Happening Now

Hotline #689

October 4, 1991

For the federal government, fiscal 1992 began October 1, but transportation programs technically remain unfunded, though there is a continuing resolution to fund programs at their 1991 levels through October 29.

House Public Works leaders are now struggling with how to allocate highway dollars by state, the same problem that threatened the Senate bill in June. House leaders hope to have a bill on the floor October 17-18. Preliminary information is that until a new authorization is law, transit is all right if 1992 appropriations are passed soon, but states will only get approval for highway projects where they have leftover apportionments as well as enough remaining obligational authority to draw down the money. There will be no flexible use of highway money during this presumably interim period. Total available highway money is $6.8 billion.

Probably to prod the House into action, Senator Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) said yesterday, "There is nothing in the constitution that requires there to be a federal highway program ... There are Senators who feel that the direction our transportation programs have taken in recent years has in fact done harm both to the nation's economy and its environment ... There are probably those in the highway lobby who think the Highway Trust Fund is safe. Think again. Already 2-1/2 cents per gallon is dedicated to deficit reduction. Why not the remaining 11-1/2 cents?"

House-Senate transportation appropriations conferees on October 2 set Amtrak operating funding at $331 million, with capital at $175 million, falling right between the House and Senate bills. Boston electrification got $150 million, compared with $194 million in the Senate bill and zero in the House bill. NECIP on-going projects get $55 million. Many thanks to all those who worked hard to get the conferees retain the Boston electrification project. It's expected that the Senate will pass the conference report after Columbus Day; House action could come then or as early as next week.

It appears that the conference approved language requiring random drug and alcohol testing for transit workers. The House had rejected alcohol testing in previous years, but the fatal August 28 New York subway wreck changed things, including this week the Bush Administration's own views, which now favor alcohol testing. It's still possible some House members may try to oppose the conference report because of the testing language.

One effect of the lapse of the surface transportation authorization is the expiration of the 65-mph speed limit on non-interstate highways that are built to interstate standards. Technically, 55 mph is once again the law of the land on all roads except interstates and until 65 mph is renewed with the surface transportation bill, states that don't go back to 55 mph risk losing highway money. New Hampshire and Oklahoma rushed to change their highway signs this week. Some other states, such as Wisconsin, said they had enough highway money and weren't going to bother changing signs because 65 mph will be reinstated in a few weeks anyway.

A Rio Grande freight train hit some large boulders early on September 30 near Pinecliffe, about 35 miles west of Denver, causing a fiery derailment that killed two crewmembers. The California Zephyr detoured through Wyoming part of the week.

Southern Pacific asked the California Transportation Commission to release funds to buy the commuter line between San Jose and San Francisco. After the Commission rejected an earlier purchase price of $242 million, SP lowered it to $224 million. SP said that if the issue isn't settled in three months, it will cut all passenger and freight service to San Francisco.

A very favorable article on the renaissance of commuter trains in the October 1 Wall Street Journal quoted NARP Vice President Gene Skoropowski.

Canadian National advertised in the Journal of Commerce this week that it wishes to sell its line between Truro and Sydney, N.S., to a short line operator. This line had VIA Rail passenger service until the January 1990 cuts.

But it also appears that VIA will be adding trains in its new timetable, effective October 27. A limited-stop round trip will be added between Ottawa and Toronto, oriented toward a fuller business day in Toronto than now possible. Another limited-stop round trip will be added between Montreal and Toronto. There is also talk of restoring service between Halifax and Sydney, on the CN line in Nova Scotia that is up for sale, but that won't happen this month.

One of Amtrak's veterans, western Director of Corporate Communications Art Lloyd, will retire November 1 after 20 years of service to Amtrak and almost 50 years in the rail industry. Lloyd works out of the Amtrak office in San Francisco. Fortunately for rail passengers, he intends to remain active in California passenger rail affairs.

An experimental Japanese maglev train was destroyed by fire yesterday, after an earlier test run in which it had run, unoccupied, at 320 mph. Three operators who were aboard when a rubber tire caught fire escaped unharmed. Officials said the cause of the fire was undetermined and that the fire would affect future testing.