Sometimes politics is humorous even when the issues are serious. So it goes with the latest cheeky rejoinder Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert aimed at Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Boebert said that Buttigieg is “running this country’s rail system like a toddler playing with his first toy train set.” This comes after another train derailment took place in the northeast of the country.
The Latest Accident: Lauren Boebert Takes Aim
The train accident happened near Rockwood, Maine when a Canadian Pacific Railway train went off the tracks on April 15. No hazardous materials were involved, state rail safety officials said. There was a fire at the wreck location in Somerset County, but no-one from the public was harmed. Three employees were hurt, but they did not suffer life-threatening injuries and are expected to recover.
Three locomotive engines and six rail cars jumped the track. They were carrying wood and electrical wiring. The wreck caused a small forest fire that was extinguished by fire fighters.
The Federal Railway Administration tweeted that “Local responders have contained a fire in the area with no hazardous material released. FRA is monitoring the situation closely and will support local efforts as needed.”
Boebert has taken the transportation secretary to task for the devastating train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 23 that spewed toxic chemicals into the air and endangered citizens living in the area.
She told conservative news host Dan Bongino that “[Buttigieg] said he lost his train of thought, while Americans are losing many things under his leadership as the Secretary of Transportation, and I think he needs to watch more of Thomas the [Tank] Engine to really understand how our infrastructure works.”
Boebert appeared to reference the children’s television program “Thomas and Friends,” and again castigated Buttigieg for his difficulty in responding quickly to rail accidents.
In Buttigieg’s defense, rail mishaps have been numerous since before he took office. According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 54,529 train derailments in the United States from 1990 to 2021.
In the 24 hours after the Maine wreck, Buttigieg had not personally commented on the accident or tweeted anything related to it.
Republicans Want Him to Resign
GOP lawmakers have called for Buttigieg’s resignation after his slow response to the East Palestine accident, and for the difficulties in preventing thousands of airline flight cancellations in December. Buttigieg told the people living near the Ohio crash that “My focus is that our freight rail system gets better. And anyone who wants to take political advantage of this, I’m calling them to the table.”
Buttigieg has demanded improved safety efforts from the rail industry. Regulators will enact more rules to make sure derailments do not happen as often, he said. But he appears to be in reaction mode instead of working quickly to keep train wrecks to a minimum. “We also have to recognize that this represents an important moment to redouble our efforts to make this far less likely to happen again in the future,” he said.
Since Buttigieg is on the defense and retroactively explaining his department’s difficulties, he will continue to be fodder for the right’s criticism at his alleged inaction. More frequent news conferences, appearances, and speeches would help. Tweets from his other safety officials do not give the impression that he is on point and in control. He appears to allow state regulators to take leadership of the train derailment problem instead of federal officials. This gives the appearance that he is slow to react and unable to perform basic duties as a cabinet secretary.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said that President Joe Biden has confidence in Buttigieg, but such statements are often a sign of trouble for a political appointee. Buttigieg may want to increase his efforts to make sure that the public also believes he can lead as rail accidents are increasingly happening on his watch. No one wants to be compared to Thomas the Train.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.