Happening Now

Hotline #707

February 7, 1992

The nomination of Andrew Card as Secretary of Transportation was the topic of a confirmation hearing this morning in the Senate Commerce Committee. Six Senators discussed Amtrak, three of them mentioning Amtrak at the start of their remarks. Card of course defended the Bush budget, but then said, "The deficit forces very difficult decisions. I think Amtrak is a viable form of transportation in America. I want it to be accessible. I want it to be self-sufficient."

Chairman Ernest Hollings (D.-S.C.) hit hard on the absurdity of Amtrak's plans to close its maintenance facility this summer while the equipment needs so much work and while safety is so important. Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) urged Card to force Amtrak to work on a mission statement and to develop a vision. He said, "Not everybody likes to fly, not everybody can drive. As this nation grows, I think [Amtrak] will be more important."

John Kerry (D.-Mass.) said the President's zero for the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project (NECIP) is "just unacceptable." Card answered that research and development is the first priority and mentioned maglev. Kerry said that's fine for the long-term, but three-hour Boston-New York trains are needed now and doable soon. Card responded as he did many times, "I will defend the budget the President submitted. I would like to work with the Senators in addressing their concerns."

Bob Kasten (R.-Wis.) said "all of us" are concerned about Amtrak. "If we can fund the capital," he said, "Amtrak can become self-sufficient. James Exon (D.-Neb.) said "nickel and diming Amtrak to death does not assure its future."

Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) said he is inclined to support the Northeast Corridor project "to get those people off the roads," but also said the New Orleans-Jacksonville line ought to be reinstated.

California's Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board voted 8-1 to award a five-year contract for operating commuter rail service starting July 1 to a joint venture of ATE Management and Service Company and Anacostia & Pacific Company. Amtrak was the only other finalist and had hoped to win. ATE's bid for the Bay Area commuter rail service was strongly supported by local labor unions. ATE plans to continue firemen, whereas Amtrak would have insisted on one-person engine crews. ATE does not yet have a signed labor contract.

House Public Works Chairman Robert Roe (D.-N.J.) on February 5 introduced a $10-billion local public works bill, with accelerated funding for projects where construction can start within 90 days, priority given to areas with high unemployment rates.

Senators Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) and Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) on January 30 introduced S.2169, with $7 billion over three years to infrastructure repair and maintenance, including $450 million each to Amtrak and to the Northeast Corridor. Both bills are intended to provide jobs quickly and both require reopening the 1990 budget agreements.

Crisis was averted in Detroit last week when the city's lease on the Michigan Central depot property expired. The new owners unexpectedly took over the property on January 28, though the old owner still claims ownership. The new owners will allow Amtrak to stay put while negotiations continue, so Chicago-Detroit trains won't be terminated in Dearborn. But check before you travel to Detroit, as the situation could change at any time.

House Ways and Means Committee members should hear from you soon in support of the Bush transportation budget's one good idea -- raising the ceiling on tax-free, employer-provided benefits from $21 to $60 a month.

The Association of American Railroads elected Edwin L. Harper to succeed William H. Dempsey as president. Harper has no direct transportation experience, but did handle transportation policy issues while working in the White House during the 1980's, particularly on policy regarding Conrail.