Happening Now

Hotline #701

December 27, 1991

It's NARP board election time again. To become one of 70 NARP regional directors, have your candidate's statement, not exceeding 75 words, postmarked by January 4 and mailed to our office. Or fax it by January 6.

Miraculously, after a six-alarm fire the evening of December 23 at Philadelphia 30th Street Station, Amtrak and SEPTA ran almost normally on December 24, but SEPTA commuter trains could not stop there until yesterday morning. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer said, "You can thank the firemen for saving 30th Street Station." Firefighters were hampered by lack of ventilation and easy access to water in the old bowling alley to which the flames were mainly confined. Some cars apparently were torched in the newly opened station parking lot nearby. Also, water initially had to be used with restraint because the 11,000 volt catenary remained charged until 7:50 pm. Apparently, this was because the building was evacuated so quickly that personnel had to deactivate the catenary from two substations. The fire began just before 5:00 pm and was under control at 9:20 pm.

This afternoon, the fire marshal unsealed the bowling alley and proclaimed that arson was the cause of the fire. Preliminary estimates put the mostly smoke-related and insurance-covered damage in the newly renovated station at $2.5 million, but Amtrak expects the figure to rise.

While traffic through and at the station stopped the evening of December 23, some Amtrak trains left North Philadelphia, even though train crews offered no information on SEPTA's good subway and bus connections there, and Amtrak failed to unlock its new Congressionally funded waiting room, which contains North Philadelphia station's only public telephones. The station normally closes at 2:00 pm.

All passengers from the Palatka wreck were out of the hospital by the morning of December 23.

The MTA board in New York City approved an Amtrak/Metro-North interline ticketing plan under which both railroads will sell double-coupon tickets good for travel on Metro-North trains between Grand Central and Yonkers or Croton-Harmon on Amtrak trains to and from Amtrak trains to and from Empire Service stations beyond Poughkeepsie. Projected implementation is April 5, when schedules change to improve interline connections. Grand Central interline fares will be the same as Amtrak fares to Penn Station. For most intermediate Metro-North points, the interline Grand Central fare will be cheaper. Both railroads plan marketing activities promoting the interline tickets. For each interline passenger, Amtrak will pay Metro-North an amount roughly equal to the peak one-way Yonkers-Grand Central Metro-North fare. May this be the first of many such agreements!

Amtrak will improve its senior discounts on January 6, lowering the age limit from 65 to 62 and converting the discount from 25% off the full one-way fare -- often rendered meaningless by other special fares -- to 15% off the lowest available coach fare honored on trips originating Monday-Thursday -- you can board direct connections Friday-Sunday. The discount remains unavailable on Metroliners and Auto Train and may be blacked out for travel starting on these 1992 dates -- November 25, December 29, 30, 31. Remember to book early due to inventory controls on the cheapest seats. Also, the best fares are themselves blacked out on key days. NARP urged senior fare improvements like these in a February 27 letter to Amtrak Vice President Bill Norman after a NARP member in Washington State wrote us lamenting the non-availability of senior discounts around holidays, including the entire period from December 16, 1990 through January 2, 1991.

Early this month, the General Accounting Office released its 38-page November report, "Federal Laws and Policies Affect Railroad Competitiveness," which is sympathetic to our views and covers federal highway and waterway policies and employee benefit and labor relations laws.