Happening Now

Hotline #669

May 17, 1991

Committee mark-up of S.965, the Senate version of the surface transportation bill, was delayed until May 22. In the meantime, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on May 13 and 14, at the request of many parties, including the Administration, who didn't like S.965. NARP still likes the bill and is working to see that the positive, pro-rail language put in by Senator Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) remains. It is very possible, however, that the rail language will be taken out, or at least as it applies to rail freight. If that happens, we must be sure that intercity passenger rail -- i.e., Amtrak -- is still covered. Please tell your Senators who are on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to keep language benefiting Amtrak. Those Senators are Burdick, Moynihan, Mitchell, Baucus, Lautenberg, Reid, Graham, Lieberman, Metzenbaum, Chafee, Simpson, Symms, Durenberger, Warner, Jeffords, and Smith.

Senators Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) and John Chafee (R.-R.I.) introduced a bill, S.1072, as an amendment to the surface transportation bill. It would freeze use of longer combination vehicles (LCV trucks) to the states that allowed them as of January 1, 1991. Senator Lautenberg told a press conference, "Big trucks are worse for the environment, create additional wear and tear on the highway system, and are a deadly threat to automobile drivers. We want to draw a double yellow line that these trucks can't cross." However, American Trucking Associations President Thomas Donahue defended the big truck combinations, telling one Senate panel on May 13 that they would lead to lower consumer prices and less pollution. Understandably, the Senators were skeptical.

Sen. Paul Simon (D.-Ill.) introduced on May 14 introduced another amendment bill, S.1065, which would direct the DOT to identify and fund at a 75% federal share projects on passenger-train corridors in need of grade-crossing separations. This bill would make it a lot easier to increase passenger-train speeds in corridors that should be developed, as well as on the Northeast Corridor north and east of New Haven.

UMTA announced a grant of $65,000 on May 8 to the Atlanta Regional Commission to study a downtown intermodal terminal. The study will also get $25,000 from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. The terminal study site is at Milepost Zero, between the sites of the old Terminal and Union Stations. It would serve MARTA, local bus, taxis, an airport shuttle, future commuter trains, and Amtrak -- both the Crescent and future Chicago-Florida service. Urban Mass Transit Administrator Brian Clymer noted that the Atlanta terminal could become "a model for similar efforts in other communities."

The ICC last week approved the sale of a 61-mile segment of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie mainline in the Pittsburgh region to CSX, which has been using the trackage for decades under a trackage rights arrangement. The sale could have an affect on Amtrak's operation of the Broadway Limited north and west of Pittsburgh. It currently uses a light-density, parallel ex-Baltimore & Ohio line that comes out onto the P&LE line just south of New Castle, Pa. The ex-B&O line could be downgrade as a result of the sale.

Operation Lifesaver Day was May 15. To help educate the public to be more careful at grade crossings, Operation Lifesaver conducted a demonstration at Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va. An Amtrak P30 off the Auto Train was run into a parked car at 20 mph. The car was pushed 475 feet along the tracks and completely totaled. NARP member and actor Michael Gross was the main speaker there.

The United Transportation Union of New York State has joined the efforts in that state to fight longer-combination vehicle trucks.

The Joint Transportation Committee of the Maine legislature today unanimously approved LD720, the citizen initiative bill to raise bond money for Portland-Boston service. The bill now goes to the full House and Senate there.

NARP Executive Director Ross Capon will be featured on a Monitor Radio program this weekend on many public radio stations. The topic is "Amtrak at 20." It will air in Albany and Houston tomorrow at 6:00 am, WBEZ Chicago at 3:00 pm. On May 19, it will be on WUSF Tampa at 7:00 am and KUSC Los Angeles at 5:00 pm.

Illinois Central has given up trying for a hostile takeover of the MidSouth rail lines. The MidSouth mainline from Meridian to Jackson, Vicksburg, Monroe, and Shreveport was supposed to be the route of a Dallas section of the Crescent that was much discussed in 1987. But that line has pretty slow speeds, about 40 mph.

A Canadian federal court has decided to hear an appeal mounted by Transport 2000 of a governmental decision to allow Canadian National to abandon a section of track used by VIA Rail's Chaleur on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec Province. Another T2000 appeal regarding abandonment of CN trackage in Levis, Quebec, is pending.

The Nome, Alaska, Chamber of Commerce is calling for a study of building a 56-mile rail tunnel under the Bering Straits between Alaska and Siberia in the Soviet Union. It would be the longest rail tunnel anywhere. However, more than just the tunnel would be needed -- Nome is 700 miles from the nearest American railroad at Fairbanks, and that doesn't even connect to the rest of the continent. The nearest Soviet railway is at least 1,700 miles from the Bering Straits.