Happening Now

Hotline #709

February 21, 1992

The House Energy and Commerce transportation subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on H.R.4250, the two-year Amtrak reauthorization bill. Subcommittee Chairman Al Swift (D.-Wash.) is the author of the bill, authorizing $969 million for Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor in 1993 and $921 million in 1994.

Besides the reauthorization bill, Swift plans to introduce next week a bill to create a passenger rail trust fund by earmarking a penny of the federal gasoline tax to Amtrak capital and other high-speed rail projects. This penny would come from the 2.5 cents allocated to deficit reduction under the 1990 budget agreement. Because it is not a new tax, it would not reduce income to the Highway Trust Fund, but would eliminate use of general funds for Amtrak capital. Call and write your Representatives now -- Chairman Swift needs sponsors for his yet-unnumbered bill! This bill is the big break we have been looking for for years.

At yesterday's hearing, Amtrak President Graham Claytor outlined what he would do with that penny. Over the next 15 years, he will need $5 billion in capital to maintain present service, $7 billion to eliminate the operating subsidy by increasing capacity and electrifying the Boston line, and $16 billion to do all that and add some of the new routes and services that all NARP members want. To do all that, Amtrak clearly needs this gas-tax penny.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Dingell (Mich.) and Swift have asked the Bush Administration to release two long-pending DOT internal studies on Amtrak self-sufficiency. They said the studies may contain evidence that large infusions of capital funding would make Amtrak operationally profitable. One Committee source told Congress Daily that "Mr. Dingell is not going to be happy" if the Administration does not comply with his request to release the studies.

NARP Executive Director Ross Capon will testify at a Senate hearing on Amtrak reauthorization on February 26 at 2:30 pm, room 253 of the Russell Building.

Acting DOT Secretary James Busey came under fire on February 18 during a House Appropriations 1993 budget hearing. Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Bill Lehman (D.-Fla.) asked Busey, "Don't you consider railroads part of the country's infrastructure? Yet they are being shortchanged [in this budget]." Busey said the states now have so much flexibility under the ISTEA act that more transit and Amtrak funding is not needed -- but we know that the states will not use flexibility enough to make up for the shortfalls in the Administration's budget.

Amtrak's Coast Starlight and San Diegan service to Santa Barbara resumed normal operations yesterday, after being truncated due to heavy rainfall in southern California earlier this month.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its report on the April 1990 California Zephyr derailment at Batavia, Ia., according to Passenger Train Journal. Improper installation of welded rail by the Burlington Northern during cold weather was blamed, as well as lack of readjusting the rail after installation, causing the track to buckle and the train to derail. The Board issued four recommendations to BN on welded rail installation and maintenance, two to Amtrak on seat locks and urged funding for development of a reliable longitudinal rail stress detector.

Lake Calumet in South Chicago was chosen as the site of the third Chicago area airport. It will cost $11 billion and take ten years to build and from a sound transportation viewpoint, will be a total disaster, when one considers how many environmentally friendly, fast trains could be built for even half that price.

It is region meeting season. Region 12 met in Berkeley, Cal., on February 8, and elected the following to the NARP board -- Doras Briggs, Robert Glover, John Kirkwood, Leif Lange, Robert Lawrence, Art Lloyd, Dan Lovegren, Carl Schiermeyer, Gene Skoropowski, and Alan Wimmergren. Region 8 met at Olympia, Wash., on February 15, and elected Jim Hamre, Hans Mueller, Art Poole, and Robert Stevens. Region 2 meets in Albany tomorrow and Region 1 meets at New London, Conn., on March 7.