Happening Now

Hotline #664

April 12, 1991

In the likely event of a national freight railroad strike on April 17, the labor community has offered to allow passenger trains to continue to operate. That is probably not a grand gesture on their part, but rather an attempt to keep Congress from intervening very soon. However, the railroads, who like the Presidential Emergency Board plan much more than do the unions, probably would like Congress to step in soon and impose that plan. Therefore, they are unlikely to allow movement of passenger trains despite the unions' offer. Also, it is uncertain whether Amtrak and commuter employees would be willing to cross picket lines in any event.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Communications Union and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen may have reached a tentative agreement with railroad management. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers have said they would go ahead and strike selected railroads on April 17. The other eight unions have indicated they would follow the BLE's lead. Members of unions that have agreed to a contract will not cross other unions' picket lines. Congress is back in session and reluctantly preparing to intervene next week.

Amtrak departments are scrambling to deal with the strike threat, but no one knows which trains will be affected. Travelers next week should follow news accounts closely and keep in touch with Amtrak.

An accident tied up the Northeast Corridor all day today. At 3:00 am, a northbound deadhead move of Amtrak locomotives -- one F40 pulling three E60's -- skidded into a southbound 124-car Conrail coal train at Gunpowder interlocking near Chase, Md., just north of Baltimore. No passengers or passenger equipment were involved. The Amtrak engineer was seriously injured, the conductor less so. They had both jumped from the F40. Amtrak hoped to open one track by 4:00 pm; in the meantime, passengers are shuttled by bus between Baltimore and Wilmington, resulting in delays of 60-90 minutes. Gunpowder, of course, is the site of the serious wreck of 1987, but it is still too early to determine what caused today's wreck.

There was encouraging news from the House Budget Committee today. While it has recommended budget freezes for domestic discretionary programs in general, it also said certain programs should be excepted and get increases. Transportation was a winner in that category, with the committee recommending a $23-million increase for Amtrak over this year, a retention of current-level Northeast Corridor funding (including electrification), a $281-million increase for transit, and other increases for highways and aviation. That will make it much easier for the appropriations subcommittees to now go forward and give appropriate amounts to Amtrak and transit in the 1992 DOT appropriations bill. Be sure to let your Members of Congress know you support the increases recommended by the House Budget Committee.

One of the Thruway buses between Martinez and Santa Rosa, Cal., has been extended up to Ukiah and Willits. That will connect more of the towns north of San Francisco with San Joaquin trains 703 and 704. Also, Caltrain added and express reverse commute train on April 1.

Look for an expansion of public phone service on Northeast Corridor trains this summer.

James R. Thompson, who was the Republican governor of Illinois until this year, has been hired by the Chicago Regional Transit Authority to lobby against Bush Administration surface transportation proposals. That will put Thompson in the interesting position of opposing DOT Secretary Sam Skinner, who once was head of the RTA and who has said that the RTA could survive subsidy cuts being proposed by the Administration. However, transit supporters say the cuts are a bad idea.

Transport 2000 Canada has a new president. He is Bob Evans, who is a former Canadian National marketing executive. He replaces Harry Gow. T2000 has launched a court effort to block CN abandonments affecting VIA Rail service, particularly on the Gaspe Peninsula and in Levis, near Quebec City. T2000 would welcome contributions to this defense fund at P.O. Box 858 Station B, Ottawa, K1P 5P9.

Cuba suffered its worst-ever rail accident on April 6 when a Havana-Guantanamo train derailed, killing 56 passengers.

Container trains have found a new market -- Union Pacific is carrying Seattle garbage to Arlington, Ore., in containers under terms of a new 38-year contract. Garbage containers may be used in other areas soon.