Happening Now

Hotline #704

January 17, 1992

Oral arguments were held in the Supreme Court case involving the Montrealer, NRPC v. Boston & Maine, on January 13. Since the case involves challenge of an ICC decision, the Amtrak/Central Vermont side was argued by the Solicitor General's office of the Department of Justice.

In the question session, Justice Scalia seemed most upset about the 1988 transfer of the Connecticut River line from the B&M to Amtrak, then to the Central Vermont, though Scalia may simply have been playing devil's advocate. He asked the government counsel, "Do you really think Congress [in 1970] meant Amtrak to have such sweeping powers of condemnation?" Justice O'Connor seemed most sympathetic, showing much concern that Amtrak be allowed to use its condemnation powers in the most cost-effective manner, because of its limited government support. In all, seven justices asked questions. A decision adverse to Amtrak could have far-reaching impact on many Amtrak dealings with railroads where the parties cannot voluntarily agree, but Amtrak remains optimistic of the outcome.

The House Government Operations Subcommittee on Government Activities and Transportation held a hearing on rail safety on January 13. The General Accounting Office testified that the Federal Railroad Administration's safety program had improved somewhat, but Ralph Nader and Subcommittee Chair Barbara Boxer (Cal.) were not convinced. They are especially worried that FRA last year said that 72 of its inspectors are former railroad employees who have re-employment rights with the railroads they now inspect. Nader says the government should bar inspectors from ever policing a former employer and wants the 72 inspectors to give up their re-employment rights with the railroads.

Evidently, the FRA promised to do something about this potential conflict-of-interest ten years ago, but did nothing. In an editorial yesterday, the Journal of Commerce endorsed a General Accounting Office recommendation that FRA officials do a better job of overseeing inspectors and setting priorities.

Amtrak was mentioned only in passing in the January 13 hearing.

A news conference announcing publication of Joseph Vranich's book, Supertrains, was held yesterday at Washington Union Station. Besides the author, speakers included Federal Railroad Administrator Gil Carmichael, Amtrak President Graham Claytor, NARP Executive Director Ross Capon, Bob Pattison and Bob Casey of the High Speed Rail Association, and Dawn Erlandson of Friends of the Earth. Vranich predicted that Southwest Airlines' campaign in Texas against high-speed rail would backfire and said that, in a way, it already has, because the size of Vranich's chapter on aviation subsidies doubled after he became incensed over Southwest's ludicrous claim that airlines are not subsidized. He accused Southwest of telling the Texas general public that their airport capacity is adequate while saying in Washington that Texas airports need to be expanded.

The board of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority approved a plan last week to extend commuter rail service to Worcester. Plans for new stations and equipment will proceed, with construction to begin in 1994 and service to begin in 1996.

We expect to have the combined nationwide NARP ballot and regional meeting notice in the mail, first-class, next week and the January newsletter should be mailed, second-class, the week of January 27.