Happening Now

Hotline #695

November 15, 1991

After a series of delays, the experimental 900 number hotline will take effect with Hotline #697 of November 29. The new number is 900/998-RAIL (900/998-7245) [corrected November 18 and 22]. The first ten seconds are free so you can see if you have already heard a particular message. The first minute is $2.00 and each minute after that is $1.00. Hotline messages, which now run up to six minutes, will be cut back to four. After a trial period, members and callers will be informed if the experiment is to be extended.

The surface transportation conference began this week. On November 14, the Senators agreed to adopt the House strategy for a six-year, $151-billion program. That also includes the higher House level for transit, $32 billion. In return, House conferees appeared prepared to accept the basic structure of S.1204. Senators are calling for keeping their flexible program intact, meaning intercity passenger rail remains on the Senate list. For now, the House list of demands does not address program eligibility. Meetings will continue over the weekend. There are more House Energy and Commerce conferees than previously announced. The complete list is Dingell, Swift, Sikorski, Lent, and Ritter.

Under the leadership of Senator Nickles' (R.-Okla.) office, the entire Oklahoma delegation wrote the conference last week in support of the Senate bill language regarding Amtrak service in Oklahoma, Maine, and South Dakota.

Nothing is certain yet, because the House demands do not address Amtrak one way or the other. Phone calls are still appropriate, but letters to your legislators are still welcome, too, because it is looking less and less likely they will finish by Thanksgiving.

A warning to Amtrak Maple Leaf passengers -- the new timetable showing a connection to VIA Rail trains 70 and 79 between Burlington and Windsor, Ont., is incorrect. The error arises from the last-minute postponement of VIA schedules in October. Those trains and the Maple Leaf do not connect.

The California Transportation Commission approved on November 14 $20 million in capital from state rail bonds, clearing the final hurdle for start-up of the San Jose-Sacramento Capitol Corridor on December 12.

Final Amtrak ridership figures for fiscal 1991 are now available. Ridership was down slightly overall, by 0.7%, but still just over 22 million. Passenger-miles were up 3.6% to 6.3 billion, and passenger-miles per train-mile were up 0.7%, to 184.5. The biggest ridership losses were on the Northeast Corridor, which lost 300,000 passengers, or 2.7%.

The new first-class lounge in Washington Union Station opened to the public today. It is available to those with Metroliner Club, roomette, and bedroom tickets. The first-class lounge at Philadelphia may open in early January.

A high-speed rail study sponsored by the DOT and done by the Transportation Research Board was released November 16. The report said that maglev was still years away, but that current Japanese and French rail technology could be built today to relieve highway and airport congestion, using highway and air trust fund money. The report also said that tilt-rotor aircraft and intelligent vehicle systems are years away from use. It said that Amtrak's Northeast Corridor was a prime candidate for improvements, perhaps by selectively rebuilding it and putting on faster trains.

The New York City Transit Authority released a budget on November 12 that said that fares may increase from $1.15 to $1.40, effective January 1, based on a projected budget gap. The Transit Authority is looking for gap-closing revenues that may set the final fare at $1.25.

Also, massive service cutbacks on the Chicago Transit system, the topic of hearings over the past several weeks, are contemplated, including the closing of 23 rapid transit stations.

A recent Canadian wire story says that the Transport Ministry is studying adding a sixth daily VIA Rail frequency between Toronto and Montreal. VIA had wanted to add the train in October, but was stopped by the government. It would have been the first new train added since the 1990 cuts. Transport 200-Quebec President Guy Chartrand welcomed the study, but said it was unfortunate the new train would not be added before the holiday rush.

VIA has begun a new program to sell sleeping car space at reduced rates to coach passengers already on board the train. The new rates are not available in advance, but are meant to sell whatever unsold sleeper space there is after the train departs. As an example, the regular Eastern roomette rate is about $70, depending on the mileage, but on board is sold for $34, flat-rate. Passengers may not enter the sleeper space until 10:00 pm, and must be back in the coach by 8:00 am.