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This Week From Washington & Beyond
For Friday, September 25, 1998


1) On Tuesday, September 15th, the House named itís conferees for the 1999 Transportation Appropriations Bill - HR 4328. It has turned out to be all the members of the Transportation Appropriations subcommittee plus the Chairman and ranking democrat of the full committee. It is important that the full $609 million voted for in the Houseís bill is adopted by the Joint Conference members from BOTH houses. <>

2) Last week Congress approved a measure and on Thursday, Sept. 24th, the President signed a bill that in-effect moves the end of the fiscal year from Sept. 30th to October 9th, giving Congress a little more breathing room to get its appropriations bills passed. However, the Transportation Bill seems likely to be lumped into a larger Omnibus Spending Bill. The question is whether the transportation part of this big bill will be the final version or whether resolving some transportation issues will be left for later.

3) The Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday Sept. 22nd held a hearing on two of the three remaining nominations to the Amtrak Board of Directors. They are former Virginia Gov. Linwood Houlton and Amy Rosen - a previous Board member and New Jersey Transit official.

Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) went on at great length about how Amtrak should have been privatized 25 years ago and quoted the recent GAO Report that says that only one Amtrak route is profitable. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) expressed his anger that THE PIONEER was discontinued even though other trains have worse economics and said he was not prepared to vote for either nominees. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) said Amtrak is needed very much and that you can throw that GAO Report right out the window ! I donít think itís measuring prospects for the future. [You Go Girl !]

4) The Amtrak Reform Council met in Washington Sept. 17th. The Councilís membership is complete now with the recent appointment of the two remaining Presidential slots. They are Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee and Clarence Monin, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Disturbingly, in a question he asked DOT Secretary Rodney Slater, Norquist seemed open to the idea of breaking up the national system. Slater replied that Congress is willing to go along with what is in place now if revenue can be improved. Deputy Secy. Mort Downey added that the burden is on the Corporation to prove the existing system can work. Other Council members said Appropriations Conferees must drop the ban on Council consultants, thatís in both versions of the Appropriations Bills, if the Council is to carry out itís responsibilities.

5) The Amtrak Board of Directors met Thursday Sept. 23rd. It selected Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson to Chairman of the Board, and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis as vice-Chairman. This new Boardís first responsibility will be to select a new Amtrak President.

6) In itís biweekly report to the Surface Transportation Board, Union Pacific reported that the operating problems that have plagued it in California this summer are largely resolved. UP noted that the backlog in handling shipping containers that was over 3000 loads at one point in July, is now down to between 700 and 800. UP also said that the average delay train departures are 219 - about 10 percent of total departures, and half the amount 6 weeks ago. All this affects Amtrakís SUNSET LIMITED.

7) The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed new rules governing the condition, inspection and maintenance of brakes on freight trains. The new rule would preserve the requirement to inspect the brakes of a freight train every 1000 miles. The freight railroads wanted it increased to 3500, which would have meant no en route inspections since no route is that long. The new rules tighten requirements covering the operational status of locomotiveís brakes and requires 100 percent of the cars in a freight train to have operative brakes before it departs itís originating terminal.

8) The National Transportation Safety Board ruled the week of Sept. 14th that BNSFís failure to adequately inspect its tracks and bridges contributed to the derailment of Amtrakís SOUTHWEST CHIEF at Kingman, Arizona last year. The NTSB recommended that Amtrak improve itís passenger manifest, improve crew training, and improve emergency lighting.

9) According to The Journal of Commerce, the Federal Aviation Administration reports that airline travel is expected to increase by 50 percent from 1997 to 2007. Last year there were 599 million passengers and the FAA projects 900 million ten years from now. Since airports are already crowded and air traffic control systems are at their saturation point AND in need of modernization, this should present an opportunity for a coordinated effort between federal, state and private interests to improve passenger rail, perhaps along the line of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative announced in August. Otherwise federal and state governments could continue their policies that segregate the modes and figure they can spend their way out of aviation congestion by investing ONLY in aviation.



Last Updated 09/2698 20:00 hrs. EST


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