Happening Now

Hotline #690

October 11, 1991

The House approved the fiscal 1991 transportation appropriations conference bill, 374-49, on October 9. The Senate is expected to approve it on October 16.

The House Public Works Transportation Subcommittee yesterday released a new version of H.R.2950, the surface transportation bill. The full Committee will consider it on October 8, then it goes to Ways and Means for discussion of the gas-tax extension on October 9. The full House may vote on it on October 10, then it would go to conference to be reconciled with S.1204. That bill, passed by the Senate in June, is very different from the House bill. The new House version has trimmed the pork highway projects, but as far as Amtrak goes, the Senate bill is still a lot better.

We are finally coming down to the wire -- tell your Senators and Representative to support flexibility that includes passenger rail in the conference. Especially important are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, because it looks more and more like Chairman Dingell (D.-Mich.) will be a conferee and he has unique power to say whether Amtrak stays in the bill or not.

Amtrak has written to the State of New York about a dispute over 403(b) funding for the Adirondack. Amtrak has threatened to suspend the Adirondack on November 15 if something is not worked out. Amtrak claimed that New York did not return phone calls or letters going back to May and has not paid anything for the train since then. New York had complained last year that it should not be billed the higher cost of running turboliners on the route.

The Supreme Court agreed on October 7 to hear Amtrak's appeal against a lower court finding that Amtrak and the ICC acted improperly when the Montrealer route in Vermont was taken from Guilford in 1988. The case will be heard sometime this fall. TheJournal of Commerce editorialized that this case could create important precedent as 1996 approaches, this year in which Amtrak's operating agreements with the freight railroads expire.

The Illinois Central met with northern Mississippi communities on October 3. The communities are concerned about possible plans to abandon the route of the City of New Orleans between Memphis and Grenada. IC said the line is safe, but also said it was installing signals on its parallel Yazoo freight line. With signals on the Yazoo line, it would be harder for Amtrak to argue against future IC proposals to reroute the City of New Orleans.

American-European Express will migrate south for the winter on November 19. That's the day service will begin from New York and other Northeast Corridor points to Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. The Florida service will run twice weekly until March, when AEE reverts back to its White Sulphur Springs route.

Southern Pacific is still threatening to halt all passenger and freight traffic on its San Jose-San Francisco Peninsula route if an agreement cannot be reached on the line's purchase by the three counties it serves. The counties and the SP had long ago agreed on a price, but the state stepped in and said the price was too high. Now SP threatens to give 90-day notice for dropping the commuter trains and says the freight service to the Port of San Francisco is soon to follow, though it isn't clear if SP can drop freight service without lengthy hearings.

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit officials met in Philadelphia on October 1 to discuss extending NJT Atlantic City line commuter trains from Lindenwold into Philadelphia. If that were done, everyone would win -- Amtrak's operating ratio would increase because it loses so much money on the local trains it plans to drop this month, NJT's operating ratio would no doubt increase and south Jersey residents would have better service to Philadelphia and the Northeast Corridor. The only party not to embrace this idea yet is PATCO, which operates rapid transit service from Lindenwold to Camden and downtown Philadelphia. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers is trying to convince PATCO that downtown Philadelphia and 30th Street Station are two different markets and that PATCO ridership won't suffer if NJT service is extended.

One provision of last week's conference report on DOT appropriations is that Amtrak is now required to meet only 75%, rather than 80%, of its third-year Atlantic City line operating costs.

Washington Metro's ambitious "fast-track" plan to finish the rail system may already be derailed, according to this morning's Washington Post. General Manager David Gunn had proposed to finish the system by 2001, but his plan depended on increased support from local governments. However, partly because of the recession, that support will not be forthcoming anytime soon.

Britain has finally announced it will build a high-speed rail link to the Channel tunnel. However, Eurotunnel officials are still upset because Britain will not even begin construction until 2000 -- seven years after the opening of the tunnel. Rather than follow a previously planned, but controversial, alignment through London's affluent and conservative far-south suburbs, the projected rail link will reach London by way of Stratford, a suburb to the east of the capital. Britain's Conservative government still insists that the rail link be an all-private venture.

The Moscow Metro has entered into a private venture with an American company to use its 162 miles of subway lines as rights-of-way for a new fiber optics network beneath the Russian capital. Included is a plan to modernize the subway system's internal communications system.