Amtrak News

Amtrak News Updates from Amtrak Conductor Dave Bowe.

                 THIS WEEK  FROM WASHINGTON 
             & BEYOND for SATURDAY  AUGUST 9th

1) A fight between labor and congressional republicans
threatens to bankrupt Amtrak by January unless President
Clinton acts independently. The key question is whether the
Congress and the President can agree this year on an Amtrak
Reauthorization Bill. Only if such a bill is enacted can
Amtrak receive the big $2.3 Billion capital funds which is
part of the final budget reconciliation package. The budget
package language replaces Senator Roth's original
"half-cent" language but provides the same amount of money.
Knowing how hard it is to pass a separate Senate Amtrak
Reauthorization Bill, Senator Roth tried hard before going
on recess to make a deal with the White House to put Amtrak
reauthorization into the budget package, too. Roth got
fellow republicans to agree to compromises on A) liability
reform, B) on the Amtrak Board of Directors provisions, and
C) on the Senate "Shutdown Commission". He offered something
President Clinton wants very much -- relating to Caribbean
trade issues, if Clinton would agree to the Amtrak
Reauthorization. But Clinton refused to agree to the labor
reforms that republicans see as vital even though labor
itself supported these options in an identical bill two
years ago, and even helped to write them. Under the budget
package, Amtrak would get $2.3 Billion in the form of tax
refunds from the IRS: two equal amounts in January 1998 and
1999. So enactment of reauthorization anytime this calender
year would let Amtrak receive the badly needed capital

However time is short and there is such bad-blood over this
issue the outlook is "mixed" at best. Republicans might not
return to the new compromises they offered the week of July
28th. Indeed the House Transportation & infrastructure
Committee (T&I) on July 31st passed an Amtrak
Reauthorization Bill - HR.2247 without those compromises.
Moreover, the AFL-CIO Wednesday July 30th wrote to President
Clinton attacking Amtrak President Tom Downs because he
supports the labor reforms that are included in the
Reauthorization Bill.

2) The Senate approved S.1048 - the Transportation
Appropriations Bill with a 21% increase for highways, and
16% increase for airports. A House/Senate conference is
expected after Labor Day but staff work will start sooner.
The key problem for Amtrak is getting the full $142 million
for excess mandatory railroad retirement payments. The House
bill is $61 million short there. The Senate bill has the
full amount only because it was forced in committee on to
the unsympathetic chairman- Richard Shelby (R/AL). Conferees
must keep that money which the Senate approved in the final

3) Sponsorship on HR.1437 - the House "half-cent"bill has
reached 81 cosponsors as of August 1st. While the bill
itself will not be passed, all the efforts made to get House
cosponsors was still useful in getting the $2.3 Billion in
Amtrak funding in the final budget package.

4) Though he signed the tax and budget bills earlier the
week of August 4th, President Clinton still has a few days
to use his line-item veto powers on individual items. There
was one wire story on Thursday August 7th from the
Associated Press that got repeated by several newspapers and
radio stations saying that Clinton was considering vetoing
Amtrak. However, a second AP wire story went out Friday at
noon quoting White House officials directly. They said
Clinton does not oppose the $2.3 Billion in Amtrak capital

5) The ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency
Act) Reauthorization process has been pretty much stalled
all summer long. That was still the case in the Senate
leading into the summer recess that began August 2nd. But
there was a little movement in the House the last week of
July. House T&I Chairman Bud Shuster (R/PA) and other
committee leaders met and agreed to a general outline for a
House bill. It would be a three-year bill, but drawing down
(aka spending) all five years worth of budget authority
contained in the 1997 budget agreement. It reportedly would
retain ISTEA's present structure. Committee leaders have
left staffers with instructions for drafting a bill which
should be ready for general review by the last week of
August. [It should be noted here the the present ISTEA law
does not have any provision for states to use this money to
sponsor intercity passenger rail (Amtrak) service. Senators
Roth and Biden (R/DE) have in the past tried to include
"flexibility" language, thus allowing states to spend part
of their gas tax revenue for passenger rail, but have not
succeeded. This law is totally separate from the "half-cent"
legislation pending on Capitol Hill.] Shuster hopes to have
the subcommittee mark-up the second week of September and
full committee mark-up the third week. That doesn't have
much time for final enactment in the House much less the
Senate by ISTEA's September 30th expiration. However, there
was a similar gap back in 1991 when ISTEA legislation was
not signed by President Bush until December of that year. It
is important that members of the House T&I committees
understand that they need to give states the power to spend
federal transportation money in intercity passenger rail.

6) House T&I Committee member Jay Kim (R/CA) has
pleaded GUILTY to misdemeanor violations of campaign
finance. Kim was brought to the chairmanship of the Railroad
Subcommittee replacing Susan Molinari (R/NY) who has
resigned. Some viewed that with apprehension since Kim has
often said he had no use for Amtrak and that Maglev trains
and supposedly private highways can do it all. A misdemeanor
is not enough to keep Kim from being railroad chairman but
the Journal of Commerce also has said Kim has said he would
not necessarily be guided by party leadership on issues the
subcommittee would face. That could keep him out of the job.
The paper also reported that Bob Franks (R/NJ) and Jack
Quinn (R/NY) are interested in the job.

7) The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE)
had rejected arbitration for it's contract talks with Amtrak
and so on Tuesday August 5th, the National Labor Relation
Mediation Board suspended its mediations between the two
parties. This starts a 30 day cooling-off period. Starting
September 5th, A) the workers could strike, B) Amtrak could
impose new work rules, or C) the President could appoint a
Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to study the dispute for
another 30 days.

8) Amtrak is warning passengers using Union Station in Los
Angeles that several adjacent streets will be closed on and
off from the period August 25th to September 4th because of
a downtown car race that will be held.

9) Amtrak has announced that it will run the TEXAS EAGLE
indefinitely beyond September 30.

10)The SOUTHWEST CHIEF, traveling at 90 mph through the
Arizona desert, derailed Saturday August 9th as it passed
over a flood-damaged bridge. About 100 people were injured,
only one seriously. There were no fatalities. Heavy
overnight rain apparently scoured away the ground around
supports for the trestle, causing it to collapse under the
weight of the Chicago-bound SOUTHWEST CHIEF shortly before
dawn. The low trestle bridge went over a wash -- flood-prone
low ground that is normally dry much of the time, said Jim
Sabourin, a spokesman for Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, the
railroad that owns the track.

Dave Bowe
Amtrak Conductor

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