify how long legal residents were outside the country. Also, many LPR’s don’t speak English, which can slow down the screening process. If we want to speed up the screening process for Americans returning home, the easiest way to do so would be to have LPR’s use the line for foreign nationals. They would hate that solution but if they aren’t U.S. citizens, technically, they are foreign nationals.

Obviously it would be preferable to simply increase CBP staffing, but with government coffers stretched thin across the board, this option seems unlikely. Why are the lines to screen foreign nationals so long? In short, because CBP officers face a very difficult task.

They have just a couple minutes to try to ascertain if the individual standing before them intends to abide by U.S. laws or not. Often times, these travelers speak no English — and most officers can also speak a second language, usually Spanish, but travelers come to the U.S. from every corner of the globe. They have a tough, thankless job and some are better than others at being friendly and welcoming.

Politicians Will Do Just About Anything To Promote Tourism

Why would New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a 71-year-old with a net worth of at least $27 billion, agree to compete in a whitewater-rafting race against the governor of New York? Andrew Cuomo and Bloomberg haven’t always seen eye-to-eye but tourism promotion can make for strange bedfellows. The pair found themselves squaring off in six-man rafts in a race down the Indian River on Monday in an effort to boost tourism in New York state’s Adirondack region. Cuomo’s team smoked the New York City mayor and his crew by 18 seconds but the PR for the Adirondacks was unbeatable.

Bloomberg and Cuomo aren’t the first politicians to take part in a publicity stunt to promote tourism and they surely won’t be the last. President Obama took a swim in the Gulf of Mexico with daughter Sasha, then 9, in the wake of the BP oil spill in 2010 and got whipped by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in an arcade football game while on a post-Hurricane Sandy visit to the Jersey Shore designed to promote tourism in May. Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled all over the world to promote California as a tourist destination, even posing for hokey photos with clusters of grapes or with his mouth stuffed with oranges.

Other tourism promotion efforts haven’t been as successful. For example, in 2010, Virginia’s Governor, Bob McDonnell, had to apologize after declaring October “Confederate History Month” to promote tourism while failing to mention slavery in the proclamation.

Local and national tourism boards and private companies have also used peculiar promotions to boost destinations: South Korea is using pop star Psy of Gangnam style fame as an unofficial tourism ambassador, Chinese authorities had dozens of bikini clad beauties square off in a Gangnam style dance competition for the honor of promoting Chinese tourism, regional tourism boards in Australia have used “best job in the world” contests to promote tourism and the hotel chain Travelodge offered a free Christmas time stay to married couples named Mary and Joseph. By comparison, the brief race river race in the Adirondacks seems downright old school.

Tiny Spanish Village Hopes to Profit From Antiquities Thief

Should a town have the right to display looted antiquities stolen by one of its residents? According to an intriguing piece by Suzanne Daley in The New York Times this morning, the mayor of tiny Aranda de Moncayo, Spain, population 200, thinks they should. A 60-year-old village resident named Ricardo Granada unearthed some 4,000 antiquities using primitive implements, like a metal detector and a backhoe, from a 2,000 years old settlement called Aratikos near his home.

Granada was arrested in March after Spanish authorities were tipped off about two bronze helmets he tried to sell at an auction in Germany. The mayor of the village told The Times that she wanted to see a full archeological excavation of the site, followed by the construction of a small museum, which she believes would draw tourists to the village. It isn’t clear from the story whether the museum would display only newly unearthed antiquities or also the ones already plundered by Granada, but the story raises the murky ethical question of what type of artifacts museums should be allowed to exhibit.Scores of world-famous museums, including the British Museum, New York Museum of Metropolitan Art and Malibu’s J. Paul Getty Villa, have been ensnared in controversies surrounding the provenance of some of their antiquities. According to an estimate by the Archaeological Institute of America, published in a story on the Verge earlier this year, some 85-90 percent of “classical and certain other types of artifacts on the market do not have a documented provenance.”

But is there any difference between items plundered by an invading army or colonial power versus antiquities nabbed by a guy out wandering around after dark with a metal detector? It may not seem very fair for a village to profit from the fact that one of its residents was a thief, but I would visit this museum if it opened. I like to see treasures where they were actually unearthed rather than in a big city museum, far away from their origin. Would you have any ethical qualms about patronizing a museum exhibiting looted antiquities? What do you think Spanish authorities should do with the treasures Granada unearthed?