Happening Now

Hotline #699

December 13, 1991

President Bush will sign the surface transportation bill on December 18 in a ceremony at a construction site in Dallas, to highlight what he feels is important about the bill -- jobs. With the passage of the law, there will be no more UMTA. The Urban Mass Transit Administration's name will be changed to Federal Transit Administration (FTA). DOT Secretary Sam Skinner leaves his post as of December 15.

There are now as many trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area as 30 years ago, thanks to the start of regular service on Amtrak's Capitol Corridor yesterday. Three daily local trains run in each direction between San Jose, Oakland, and Sacramento, in addition to the Coast Starlight and California Zephyr. The new local trains should take away whatever local patronage there is on the long-distance trains and hopefully lure people out of automobiles in I-80 with low fares. The trains are the first major project to result from the Proposition 116 bond money passed a year and a half ago.

Amtrak service to Detroit could face an interruption this winter. The City of Detroit's lease on the privately owned Michigan Central Depot property expires January 31. The city, which allows Amtrak to use the site, is trying to negotiate an extension to the lease, but if they are not successful in time, look for Dearborn to be the only area stop on a temporary basis.

Because of the revenue shortfalls experienced during Thanksgiving, Amtrak will sharply cut back on its excursion black-out days during the coming weeks. The only two travel days which will have black-outs will be December 20 and January 5.

There will be some organizational changes affecting Amtrak in the west. As of January 15, the Amtrak Western Regional Public Affairs office will be moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Bruce Heard, who is now Senior Director of Special Projects in the Government and Public Affairs Department in Washington, will go to Los Angeles to take over the public affairs duties of Art Lloyd, who retired this fall.

New Jersey Transit has announced that their preferred alternatives analysis option is light rail for the Hudson Waterfront corridor. However, the NJT plan still preserves an element of earlier plans for interim busways. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, NARP, and local communities have opposed any interim busways, because there really is no such thing. No interim busway has ever been converted to light rail. Nevertheless, NJT says the light rail line could be operational in 1998. Just getting NJT to give this much acknowledgement to light rail is a moral victory.

Canadian National has announced plans to construct a new, single-track tunnel under the St. Clair River between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ont. It would lie 80 feet north of the existing, single-track tunnel, which was built in 1891. Unlike the old tunnel, the new one would be tall enough to permit double-stack service. Presumably, it would also mean Amtrak could operate a Superliner International, if it wanted to, when the new tunnel opens in 1994.

The American Trucking Associations is expanding its interest in buying state-owned toll freeways in the Northeast and Midwest. It believes it can buy a system of roads that will greatly reduce its federal tax burden. However, trucks don't pay their own way now, so there is no justifiable reason their tax burden should be reduced at all. Putting trucks on private roads will not solve any air pollution, energy inefficiency, or safety problems associated with large trucks.