Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: After the Crash

USA-TRAINS/Investigators say it likely will be weeks before they determine the cause of the deadly Washington subway crash.But the accident, which killed nine and wounded 75 during the Monday afternoon rush hour, has once again highlighted the need to update America’s aging infrastructure.Federal investigators warned Washington’s Metro system to replace or upgrade its older cars after a 2004 accident, but the transportation agency said it couldn’t afford to retire the 30-year-old cars for another decade.Now they’ve changed their tune.”I think it is urgent, and let’s do it as quickly as humanly possible,” Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said on ABC’s “Today Show.” “It’s not a small sum of money, but lives are more important than finances.”It will likely cost $1 billion to replace the 290 subway cars that have been in operation since Metro first opened in 1976.Metro has a hard enough time simply keeping the trains running as it must secure funding from three states — Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia — with all the legislative headaches that entails.Can the federal government help?Public concerns about government spending are on the rise after a $787 economic stimulus bill and pricey bailouts of banks and automakers.Congress aims to take up a $450 billion bill to finance long-term transportation spending this summer, but the Obama administration is urging an 18-month delay to allow legislators to focus on healthcare and climate change.Some in the House of Representatives worry that could delay needed upgrades.That’s not something nervous commuters want to hear.Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (Rescue workers at the scene of the June 22 crash in Washington)For more Reuters political news, click here.

D.C. diner adds Obama to list of famous patrons

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama made an impromptu foray into his new hometown on Saturday with a visit to D.C. landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl and threw health-consciousness to the wind: a chili half-smoke, and don’t hold the shredded cheese.USA-OBAMA/

“Where the food at?” Obama asked the staff as he walked through the restaurant accompanied by Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

The neighborhood diner in the city’s U Street district has served up food to the likes of Bill Cosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King, Jr. since it opened its doors in 1958.