Happening Now

Hotline #692

October 25, 1991

The House of Representatives approved H.R.3566, the revised surface transportation bill, late on October 23, 343-83.

House leadership tried to keep floor amendments to a minimum so as to reach a vote in one day. An important amendment by Henry Waxman (D.-Cal.) was incorporated into a larger amendment and requires metropolitan planning organizations to incorporate transportation improvement plans into their air quality plans. An amendment by Robert Walker (R.-Pa.) to eliminate the transportation intermodalism section of the bill was soundly defeated. During debate, Walker sharply criticized the Campaign for New Transportation Priorities, which is chaired by Harriet Parcells of NARP, for supporting intermodalism. Walker even suggested that intermodalism is a dirty word, accusing Public Works Chairman Roe (D.-N.J.) of having found it in a "Playboy dictionary" of blue terminology.

There is no schedule for a conference yet, but conferees may be appointed by October 30. It will probably include leaders of both Public Works committees and possibly House Energy and Commerce Chairman Dingell (D.-Mich.). Chairman Dingell may prove crucial to our number-one goal -- retaining the Senate bill's language including Amtrak and intercity rail in the flexible program. Senator Mitchell (D.-Me.) also may be included, so NARP members in Maine should ask him now to include Boston Central Artery rail link language. Conferees will have to be reminded of the things we liked in the Senate bill, which passed over four months ago. That includes the Amtrak language, the larger flexibility program, and the smaller highway program. NARP members should ask all Members of Congress, especially Senators, to urge the conferees to support these things.

H.R.2942, the 1992 DOT appropriations bill, is now at the White House waiting for the President's signature. He has until October 31 to sign it.

The Senate passed S.811, the High Speed Rail Transportation Act, on October 22, on a voice vote. It would direct the DOT to do a commercial feasibility study, presumably more detailed than the one they did for maglev last year. It would encourage domestic technology and set up a High-Speed Surface Transportation Office within the DOT. A similar bill, H.R.1087, was released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on October 23 and is notable for having an amendment by Rep. Al Swift (D.-Wash.) lowering the definition of "high-speed" fro 150 mph to 125 mph.

The Adirondack has gotten a short reprieve. In its on-going dispute with the New York State DOT over how 403(b) funding is accounted, Amtrak had threatened to suspend service November 1. Now, however, the two sides are set to meet in late November, so the Adirondack will run at least that long.

Amtrak has released figures to the Iowa DOT regarding the Chicago-Omaha 403(b) train service over the Chicago & North Western route, along with a proposed schedule, according to yesterday's Des Moines Register. Iowa officials were encouraged by the figures, which said a daily service could be had for $10.8 million in capital funds and a $1.8-million annual state subsidy. However, Amtrak is cautioning that those figures are only preliminary.

The Portland (Ore.) Landmarks Commission voted on October 23 to trim back one of the train sheds at Union Station to allow two tracks to be mainlined. Amtrak had threatened to move out without the mainlining, due to higher costs. The NARP board passed a resolution last week to keep Amtrak at Portland Union Station.

Amtrak service to Willimantic, Conn., on the Montrealer route, begins November 1.

Amtrak began a cellular phone trial on the Capitol Limited on September 23. This is not a public phone, but rather will be used by crew in emergencies, to report train status at unstaffed stations, report mechanical difficulties, shortages of food items, etc.

The Amtrak board met October 23. The revenue-to-cost ratio for 1991 was 79%, up from 77% in 1990. Those high figures result from a new way to measure cost recovery, since the burden of excess railroad retirement and unemployment costs was removed from Amtrak last year. Passenger-miles were 6.3 billion, an all-time high.

The best railroad on-time performance in September was Grand Trunk Western at 98%; the worst Southern Pacific's Alton Route at 31%. The best long-distance train was the Southwest Chief at an astonishing 92%; the worst the Pioneer at 20% -- which is still better than zero in August. The biggest August ridership increases were 75% on the Carolinian, 53% on the Hoosier State, 43% on Auto Train, 19% on the Broadway Limited and City of New Orleans, and 18% on the Atlantic City line. The biggest drop was 25% on the Clockers.

The California Transportation Commission approved the release of state funds for the purchase of the Southern Pacific branch between San Francisco and San Jose by the three counties it serves. SP had threatened to suspend commuter train operations if the CTC did not honor a $242 million purchase price agreed to by the SP and the counties last December.

The NARP Board of Directors met in Milwaukee last week. The keynote speakers were Wisconsin DOT Secretary Ron Fiedler, who discussed the 403(b) program, and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, who discussed plans for a light rail system.

President Bush has said he would nominate William Barr to be the next Attorney General. He is now the acting Attorney General and thus is in charge of the Justice Department. That ends widespread speculation that Secretary of Transportation Sam Skinner would be nominated. Skinner is also often talked about to head the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, but nothing is certain.

Last week, the American-European Express was rumored to be filing for bankruptcy. However, that has not happened. AEE says it does not plan to do so, but also says there is not any indication when luxury train service might resume.

There will be a formal dedication of the Amtrak facility at Cincinnati Union Terminal on November 2. The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers will meet there the same day at 10:00 am.