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THIS WEEK FROM WASHINGTON
& Beyond for a July 22nd UpDaTe


House panel approves $609 million for Amtrak in 1999


U.S. House Panel Approves $609 Million to Keep Amtrak Running

Washington, July 22 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a $46.9 billion Transportation Department spending bill for next year that includes $609 million to help keep Amtrak running.

The bill, approved by voice vote, provides $54 million more for the struggling passenger railroad than similar legislation in the Senate, though it's still $12 million less than the Clinton administration requested. Once the full House and Senate have passed the bills, negotiators will meet to resolve differences in the two measures and agree on a level of funding for Amtrak and other programs.

Members of the Appropriations Committee complained that they had little choice in crafting this year's bill because of restraints imposed by the six-year, multibillion dollar highway and mass transit measure enacted earlier this year.

SAFETY UPDATE

U.S. rail regulator orders Northeast safety system

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Tuesday ordered the installation of a new train control system to enhance safety for fast trains traveling the northeastern corridor between New Haven, Conn. and Boston, Mass.

"By significantly reducing the risk of derailment or collision, this final order will benefit all users on this portion of the northeast corridor, including railroad employees, passengers and freight railroads," FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris said in a statement.

An FRA spokesman was not immediately available to further detail the new train control system.

Firms subject to the order include Amtrak, commuter services by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, as well as two frieght operators, Providence and Worcester Railroad.

The FRA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, also authorized Amtrak to increase speeds to 135 miles per hour south of New York City for its equipped high speed trains after the installation of the new system on high- speed tracks.

The first of Amtrak's planned high speed trains is expected to enter service between New Haven and Boston in October 1999. The high speed trains will be tilt trains capable of rapid acceleration to 150 miles per hour and higher than normal speeds around curves, the FRA said.

JULY 16th UpDaTe

WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - A House panel Thursday approved $609 million for Amtrak next year, an amount the national passenger railroad said fully met its request under a strategy to end public subsidies by 2002.

Although the amount agreed to by the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee was $12 million below that originally sought by Amtrak, the railroad said specific projects had been funded separately by an equivalent amount.

Earlier this week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved only $555 million for Amtrak in fiscal 1999 that starts Oct.1.

Amtrak acting president George Warrington said in a statement he would fight to have the higher amount prevail through to the House floor and when the two chambers meet in conference on a final transportation spending bill.

"Anything less than meeting Amtrak's full funding requirements for next year could squander the multi-million dollar investment America has made in intercity passenger rail...," Warrington said.

Amtrak has said it can meet its commitment to be self-sufficient by 2002 if Congress provides continued support while it modernizes its equipment and service.

JULY 17TH UPDATES

1)The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday July 14th approved the 1999 Transportation Funding Bill that the Transportation subcommittee approved the week before. It’s the bill with $555 million for Amtrak. The committee added language making clear that the so-called transit definition for capital applies to the Amtrak appropriation, thus allowing it to go for maintenance of equipment and facilities. The committee also earmarked $5 million of high-speed rail funds for capital improvements for Amtrak’s planned daily Los Angeles - Las Vegas rail service. However, some bad amendments from the subcommittee survived and maybe the target of Senate floor amendments:

A) One requires the Amtrak Reform Council to identify Amtrak routes that are candidates for closure and to report to Congress annually on such recommendations. This arguably would end the Council’s independence and impartiality, and instead giving it a vested interest in those management decisions it promoted.

B) The other bad idea is requiring Amtrak to tell it’s customers the most up-to-date Government Accounting Office measure of Amtrak’s average subsidy per passenger. The GAO has shown it has an anti-Amtrak ax to grind. Also, no one is about to impose such a requirement on other transportation modes, ie: how much it costs to subsidize the air traffic control system per flying passenger/per route, and each tax payer- subsidized airport they use. Almost 3/4 of Amtrak’s passengers travel on trains whose average subsidy per passenger is below the system-wide average. That subsidy per passenger is really a measure of average trip length and not of economic efficiency. Recognizing that Chairman Shelby is just trying to make Amtrak look bad, Texas Senator Hutchison may offer the floor amendment to strike this language.

The Senate bill will not go to the Senate floor until the House passes its bills.

2) The first House step came Thursday July 16th when the House Transportation Appropriations subcommittee chaired by Frank Wolf (R-VA) approved a 1999 Transportation Funding Bill. It basically gave Amtrak full funding. Wolf’s $609 million nominally is $12 million less than the Amtrak request of $621 million, but that $12 million was for the Manhattan Penn Station / Farley Project, which was funded separately in the recent TEA-21 law. An Amtrak press release praised Wolf and the subcommittee for keeping faith with the Congressional agreement to provide the necessary support to make Amtrak self sufficient by 2002. Representative Callahan of Alabama had threatened to cut Wolf’s Amtrak amount by $60 million but no such amendment was offered on July 16th.

The full House Appropriations Committee may take up the Transportation Funding Bill on Wednesday, July 22nd.

3) Effective Sunday July 19th, Amtrak will restore the HOOSIER STATE train, which last ran three years ago. It will run tri-weekly between Chicago and Indianapolis on the same schedule as the CARDINAL. The result in combination with the CARDINAL will be to link these cities daily except Monday southbound and Tuesday northbound. The new train will transfer all equipment - to and from the Beech Grove shops - thus eliminating one cause of CARDINAL delays. The train will use one ‘reserved’ Superliner coach with no food service.

4) In the week of July 6th, the Illinois DOT signed a $3.75 million contract with the Gateway Western Railroad to build a new track along the Mississippi River in East Saint Louis. This is expected to cut at least 20 minutes from the schedule of Amtrak trains running between Saint Louis and Chicago. Passenger trains then would use the MacArthur Bridge to cross the river instead of the Merchants Bridge.

5) Due to annual Conrail track work, Amtrak’s BAY STATE trains will not run between Springfield and Boston certain days for the rest of July. Alternate transportation will be provided. The LAKE SHORE LIMITED will run subject to delay.

6) On Monday July 6th, state transportation commissioners approved a project to refurbish the Santa Fe station in downtown Oklahoma City. The decision was made in light of the proposal to restore Amtrak service to that city in 1999. 80% of the $1 million approved is from federal sources.

7) The July 7th Wall Street Journal had a story on Union Pacific’s continuing service problems and another titled Big Railroads will post lower results as problems at UP linger. Amtrak passengers and crew will not be surprised that the story says the national freight rail system in general has been running more slowly than it was just a few years ago. CSX and Norfolk Southern are incurring extra short-term costs related to the Conrail break-up in efforts to avoid UP-type problems.

8) On July 10th, Amtrak, Guilford and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority formally entered into agreement for running the Boston - Portland (Maine) service, scheduled to start the Fall of 1999. The agreement got some bad press because it specifies the top speed of 59 mph, consistent with the Surface Transportation Board’s recent decision. However, the STB said the parties could negotiate for higher speeds. Maine plans to use its Taxpayer Relief Act of 1998 money to pay for higher speeds and to that end, on Wednesday July 22nd, will begin negotiations with Guilford.

9) Amtrak will run another SAN DIEGAN round-trip on weekends between Los Angeles and San Diego from July 25th to September 7th - which is Labor Day.

10) As of July 1st, VIA Rail trains in Canada no longer have conductors. The tasks performed by conductors will be divided up between the motor man and the on-board attendants. VIA says it will save $17 million per year from this - in the short term.

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====>>>>TEXT OF LETTER FROM SENATORS


Last Updated 07/23/98 00:50 hrs. EST



INDEX OF RECENT UPDATES

STB APPROVES FUNDING

Not Looking Good Again For Amtrak

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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