Amtrak News Updates from Amtrak Conductor Dave Bowe.
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 22:52:44 -0400 (EDT) From: UTU1462@aol.com Subject: Washington Update 7-18-97 THIS WEEK FROM WASHINGTON & BEYOND for FRIDAY JULY 18th. 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. REGARDS, DAVE BOWE