Happening Now

Hotline #708

February 14, 1992

Some good ideas are catching on! Push them with your own legislators!

House Ways and Means Democrats tentatively agreed in private session on a tax package that includes the one good item in Bush's transportation budget proposal -- raising the ceiling on tax-free employer-provided transit benefits from $21 to $60 a month. Bush did not say how he would pay for this, but Committee Democrats propose to tax that portion of the value of employer-provided parking spaces that exceed $160 a month -- in other words, parking for the very rich. It just might sell! It could help big employers in New York and San Francisco comply with Clean Air Act requirements to cut employee auto commuting. The firms could blame the new tax provision on the federal government.

Congress is expected to consider a new Amtrak authorization bill this year. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation, chaired by Al Swift (D.-Wash.), will hold its hearing on February 20. Senate Commerce will follow on February 26. Swift is expected to introduce legislation next week with special emphasis on addressing Amtrak's capital needs. The hearing will explore options including earmarking a federal gasoline tax penny for Amtrak. Swift plans to mark up his bill next month.

In response to overwhelming pressure from all directions for new service, Amtrak is proposing that "the costs incurred for state supported 403(b) services and for new multi-state routes be funded separately from the operating grand required to support Amtrak's existing national basic system. This would enable Congress and states to test the viability of new routes without undermining efforts by Amtrak to reduce the amount of federal assistance required to operate its basic system."

Secretary-designate of Transportation Andrew Card will testify regarding all forms of transportation on February 18 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, chaired by William Lehman (D.-Fla.).

Due to heavy rain damage on the Southern Pacific Coast Line, no Los Angeles-Santa Barbara trains are running. The Coast Starlight is annulled south of Oakland, but all Coast Line stations are linked to the Starlight for trips north of the Bay Area by way of San Joaquin or Capitol Corridor connecting buses.

Amtrak says that transcontinental trains are reaching Los Angeles all right. San Diegans are taking 15-30 minute delays. The Coast Line could be reopened as early as the morning of February 16, though additional rain expected before then could change that. That's just what SP needs -- the railroad's 1991 operating loss (before a $270 million special charge) was $78.9 million, more than double SP's 1990 loss of $35.8 million. Though SP reduced outstanding long-term debt by $200 million in 1991, nearly $900 million remains. SP said last week it would cut its work force by 2,475, or 11%, over five years.

Conrail's UTU members last week ratified a new crew size agreement under which through-freights would have only an engineer and conductor.

Actor and NARP member Michael Gross is leading a group of investors asking the ICC for permission to buy and operate Santa Fe's 18-mile Lamy-Santa Fe line. They want to run passenger trains starting this spring or summer and have aggressive plans to seek more freight business. In Maine, plans are developing to run Boothbay Harbor-Wiscasset-Waldoboro round-trip excursions using a boat south of Wiscasset and trains north of there.

Controversy is growing over plans by the Chicago & North Western to abandon its last Nebraska line, which runs 320-miles east-west across the top of the station from Norfolk to Chadron. Gov. Ben Nelson hopes to meet with C&NW's president soon to discuss possible state lease of the line.