Happening Now

Hotline #665

April 19, 1991

The good news about the railroad strike is that it was brief, that many passenger trains -- including virtually all commuter trains -- were unaffected, and that the media and our political leaders were focused on the significant role that freight trains still play.

In an unusual hearing on April 17 at 8:00 am, Transportation Secretary Skinner said, "A national rail strike clearly impairs our national defense and has disastrous consequences for the economy. The rail industry moves more than one-third of all domestic intercity freight. A shutdown of even a few days' impact would be seriously disruptive. The 'just-in-time' inventory management system of the automobile industry, for example, requires rail service that is responsive on an hour-to-hour basis. If rail service is interrupted, Ford says it will begin shutting down within 48 hours. Chrysler says it will totally shut down in three days. General Motors indicates that approximately 75-80% of its operations will be affected within 24 hours."

Although a Journal of Commerce editorial today accused Skinner of exaggerating the impact a rail strike would have on the economy, legislators generally accepted Skinner's assessment of the rail industry's importance. But rail labor's feelings were so strong against the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board -- or PEB 219 -- that Democrats would not follow the common practice of simply writing PEB recommendations into law.

Under legislation signed by President Bush yesterday, he will appoint a new special panel of three members to settle issues currently in dispute. One member must have been on PEB 219 -- probably Chairman Robert O. Harris -- and the other two probably from names provided by the National Mediation Board. After 65 days -- that is, around June 21 -- PEB 219's recommendations will be imposed with any revisions by the special panel, minus any issues the parties negotiate on their own. There will be no judicial review of the special panel's decisions and no more strikes.

The special panel will only consider issues examined by PEB 219 and give its recommendations validity; the party requesting a change shall bear the burden of persuasion. Since the railroads have agreements on wages and benefits with the clerks, signalmen, and dispatchers unions representing almost 40% of rail workers, the special panel's work probably will focus on issues such as train crew sizes, the number of miles for eight hours' pay, and the number of consecutive days maintenance-of-way workers can be away from home. However, the special panel can reconsider wages and benefits for financially troubled Southern Pacific.

Under PEB 219, crew consists would be negotiated locally. If no agreement is reached by October 31, either party may request binding arbitration with a decision by December 31, but workers would get a cash bonus for signing an agreement before October 31. Under PEB 219, eight hours' pay for train crews would rise from 108 miles, where it has been since 1917, to 116 miles immediately and 130 miles by 1995.

Overall, it appears that this week's action keeps the rail industry on a slow but steady course towards a more competitive position.

The unions fulfilled their promise to try to keep passenger trains running. Problems arose only where commuter trains use privately owned tracks and freight railroads were eager to stop those trains. Therefore, Caltrain and the MARC CSX lines did not run. Knowing the unions' position, Metra got a court order to force the Chicago & North Western to allow normal operations on its lines.

These Amtrak services ran normally -- Northeast Corridor (except Boston-Springfield), Los Angeles-San Diego, Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul, Montrealer, Adirondack (except for busing on April 17 between Albany and Saratoga), Chicago-New Orleans (except the northbound Illini of April 17), Chicago-St. Louis (except some trains early April 17). The westbound Capitol Limited and the Empire Builders originating April 16 made it to their final destinations. BN workers escorted Amtrak crews across picket lines.

NARP will testify before the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee on April 30.

Amtrak's computer now shows the mid-June Wyoming schedule with the westbound Pioneer leaving Portland only 30 minutes ahead of the northbound Coast Starlight and showing the bus connection to the eastbound Pioneer leaving Salt Lake City only 15 minutes after the departure of the eastbound California Zephyr. NARP has asked Amtrak to improve those time-spreads in the June timetable.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments released a major parking-subsidy report on April 17. It says area employers subsidize employee parking by $1 million a day, or about $240 million a year, with about a quarter of that going to federal workers. In downtown Washington garages, 38% of cars are parked for free, 41,000 of those at federal buildings. These are great figures for you to use when the local mass transit subsidy is debated, but every big-city metropolitan planning organization should do a similar study of its own area so that transit advocates can have maximum impact by using local figures.