Happening Now

Hotline #670

May 24, 1991

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee marked up S.965, the Moynihan surface transportation bill, on May 22, and reported it to the full Senate. The results were very good. The rail language was changed from just the word "rail" to "passenger rail," so it still includes Amtrak. However, the part allowing operating funding to come from the Highway Trust Fund was dropped, so now it is only capital money, but that is still very good. The bill still ignores the Administration's call for a new national highway system, and Secretary Skinner has threatened a presidential veto if the final bill doesn't have it.

Also, S.1072, the Lautenberg-Chafee longer combination truck freeze, was incorporated into the main bill in its entirety, except that truck sizes would be frozen to where they were June 1, rather than January 1, to accommodate rules now under consideration in Montana. The Journal of Commerce said that trucking advocates were privately conceding defeat to rail and citizens' groups -- that means us, folks. Of course, we still need to see that such language appears in the House bill too. The Senate bill may come to a vote the second week of June, so tell your Senator to support it.

Speaking of the House surface transportation bill, its introduction has been delayed by disagreement between those who would raise the gas tax and those who would spend down the Highway Trust Fund. Once the bill is introduced, mark-up may follow very quickly and it's possible there will be no public hearings on it. NARP members receiving their April newsletters this week also got a list of committee members. Be sure to write your Representative, especially if he or she is on the House Public Works Committee, and say you support having pro-rail language in the House bill.

S.1065, the Simon passenger-corridor grade-crossing improvement bill mentioned on the Hotline last week, was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee and will likely stay there in limbo. There is no hope of introducing a similar bill in the House.

The Amtrak board met on May 22. The good news was that General Electric will speed up delivery of the F40 locomotive order, so that the first will arrive in September and the rest by Christmas. The bad news is that passenger revenue and on-time performance suffered in April, largely because of the national freight rail strike, and two major service interruptions on the Northeast Corridor. April passenger revenues fell 5% compared to April 1990.

The Bush Administration still has not named a three-member special board called for in legislation that ended the national rail freight strike on April 18. The board would have 65 days in which to make revisions to the original Presidential Emergency Board recommendations, which were released in January. However, that 65-day clock can't start ticking until the special board members are appointed, so everything is still in limbo for now.

Guilford has made an offer to buy the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad in Maine, which has been struggling since forest products shipments have declined in recent months. However, on May 21, the company owning the Bangor & Aroostook said it wasn't interested.

Virginia Railway Express finally announced that its two commuter rail lines south of Washington won't start in October as planned. Because of a delayed car order and an inability to get interim equipment, the start-up has been postponed to next March.

The Washington Metro board last week voted to increase the minimum bus and rail fare by almost 18% effective June 29 -- from a base fare of 85 cents to $1.00. Fares would go up again in a year. Of course, that will cause a ridership decline. Metro's planning director, Peter Benjamin, told the Washington Post that opening new rail stations this year will offset any ridership decrease resulting from the fare increase. But one should also realize that opening new stations will also increase Metrorail's operating costs. To make matters worse, now the State of Maryland is saying it may default on $17 million in payments to Metro over the next two years.

Workers linked up the first of two rail tunnels under the English Channel. A service tunnel was put through in December.

The April NARP News was mailed first-class on May 17 and 20 -- you should have gotten it by now. The May newsletter was mailed second-class on May 22.