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THIS WEEK FROM WASHINGTON
Friday, August 14, 1998


UpDaTeD


1) The August recess of the House began on August 7th and ends Sept. 8th. The Senate went out July 31st and returns August 31st. The 1999 Transportation Funding Bill < HR 4328 > appears to be one of the least controversial appropriations bills. Thus it could move swiftly in early September. Staff work on the Conference Report takes place this month. It is important that the Houseís numbers for Amtrak - $609 million, and the Senateís definition of Amtrak capital uses are adopted in the final report.

2) A sudden strike by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE) against Conrail that began at 6am EDT on Friday August 14th, has disrupted Amtrak and Commuter train services in many parts of the country. A restraining order against the union was issued by a court at 3:25pm. The MBTA, MetroNorth, and V.R.E. all use some Conrail facilities. Some Amtrak trains were canceled or terminated with delays possible for some others though Amtrak hoped to be back to normal by 7pm later in the day. Amtrak trains that use Conrail include the LAKE SHORE LIMITED, the CAPITOL LIMITED west of Pittsburgh, the THREE RIVERS east of Youngstown, Ohio, THE PENNSYLVANIAN, the EMPIRE and Detroit corridors, all trains entering Chicago from the direction of Gary, Indiana, and all trains using the Potomac River Bridge at Washington, D.C.

3) The simmering dispute between Amtrak and the freight rail industry appears to have been resolved amicably. This week The Association of American Railroads (AAR) said it would withdraw a lawsuit against the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals. The suit aimed to reverse the Boardís May 28th decision - confirming Amtrakís legal right to carry express business on its trains. The AAR, which has nine members including Amtrak, filed the suit July 21st even though the Union Pacific, the lead freight railroad in the dispute, had already said it was engaged in talks with Amtrak. According to the August 12th Journal of Commerce, legal executives (read: ambulance chasers) filed the suit filed the AAR when the new president of the AAR - Eddie Hamberger - had been on the job only a few days. The paper quoted Hamberger saying "If two of my members are working out something privately in a negotiated fashion, the AAR has no business to come between them. It seems more logical to have Amtrak and UP work it out".

4) Saturday August 15th is the first day that the Canadian Auto Workers Union may strike against the Canadian National Railway, however the union, which represents shop crafts and clerical workers, has said it would not take any job action until October. Itís not known how this would affect Amtrak operations over the CN and its affiliates in Michigan - Grand Trunk Western).

5) In addition to all the problems caused by the Union Pacific that have delayed the TEXAS EAGLE and the SUNSET LIMITED, a new one has emerged during July and August. Record-setting heat in Texas that causes heat kinks in welded rail have caused recent UP freight train derailments and several slow orders.

6) The unstaffed station at Lafayette, LA on the SUNSET Route burned to the ground on Thursday August 6th.

7) Amtrak resumed service to Akron, Ohio on Monday August 10th on its THREE RIVERS train.

8) The ADIRONDACK still wasnít running between Albany and Montreal due to weather-related damage in Port Kent, NY. Buses were providing service to all stations except Port Kent at least until August 15th.

9) Flash flooding in the Milwaukee area disrupted the EMPIRE BUILDER on Friday, August 7th with trains detouring over the Burlington Route between Chicago and St. Paul. Thursday August 6thís Train #7 got trapped for 18 hours at Elm Grove - west of Milwaukee - by track problems.

10) A new contract between Amtrak and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers took effect on August 1st. A main feature is the extension of the number of hours an engineer can work alone in the cab from 4 to 6. The four-hour limit was one reason the SUNSET was initially cut back to Sanford, Florida, rather than Orlando.

11) Last week, the consortium that is building the American Flyers for Amtrak - Alsthom/Bombardier - announced that Amtrak had ordered two more trainsets for an additional cost of $43 million - financed in total by the builder. Amtrak already has on order for the consortium - 18 American Flyer sets and 15 high-horsepower electric locomotives.

12) The Economist magazine dated August 8th has an article attacking Amtrak and especially long-distance trains.

13) Washington Metro completed its Red Line July 25th by extending service two miles from Wheaton to Glenmont - both in Maryland.

14) Regarding the split-up of Conrail - the Surface Transportation Board decision established a of August 22nd - the day when Norfolk Southern and CSX will take control of their own portions of Conrail. However, much more work - particularly on labor agreements and computer systems - will be done before either railroad will start integrating Conrail routes into their respective operations.

15) The derailment of the SOUTHWEST CHIEF at a flood-weakened bridge near Kingman, Arizona occured one year ago this past August 9th, just before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations Amtrak filed claims for $13 million against the City of Kingman, County of Mohave, and the State of Arizona. Hydrologists hired by Amtrak and BNSF have concluded independently that the bridge-damaging buildup of water resulted from a downstream culvert that was too small and some ponds upstream that are mostly on public land. Any money Amtrak might recover would go towards equipment damage and claims by passengers and employees. The filing has lead to unflattering publicity with local officials noting that they didnít bill Amtrak for the cost of emergency services and school shelters. BNSF has similar claims filed. 16) EMPIRE Corridor schedules will change August 24th account of track work on MetroNorth. Another change will follow September 21st as the location of the track work changes.

17) Effective September 1st, the interline connection between Lamy and Santa Fe, NM will become a full-fledged Amtrak Thruway Service, however the Greyhound interline connection between Albuquerque and Amarillo, Texas will be dropped. Travelers will have to make arrangements for the connection on their own.

18) On August 4th, the Australian government recommended awarding a A $2.1 Billion contract to a consortium of Alsthom/Layton Holdings and Quantas Airlines to build and run high-speed rail service between Sydney and Canberra. The consortiumís bid must still get final approval from federal and state governments, however Prime Minister John Howard said his government would look at extending the route to Melbourne.

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


Last Updated 08/16/98 12:30 hrs. EST



INDEX OF RECENT UPDATES

Week of 7/30/98 (609M)

Senate Approves Bill

Getting Closer

STB APPROVES FUNDING

Week of 0701/98

Surface Transportation Board Update

CLINTON HOLDS BACK

CLINTON SIGNS BILL

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS



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