Hotline #878 - May 19, 1995

The Roth-Biden amendment to let states use certain ISTEA funds on Amtrak may be offered as a floor amendment to the National Highway System bill in a few weeks, if enough co-sponsors can be found. Right now, the amendment is called S.733.

The House passed the Republican budget yesterday. It freezes Amtrak for three years, then cuts operating and capital sharply, ending all Amtrak funding in 2002. The plan sharply cuts transit right away, eliminating grants for all new rail projects. It phases out operating grants over five years and assumes cutting the federal matching grant share from 80% to 50%. But roads would stay at 80%, with road funding rising every year after 1996.

During floor debate, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster (R.-Pa.) was denied the chance to offer his amendment to take trust fund programs off-budget. He has 206 co-sponsors. That would hurt Amtrak, which is not in a trust fund. Speaker Gingrich has set up a Speaker's Task Force on Transportation, with Shuster, Budget Chairman Kasich, and Appropriations Chairman Livingston. The goal is to satisfy Kasich's and Livingston's concerns, presumably so that the budget reconciliation bill expected later this year can include Shuster's language.

The Senate began debate on its budget resolution yesterday. This one is tougher on Amtrak in the early years but continues capital through 2002, and it eliminates transit operating grants.

As part of the Clinton Administration campaign to show the bad effects of the Republican budget proposals, DOT Secretary Pena visited New York Penn Station yesterday. He described the Amtrak proposals as basically driving Amtrak into bankruptcy. But Susan Molinari (R.-N.Y.), head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Railroads Subcommittee, was quoted in yesterday's New York Times saying that a smaller, self-sufficient Amtrak would emerge in a few years with many "lightly used" routes eliminated.

Amtrak has annulled the Ann Rutledge west of St. Louis until flooding subsides, which may be May 21.

The Train Riders' Association of California supports a proposal to take control of Capitol Corridor trains away from Caltrans, which is the subject of a bill introduced by State Assemblyman Tom Hannigan. Many rail supporters feel the state has been slow to improve the Corridor, both physically and in terms of marketing. Control might go to a joint powers board, like the one CalTrain has.

The new Piedmont and Mount Baker International start service next week, in time for Memorial Day.

The new station at Jack London Square in downtown Oakland opens for business on May 22.

Missouri has said it wants to bring back the Mule trains on July 1.

The Richmond (Va.) Metropolitan Planning Organization last week approved a three-phase plan to reopen Main Street Station in downtown Richmond. The MPO approved Phase One, which would let Newport News trains stop there, possibly in 1997, at a cost of $1.8 million, with 80% coming from federal ISTEA funds. Phase Two would extend trains now terminating at Staples Mill station to Main Street. Phase Three would be further renovations and an intermodal terminal.

Colorado will launch a statewide study this summer on whether regional rail services should be used instead of more roadbuilding.

Amtrak now offers promotions and discounts on the internet over the World Wide Web.

Region 8 meets at Tacoma, Wash., tomorrow at 12:00 noon at the Ramada Hotel near the Tacoma Dome. The speaker is Gil Mallery, head of Amtrak West.