Happening Now

Hotline #698

December 6, 1991

The surface transportation bill has not yet been signed, though President Bush is expected to do so next week.

As we read the fine print of the bill, we find some more good news, despite the cutting of passenger rail from the flexible program. Amtrak routes with significant commuter traffic, such as Chicago-Milwaukee and New York-Albany, still qualify. There is money for three important intermodal terminals, in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Fort Worth. There were line items for an UMTA study of a Boston rail link, for track work between Boston and Portland, for repairs to the Hell Gate bridge in Queens, N.Y., and for renovation of the Kingston, R.I., station. There will be $5 million a year for grade-crossing elimination on passenger corridors, including probably Chicago-St. Louis. The bill prohibits high-speed or commuter rail money from being spent in states whose laws prohibit state rail investment, giving Wisconsin NARP members even more incentive to work toward changing their state constitution next year.

The inaugural of Capitol Corridor service will be December 11. Public ceremonies will be held at the following places and times -- San Jose station 8:15 am, Hayward at the tracks near Amador and Elmhurst St. at 10:00 am, Oakland at Jack London Square at 11:00 am, Berkeley station at 12:00 noon, Richmond station at 12:15 pm, Martinez station at 1:00 pm, Suisun City station at 1:30 pm, Davis station at 2:30 pm, Sacramento station at 3:00 pm, and Roseville station at 4:30 pm. Regular service begins the next day, with three round trips daily.

Amtrak unveiled its new General Electric Dash 8 locomotive on December 4 at Washington Union Station. Locomotive #501 and one other, which were bought by the State of California, were then immediately sent west to begin service on the Capitol Corridor. This delivery is three months ahead of schedule and Amtrak expects to receive the other 18 Dash 8's on order by the end of December. The rest of the pending GE locomotive order will be delivered in 1993.

The Amtrak board also met on December 4 and approved repairing some wreck-damaged coaches with some of the money coming from California, also $7.9 million for the second phase of the waste retention program. So far this fiscal year, Amtrak has had a very small growth in revenue and dip in ridership and is doing well compared to the airlines, but not as well as it had budgeted. The recession, discount airfares in the West, and a freeze on government travel in New York State are blamed.

Amtrak's best on-time railroad in October was Soo Line at 93% and the worst Delaware & Hudson at 26%. The best long-distance train was the Carolinian at 90%, the worst of any train was the River Cities at 31%. The best October ridership gain was on the Carolinian at 62% and the biggest loss on the Palmetto at 32% -- two figures which are probably related to those two trains splitting in April.

President Bush yesterday appointed DOT Secretary Sam Skinner as the new White House Chief-of-Staff, replacing John Sununu, who resigned on December 3. There is some speculation as to a successor for Skinner -- the Journal of Commerce named Federal Highway Administrator Thomas Larson as a likely possibility.

During his almost three years as DOT Secretary, Skinner tried to reduce the federal role in infrastructure spending and promote the concept of intermodalism. As can be seen from the surface transportation bill passed last week, he failed in the first regard, but was successful with intermodalism. During the National Transportation Policy process of 1989, inter-administration barriers between modes were greatly reduced within the Skinner DOT and that is a very good legacy.

Amtrak has submitted a bid to operate the Peninsula commuter train service between San Jose and San Francisco. There is a competing bid from a bus and trucking firm called ATE/Ryder. The contract should be awarded this month and the transfer of service from Southern Pacific should happen within six months.

The new study for the second Boston airport may drag on for two years, according to the Journal of Commerce. That suits us -- by then the Amtrak electrification will be nearly in place. Indeed, one of the reasons the Weld Administration called for the new study on November 7 was that the effect of the electrification on air travel demand needed further exploration.