Happening Now

Hotline #671

May 31, 1991

It looks like S.965, the Senate surface transportation bill, will be voted on by the full Senate the week of June 10. Despite the good results of the May 22 mark-up, pro-rail language is still not entirely out of danger. Senator Warner (R.-Va.) has threatened a floor fight because the bill doesn't help Highway Trust Fund "donor states" such as Virginia. Of course, the Administration is still opposed because it includes no expanded highway system, as their bill did. Transportation Secretary Skinner has threatened a veto over that issue. Skinner also dislikes S.965 because it doesn't favor certain types of highway programs over other programs; instead, S.965 funds all modes across the board at an 80% federal share. All Senators should be contacted next week and urged to support the pro-rail, anti-truck language of S.965.

Meanwhile, Senators D'Amato (R.-N.Y.) and Specter (R.-Pa.) have introduced S.1160, which would act as a mass transit title accompaniment to the Moynihan bill. It seeks significantly increased federal transit spending and retains the 80% share of the Moynihan bill.

S.1065, the Simon (D.-Ill.) passenger-rail corridor grade-crossing elimination bill, needs co-sponsors. Last week, we suggested it was dormant in the Commerce Committee, but now it may be revived. This is a good bill that could do a lot for short-to-medium-distance passenger corridors all around the country, so ask your Senator to co-sponsor S.1065.

The House is still working on its surface transportation bill, but may not be ready for a couple more weeks. A bill is expected to move quickly to mark-up in the Public Works Committee once it is introduced.

The State of Texas, through the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority, approved on May 28 a franchise for building a high-speed rail system to Texas TGV, which is backed by Morrison-Knudsen, Bombardier, and GEC Alsthom, builder of the French TGV. The lower was Texas FasTrac, backed by ABB and Siemens, which planned to use the German ICE technology. The first 200-mph Texas TGV would be built between Dallas and Houston, with possible stops at Waco and College Station, by 1998, at a cost of $5-6 billion. What effect that would have on Amtrak service in the state is unclear. It is also unclear how Texas TGV will raise the money. Unlike the German group, Texas TGV so far has said no state money would be needed, but also hasn't ruled out that possibility. If, in a year or two, they find they need to approach the state for money, it could spell trouble for the project, as it has for so many others.

President Bush appointed an arbitration board on May 27, as required by the law he signed on April 18 to end the freight rail strike. Board members are Robert G. Harris of Washington, D.C., Margery F. Gootnick of New York, and George S. Ives of Florida. The 65-day clock to make revisions to the January Presidential Emergency Board report has now begun to tick.

The Conservation Law Foundation announced it would sue the Federal Highway Administration over the Boston Central Artery project. It says that pollution abatement and transit commitments are inadequate. The CLF had made deals on those issues with the Dukakis Administration last fall, but they quickly fell apart when Governor Weld took office. The CLF had never pushed for a North-South Station rail link in its dealings with the state, even though its environmental value is quite obvious to rail supporters. NARP, which feels that the rail link is necessary to the future of Boston regional rail service and Amtrak service to northern New England, including Maine, has pushed for it for 15 years.

The last rail was laid for the first section of the Los Angeles Red Line subway on May 10. Electrical work in the tunnels needs to be finished and equipment delivered. Service on the 4.4-mile line from Union Station to a Blue Line connection and MacArthur Park will begin in September 1993.

Tomorrow there will be ceremonies in south Alabama to commemorate two new stops on the Gulf Breeze. Brewton service begins tomorrow and its celebration will last from 3:30 pm until train time at 4:09 pm. Bay Minette service began April 7; its celebration begins at 1:30 pm and lasts until train time at 5:04 pm.

Amtrak will show its exhibit car and a Horizon cafe car at the Galesburg Railroad Days this weekend, held at Amtrak's Burlington Route station.

Germany begins its first high-speed rail service on June 2, with its new ICE trains. They are similar to the French TGV and will travel up to 173 mph. Though the new line itself only runs over two segments between Hannover and Wuerzburg and between Mannheim and Stuttgart, it will offer much faster through-service between Hamburg in the north and Frankfurt and Munich in the south. A German radio journalist visiting the NARP office earlier this month remarked that talk of maglevs virtually has disappeared from the German press.