Hotline #793 - October 1, 1993

CSX may reopen on October 4 the bridge damaged in the Sunset Limited wreck on September 22. The final death toll was 47, making it Amtrak's worst accident ever. That includes 42 passengers and five crew dead. For now, buses are replacing the Sunset Limited between Pensacola and New Orleans, and the Gulf Breeze between Mobile and Birmingham.

Lawsuits are already being filed, including one by the owner of the barge that investigators believe hit the bridge. The Warrior and Gulf Navigation Company is invoking an 1851 law limiting its liability to $432,000, though total damages may top $20 million. Accident survivors are countersuing to prevent such a cap.

The Senate version of the 1994 DOT transportation funding bill was approved both in subcommittee and in the full Appropriations Committee. It gave Amtrak $351 million for operations, which is better than the House, but not enough to keep away service cuts. The rest was better news -- $208.5 million for Amtrak capital and $250 million for the Northeast Corridor, including some money for Boston electrification and high-speed train sets. The Clinton high-speed corridor program was funded, getting $79 million, plus $28 million for a maglev prototype.

We understand there may be further attempts to take money away from Amtrak and give it to the Coast Guard, this time on the Senate floor. It is absolutely critical this not happen -- tell your Senator to vote against any Amtrak amendment, no matter who the beneficiary is. The bill could come to the Senate floor on October 4.

Also, the Senate Commerce Committee could consider S.839, the high-speed corridor authorization, as early as October 5 and needs to hear from supporters of the bill. The Senate switchboard is 202/224-3121.

Amtrak has announced some service cuts to take place if the operating grant ends up less than $381 million. They propose making the Pioneer tri-weekly west of Denver, making the Texas Eagle tri-weekly south of St. Louis, and eliminating the River Cities between St. Louis and Carbondale. Notices would go up after the Senate votes on appropriations and the cuts would take effect two weeks later. Also, Amtrak today posted notices to eliminate trains 600, 602, and 617 on the Harrisburg line, which are section 403(d) commuter trains. There is a comment period before the trains could come off November 1. Comments may be sent to Amtrak Harrisburg Service, P.O. Box 2709, Washington, DC 20013. Amtrak wants to extend two other Harrisburg round trips to New York, pending talks with Pennsylvania.

Many small communities on the Eagle and Pioneer routes depend on daily rail service. The Pioneer is one of only three daily services between Seattle and Portland and the Eagle is the only daily train in all of Texas. The River Cities connects many useful city pairs and NARP has often criticized Amtrak for doing absolutely nothing in years to market this potentially viable train. Very few people will want to change to or from a bus at Carbondale at 1:00 am or 3:00 am. Even after all these changes, out of a $30 million budget gap, at an operating grant level of $351 million, Amtrak figures only $11 million will be gained. The remaining $19 million in savings will have to come from other sorts of cuts.

On a more positive note, last week in closed session the Amtrak board approved a deal to expand its order for Superliners from Bombardier. Already there are 140 on order, but now Amtrak will get 55 more, meant mostly to replace old Santa Fe Hi-Level equipment.

The last revenue trip for the X2000 was September 29. It will be loaded on a ship in Baltimore tomorrow for return to Sweden. The ICE enters revenue service on October 5, after an official inaugural on October 4. It will run weekdays on the schedules of trains 112 and 223.