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THIS WEEK FROM WASHINGTON
& Beyond for Wednesday, July 1st


UPDATE


The Senate left for its Independence Day recess, without any progress on a 1999 transportation funding bill. The Transportation Appropriation Subcommittee’s mark-up session, which was continually scheduled and postponed throughout June, now is expected Tuesday, July 7.

It is still believed that Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama is planning to zero out or drastically cut Amtrak funding, once again forcing a discussion about whether Amtrak should be kept alive.

Meanwhile, the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Frank Wolf of Virginia, may move ahead with a bill of its own the week of July 14.

Recess is a good time to remind both your Senators and Representative that Amtrak needs to be fully funded in the transportation funding bills that will start moving in July. Particularly in the Senate, make clear to your senator the importance of he or she conveying to his or her leader (i.e., Lott for Republicans, Daschle for Democrats) that full funding of Amtrak's appropriations request is vital.

1) The meeting of the Senate Transportation Appropriation subcommittee to approve (or mark-up) a 1999 Transportation Funding Bill is now expected on Tuesday June 9th. Recent comments on Amtrak funding by it's chairman - Richard Shelby (R-AL) indicate there is great danger that he will give nothing at all to Amtrak for 1999. It is important that:

A) Amtrak has funding needs met in 1999 beyond the money approved in last year's Taxpayer Relief Act;

B) Amtrak needs the full $621 million request for capital;

C) The bill should clarify Amtrak's right to spend appropriate capital on maintenance as is already the case for transit. Amtrak and the Administration including the OMB are in full support on agreement to the above requests.

2) The Surface Transportation Board on May 29th released its decisions both on the Amtrak Boston to Portland,ME service and the "Express" initiative. Praise was given to the board's "Express" decision thus upholding the historic role of passenger trains carrying express shipments. Guilford issued an upbeat statement on the Portland decision which suggests that they plan no appeal.

3) Germany suffered it's worst rail accident in 50 years on Wednesday June 3rd with 96 confirmed (as of Friday) dead and hundreds injured when an ICE (InterCity Express) train derailed. The accident did not take place on one of the new high-speed lines, but rather on a conventional rail line 35 miles north of Hannover. The ICE, which travels at 175 mph on high-speed lines, was traveling at 125 mph on its way from Munich to Hamburg. The latest news has a report that a piece of a wheel was found nearly 4 miles back from the accident scene.The train rolled along until it reached a set of crossover switches under a highway bridge. The front part of the train went through and separated from the rest of the train, but the rear and several cars derailed and jackknifed, slamming into a bridge abutment, thus bringing down the highway bridge on top of the train. German Railways imposed a temporary 100mph speed limit on its trains that was lifted at noon on June 5th. They withdrew 60 first generation ICE trainsets for inspection, but 30 are now back in normal service. This is the first time passengers were killed - ever- on any high-speed trains since the Japanese Bullet Trains began operation in 1964. There have also been no Metroliner fatalities in 30 years of operation.

Also, standard American trains are designed to a much higher strength than European trains. For example, cars in the US can take 800,000 lbs. of pressure from the ends - referred to as buff-strength, but European trains only take 460,000 lbs.. The American Flyer Trains being built for the Northeast Corridor are designed to take 800,000 lbs. at the vestibules (buff- strength), but also have an inner shell that can take 1.2 million lbs. and can hold the weight of another car on top. They will also have airline-style enclosed luggage racks.

4) Information regarding the ISTEA legislation - now called the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century - or T-21 has been leaking out to the press. The best news out of the legislation is the improved tax treatment of employer-provided transit payments. Under the new plan, employers will be able to remove a $65 a month from the worker's existing pretax salary and give it to them as transit passes that are not subject to federal, state or local tax including payroll tax. The plan calls for increasing the benefit to $100 per month starting in 2002.

Another provision of the bill is that conferees agreed to repeal 1.25 cents of the fuel tax paid by railroads and Amtrak effective November 1st.

5) On Thursday night June 4th, the American Passenger Rail Coalition presented an award to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). In accepting he said that the Senate in 1997 had a choice to make about whether we need a nationwide rail passenger system. His positive answer to the question was based on conversations with Meridian,MS mayor John Robert Smith, a lot of experts and "just ordinary people", he said. He also mentioned talking with Florida Senator Connie Mack (R) just after Mack enjoyed a recent trip on the Auto Train.

6) As of June 1st, Thruway Bus Service is available connecting the TEXAS EAGLE in both directions to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

7) Recent Amtrak station rededications included Tampa Union Station on May 30th, and Kingston (Rhode Island ) Station on May 31st.

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TEXT OF LETTER FROM SENATORS


Last Updated 07/01/98 11:44 hrs. EST



INDEX OF RECENT UPDATES

Surface Transportation Board Update

CLINTON HOLDS BACK

CEO REPLACEMENT

DOWNS RESIGNS

Week of 12/05/97

CLINTON SIGNS BILL

Summary of Provisions



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