Happening Now

Hotline #706

January 31, 1992

The Bush Administration released its proposed 1993 budget on January 29. It was painted as a budget to "protect the environment and enhance the quality of life," but fails in that respect by giving big increases to highways and aviation, and big cuts to rail and transit.

Amtrak would get only $343 million, compared to $651 million this year. That's even less than what the Administration proposed for 1992. Amtrak's operating budget would be $269 million, which would have to cover both operating losses and the excess retirement payments. Capital funding would be $74 million, which surely would make it impossible for Amtrak to achieve its goal of self-sufficiency in this decade. Nothing would be provided for the Northeast Corridor or electrification, though maglev research would get $15 million.

Despite the Congress' wishes expressed in the ISTEA act to reduce single-occupant automobile use and promote mass transit, the Administration would increase highway spending by 16%. But transit funding would decrease from $3.8 billion to just $3.0 billion, a 20% cut. Aviation would get a 6% increase.

Even worse news is that Amtrak cannot survive intact under this year's operating funding, because the recession has brought revenue growth far lower than foreseen a year ago. The estimated 1992 operating shortfall is $67 million. Therefore, Amtrak is planning to freeze management salaries and possibly lay off as many as 1,000 Beech Grove workers for up to three months this summer. That may well have a terrible effect on equipment maintenance and reliability. Service cuts are possible. Amtrak is seriously considering reducing consists on some trains and, possibly as early as April, eliminating the River Cities south of St. Louis and some Harrisburg trains. Amtrak also may replace the Montrealer with a Boston-Palmer-White River Junction-Montreal day train, providing New York connections at Palmer by extending another pair of Springfield trains to Boston.

Senators Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) and Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) yesterday proposed a $7-billion, three-year supplemental transportation funding bill, which would go to highway and bridge repair and maintenance, mass transit, airport safety, and to rail, including $450 million for Amtrak and another $450 for the Northeast Corridor. Because this is capital money, it would not help Amtrak's operating budget crisis, but could be changed to prevent the Beech Grove furloughs. Such a bill would hinge on changing the 1990 budget agreement and was presented as a jobs bill. The only co-sponsors so far are Senators Lieberman (Conn.) and Burdick (N.Dak.). Both Moynihan and Lautenberg criticized President Bush for praising the ISTEA bill in his State of the Union address on January 28, while cutting transportation programs the very next day in the 1993 budget.

Amtrak has joined the TransitChek program in the New York area. It was set up a couple years ago by area transit agencies to promote employers giving transit benefits to employees who preferred them over parking benefits. Amtrak also joins a similar program in southern California next week.

Massachusetts Governor Weld has dropped plans to sell the Massachusetts Turnpike. Instead, his 1993 budget proposes using 20% of toll revenues and 20% of Port Authority revenues to fund the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, as part of a plan to merge all these large agencies.

A large historic-streetcar festival will be held in San Francisco on April 25-26 to mark the centennial of electric streetcar service there. Muni still operates five subway-surface routes in the city.

A consortium led by Japan Airlines has had to bail out of HSST Corporation, a developer of Japanese maglev technology, according to the Wall Street Journal. HSST has lost $35 million since 1985, much of it resulting from a failed project in Las Vegas.