Amtrak News

Amtrak News Updates from Amtrak Conductor Dave Bowe.

Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 22:52:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Washington Update 7-18-97


1)  At long last Amtrak has agreed to extend operation of THE SUNSET LIMITED
to Orlando, Florida starting with the July 27th departure from Los Angeles
and the July 31st departure from Orlando.  

2) The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation  chaired by
Richard Shelby (R/AL) marked-up its DOT bill for 1998 on Tuesday  July 15th.
 Shelby approved $201 million for operations - the same as the House
committee has approved and essentially what Clinton requested - though $44
million less than Amtrak's request.  Shelby had planned to provide only $108
million, but relented after Lautenberg, Specter and others made clear their
support for the higher number.  Shelby provided $82 million for mandatory
payments - the same as the House committee, but $60 million less than what
both Amtrak and the Administration requested.  

3) Shelby held a hearing on Thursday July 17th about mandatory payments -
which are the difference in the total amount Amtrak pays to Railroad
Retirement and Railroad Unemployment and the total burden that Amtrak
employees represent to those systems.  Shelby heard testimony from the
Railroad Retirement Board, the Office of Management and Budget, DOT and
Amtrak.  All witnesses agreed the law requires Amtrak to pay the full $142
million and there was no validity to charges some have made that Amtrak had
been "double-dipping".

4)  It seems likely that if Sen. Lautenberg can find the needed "offsets", he
will offer an amendment when the full committee marks-up the bill Tuesday
afternoon July 22nd  to add some or all of the $60 million short-fall.  

5)  For capital investment, Shelby provided $273 million for the Northeast
Corridor (electrification) and ZERO for regular capital.  The Committee's
report notes that the Amtrak provision in the tax bill (the gas tax
half-cent) would provide $641 million for regular capital - the problem is
that the half-cent bill is not a done deal and is likely to conditions
 (availability of its funds) on enactment of an Amtrak Reform and
Reauthorization Bill.  Shelby had little use for the nationwide Amtrak
system.  His Committee Report is not even accurate with it states "the NEC is
the only part of Amtrak where a meaningful percentage of total passenger
trips are taken by train."  It is most important that all members of the full
Senate Appropriations Committee need to know that a 
is the only answer.

6)  Shelby's bill, like the House bill increases highway spending by 11% -
more than $2 Billion.  Transit would rise slightly from 1997's $4.4 Billion
to $4.5 Billion rather than to the House's
 $4.8 Billion.

7)  House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster (R/PA) is
about to introduce Amtrak Reform and Reauthorization Bill - similar to the
one that the House approved two years ago.  With brighter prospects this year
in the Senate, a reform bill seems like a real possibility, though the trial
lawyers still present a problem [on the liability damage limits].

8)  The Washington Post on July 18th, reporting on last weeks
sideswipe/derailment in Alexandria, VA between a CSX train and the Amtrak
VIRGINIAN, said a CSX supervisor in Richmond saw that the trailer had
shifted.  He inspected it - inside and out - and decided it was safe.  A
passing train in Fredricksberg and another a few miles south of the eventual
derailment BOTH radioed warnings to the CSX train that the trailer was
leaning, but the CSX crewman replied "company managers had decided the
trailer was not a hazard." FRA Administrator Molitoris met July 13th with CSX
Chairman Snow to discuss the wreck.  Meanwhile, because the wreck ripped-up
"RO Interlocking" just west of the Potomac River, CSX has moved up a project
to complete the rebuilding of the entire interlocking infrastructure.  This
happens at the same time that 53 miles of track work are being performed on
the ex-RF&P portion of CSX track to Richmond.  Amtrak trains are taking heavy
delays and Virginia Railway Express commuter trains are losing 10 - 15
minutes each trip.

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