Happening Now

Hotline #696

November 22, 1991

The experimental 900 number hotline will take effect one week from now, with Hotline #697 of November 29. The new number is 900/988-RAIL (900/988-7245). Please note that is slightly different from the number mistakenly announced last week. 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 made very little progress this week, making it impossible to finish by Thanksgiving. Right now, the question is whether Congress will come back after Thanksgiving. House Speaker Foley (D.-Wash.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitchell (D.-Me.) have said "no," but may decide to come back after all in December if it seems like a good idea, in terms of showing the country they care about domestic issues.

If they do come back, a bill should be passed by Christmas. If they don't come back, a short-term extension bill could be passed so that states can spend some highway money. It would have to be very short to please Senator Moynihan (D.-N.Y.), the author of S.1204, because he has opposed an extension for months. Also, the shorter the extension, the more likely the conference committee can pick up again after New Year's.

We are getting some reports that Senators Warner (R.-Va.) and McCain (R.-Ariz.) were pressuring for aviation to be included in the surface transportation bill, which would not be a good step. Also, it appears there are attempts to incorporate high-speed rail-bond tax-exemption matters into the bill -- that's fine, as long as the speed threshold is lowered to 125 mph to include Amtrak projects.

If you have not done so in the last week or so, call or write your delegation to urge the conferees to retain the positive Senate language on passenger rail, and Oklahoma and Maine service, and to make the Central Artery rail link eligible for funding. You can take advantage of the extra time we have if Congress meets in December.

Amtrak announced yesterday it had completed arrangements to import an X2000 train set from Sweden a year from now for testing and experimental revenue service on the Northeast Corridor. The trial set will be in a first-class configuration. A meeting in two weeks between Amtrak, ABB Traction, and Swedish State Railways will finalize the agreement. The X2000 is an electric tilt-train that is capable of 155 mph and can use existing track, making it cheaper to implement than maglevs or even the TGV. It will be able to take speed-restricted curves on the Northeast Corridor faster than Amfleet equipment.

A warning to all Northeast Corridor passengers -- a temporary Amtrak timetable is in effect from November 26 to December 1 to accommodate the Thanksgiving rush. As in previous years, some trains will run in multiple sections. Also be careful of black-out days for excursion fares.

A strike threat by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes against Amtrak and Conrail for this weekend was reported by the Journal of Commerce. However, a strike appears extremely unlikely because it would be illegal, because all parties are currently before the National Mediation Board. The maintenance of way union was not involved in the negotiations or strike last spring.

Officials of the New York State DOT and Amtrak met in Washington on November 20 to discuss the future of the Adirondack. There is no final, public outcome of the meeting yet, but it appeared that both sides were close to an agreement to keep the train, at least for the current New York fiscal year, which ends May 31.

Minnesota has a new transportation commissioner, to replace John Riley, who is now the governor's chief-of-staff. The new commissioner is James Denn, who served for 19 years as president of the Minnesota Trucking Association. NARP members in Minnesota have not taken that as a good sign this week.