Happening Now

Hotline #705

January 24, 1992

President Bush named White House deputy chief-of-staff Andrew Card as Secretary of Transportation, on January 22. He has no transportation background at all, but is a very loyal member of the Bush political team. He is also a former Massachusetts state legislator. If confirmed by the Senate, one of Card's tasks this year will be implementation of the new surface transportation act.

The Amtrak board met January 22. Among the projects approved were the retirement of the P30 locomotives and the sale of Harris Tower at Harrisburg to the National Railroad Historical Society. November ridership, revenue, and passenger-miles were down, possibly because of the recession finally catching up with Amtrak and the fact that Thanksgiving Sunday fell in December. Those same figures were up a little in December.

President Graham Claytor said Amtrak revenues this fiscal year are "several percentage points below budget and we'll have to take action to deal with that." Budget cuts could involve Beech Grove and Wilmington shops, an option Amtrak had suggested as early as September in letters to Congress that unsuccessfully sought greater flexibility to shift capital funds to operations. Such cuts likely would lead to more poorly maintained equipment.

Last week, Amtrak wrote to those unions that have not yet ratified new contracts and asked for arbitration. That was the deadline imposed by an agreement between House members from Massachusetts and Amtrak last fall in exchange for electrification funding.

Supertrains author Joseph Vranich will hold another public press conference, this time at Chicago Union Station on January 27 at 10:30 am. Other speakers will include High Speed Rail Association President Bob Casey and members of the Center for Neighborhood Technology of Chicago and regional anti-airport groups.

Look for an article in the January 27 Newsweek that describes the problems high-speed rail proposals have faced in this country. The article reports, as was predicted by NARP nearly a year ago, that the Texas TGV promoters have finally approached the state government about public support, even though they promoted themselves over the Germans as not needing such support. A similar turnaround in Florida in 1990 had the effect of killing that project.

Missouri NARP members should ask their state legislators to oppose any gas-tax increase that goes primarily to new highways. The state highway lobby wants to raise the tax by six cents to go to dubious highway projects, while transit and Amtrak would continue to get no gas-tax money. Tell your legislators, "No Amtrak, no gas tax."

Amtrak's Texas Eagle began carrying mail between Chicago and Fort Worth on December 9.

VIA Rail launched its expanded corridor service on January 20. Amtrak-style inauguration ceremonies were held, which is unusual for VIA. One highlight was when the mayor of Ottawa strongly asked for the restoration of the old Canadian, in the presence of the Canadian Transport Minister. In fact, Transport 2000 has called for any interested NARP members to contact them regarding a closed meeting to be held in May on Canadian restoration.

Under intense public pressure, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission on January 22 canceled a contract it had awarded to Sumitomo, a Japanese company with 1,000 employees in the U.S., for Green Line cars. Public opposition had been very vocal and took a racial overtone, according to commission members. The commission had chosen Sumitomo over Morrison-Knudsen, even though the price was higher, because of Sumitomo's wider experience. The commission also approved in principle a plan to replace the controversial driverless design with something more resembling the light-rail cars now used on the Blue Line.

NARP regional director ballots were mailed first-class on January 22.