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THIS WEEK FROM WASHINGTON

& BEYOND as of DECEMBER 5, 1997.



1) Chairman Chaffee's 6-year ISTEA reauthorization bill is expected on the Senate floor January 28th. The House likely will take up it's version several weeks later. Chairman Shuster wants more highway spending authority and the speaker reportedly has said "this would not be possible before a budget is passed reflecting anticipated excess revenues." A big debate is likely about the use of those revenues.

2) Senators Robert Byrd (D/WV) and Phil Gramm (R/TX) likely will offer an amendment that will shift to highways the 4.3 cents in federal gasoline taxes that now go to deficit reduction, AND allow these funds to be spent. This will produce a big debate. The key role the Senate finance committee may play in the outcome of this debate is the reason that Amtrak could still get the half cent (!) The half cent always was intended to come out of the 4.3 cents and the failure of Congress to deal with the 4.3 cents in 1997 is the reason Bill Roth (R/DE), who chairs the finance committee got the special $2.3 Billion tax refund arrangement for Amtrak.

3) The FAA had planned to rule the week of November 24th on whether the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey can use $1.2 Billion in passenger departure tax money for the planned rail link to JFK Airport. The New York Times on Thursday Nov. 27th reported the delay is due to extraordinary pressure for and against the project. The airlines are opposed but the Times quoted Jennine Bauer of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign saying she expected the FAA to rule in favor of the Port Authority. She said, "this region, where it is very hard to get big projects built, has now come to a consensus that this is what we want. It would be an outrage to turn them down based on airline lobbying and /or a narrow interpretation of the law." The Times said in 1996 the FAA allowed the Port Authority to spend approximately departure tax money on a $250 million rail connection from the monorail at Newark Airport to the nearby Amtrak Northeast Corridor. That project should be finished by the end of 2000.

4) House Transportation Committee chairman Rick Deist of Altoona says the Pennsylvania state general assembly the week of Nov. 24th approved nearly $300 million in rail projects including $155 million for 4 high speed trainsets and related facilities. The sets could be coupled on to Amtrak's American Flyer order or bid separately. They would be used first between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Deist said he hopes it would go to Pittsburgh one day. These trains are in addition to 7 diesel trainsets already ordered. The governor would have to release the new funds before purchases are made. Other items in the authorization include a statewide comprehensive passenger rail study, a newer Amtrak station at Paradise, PA to connect with the Strasburg RR, locomotives for the proposed Scranton - New York Service on the old Lacawanna line, plus purchase of parts of that line still owned by Conrail, and several transit items in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

5) President Clinton signed the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill December 2nd. It's the Amtrak Reform and Privatization Act of 1997. It's now Public Law 105-134. Four legislators attending the signing - Rep. Jack Quinn (R/NY), James Oberstar (D/MN), Robert Wise (D/WV) and Senate finance chairman Bill Roth (R/DE). Other key members were invited but most were out of town as Congress is in a long recess. Other attendees included Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, Amtrak President Tom Downs and four other Amtrak board members as well as union leaders.

6) On Thursday, Dec. 4th, the DOT appealed to the Office of Management and Budget - the OMB's proposed fiscal 1999 budget request for transportation. The OMB levels are lower for highways and transit than the 1998 levels. That would clash with the goals of some in Congress who want still bigger increases in highway spending. If a final appeal to budget Raynes does not bear fruit, Slater can appeal directly to Clinton.

7) A new Amtrak Thruway Bus service in Virginia, in conjunction with Greyhound now serves Washington Union Station with Dulles Airport and Charlottesville, VA.

8) Rail advocacy groups have told Amtrak President Tom Downs that the present family-style meals on SILVER SERVICE trains north of Washington and below Jacksonville are not good. Also protested were the rules restricting transcontinental passengers to one free soft drink per trip. It was suggested that a minimum of one free drink per day, 3 drinks for Chicago - California passengers, for example. Also protested was the use of plastic plates on CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR meals. Amtrak was urged to develop gift packages for overnight first-class passengers comprised of products donated by businesses anxious to promote their wares. These packages should be free to Amtrak.

9) The Surface Transportation Board has extended its Union Pacific emergency order through March 15th. This requires the beleagured railroad to cooperate with competitors to clear train congestion. The new order directs both UP & BNSF to give priority to grain shipments in the midwest, with the third largest corn harvest ever, has exacerbated on-going rail freight congestion problems.

10) The December 3rd Fort Lauderdale Sun - Sentinel reports the Florida Fun Train - whose president recently resigned - said in a November 14th filing with the SEC that it will have to stop running December 31st unless it boosts ridership and gets more cash - soon. Fun Train's stock has lost 74% of its value just as operations started October 15th.

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Last Updated 12/09/97 12:36 hrs. EST



INDEX OF RECENT UPDATES

CLINTON SIGNS BILL

Summary of Provisions

Week of 11/21/97

Week of 11/13/97

Week of 10/24/97

Week of 10/10/97

Week of 9/26/97



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