Despite debate extending past midnight, the Senate still has not voted on Senator Moynihan's (D.-N.Y.) surface transportation bill, S.1204. However, the nucleus of the bill -- the flexibility and level-playing-field provisions -- still survives.
Earlier this week, the Moynihan bill was challenged by a coalition of donor-state Senators led by Senator Warner (R.-Va.). Their bill contained none of the flexibility language and would have been very harmful. While that issue has not yet been resolved, Senator Byrd (D.-W.Va.) will probably introduce a compromise amendment to allow a reworking of the allocation formulas within the Moynihan bill. That could happen on June 17, with a final vote on June 18.
Several important amendments were passed yesterday. Senator Durenberger (Minn.) was able to insert a National Highway System into the bill, calling for designation of 140,000 miles of primary highways beyond the current 43,000-mile Interstate system. Senator Moynihan originally opposed it, but compromised when the amount of a state's federal highway allocation that could be spent on the National Highway System was cut from 50% to 17.5%. The Administration had threatened to veto the bill if the National Highway System were not included.
Senators Exon (D.-Neb.) and Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) inserted a freeze in truck weights. A truck-length freeze had already been adopted in Committee. S.1194, the transit bill, was incorporated into the Moynihan bill.
One good surprise was an amendment from Oklahoma Senators Nickles and Boren, with Cohen (R.-Me.). They proposed that any state that didn't already have Amtrak service could use their federal rural transit aid to start up Amtrak service. Despite opposition from the transit industry, the amendment was adopted. That could result in a very interesting way to start up Oklahoma and Maine service.
Senator Simon (D.-Ill.) withdrew his passenger-rail corridor grade-crossing elimination amendment, because of opposition from Senator Moynihan, which is extremely unfortunate. Senator Moynihan, of course, is principally interested in maglevs and it is a shame that he would block a good rail program like this. Senator Pell (R.I.) was kind enough to get up and put in a good word for the Simon amendment. There is still a chance in the House, where Representative Sangmeister has introduced a similar bill, H.R.2619, and is looking for co-sponsors.
Senator Mitchell (D.-Me.) was not heard from on whether to introduce an amendment to require a rail link in the Boston Central Artery.
The Senate may finish with this on June 18. The House may not introduce its own bill until after the July 4 recess and it may not have the good Moynihan flexibility language. It is important for NARP members with representation on the House Public Works Committee to start working on them now.
The Federal Railroad Administration issued new rules on June 12 that for the first time would require licenses for railroad engineers. Current engineers would be grandfathered for three years. Engineers will have to pass a written exam and a performance test administered by the railroads. Licenses would have to be renewed every three years. The tests will be written and released by the FRA on January 1. Railroads long have opposed licensing, but these new rules are called for by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 1988, which itself was a direct result of the 1987 Amtrak-Conrail wreck at Chase, Md. In that tragedy, a Conrail engineer was found to be under the influence of drugs and having had his own driver's license suspended.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on June 11 that random drug testing of railroad workers is constitutional. Rail labor had sued to block it, claiming it was unreasonable search and seizure, but the court said public safety outweighed that. Rail labor may still appeal, but the Supreme Court is not highly likely to disagree with the circuit court on this issue.
The California Legislature's Budget Conference Committee has rejected Governor Wilson's proposal to pay rail bond debt service from existing transit funds and to limit the sale of bonds next year to $585 million. Instead, conferees adopted a plan to allow $1.3 billion of Proposition 108 and 116 rail bonds to be sold by next June, with the necessary debt service to be paid by a loan from the State Highway Account to the state's General Fund. This plan, which is expected to be approved by the full legislature, would allow all proposed rail projects to go forward on schedule.
NARP Executive Director Ross Capon will appear at a New York City Council hearing on June 17 on rail safety and fencing. This is in the wake of the June 2 death of a child on Amtrak's new Empire Connection. It will begin at 10:00 am at the New York County Lawyers Association Building at 14 Vesey St., downtown.
The schedules of the California Zephyr, Desert Wind, and Pioneer change on June 16, when the reroute of the Pioneer takes place.
The Washington Metro Blue Line extension to Van Dorn Street in Alexandria will be opened tomorrow. A public ceremony at Van Dorn begins at 10:00 am. Speakers are Metro General Manager David Gunn, Sen. Chuck Robb (D.-Va.), Rep. Jim Moran (D.-Va.), Metro Board Chair Audrey Moore, and Alexandria Mayor Patsy Ticer. Free rides from Van Dorn will be offered between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm.