Passenger Rail News

Senate holds Amtrak reauthorization hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on S.294, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, on February 27.

S. 294 was introduced in January by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-MS). It provides for the reauthorization of Amtrak, and is substantially similar to S. 1516, which was introduced in the 109th Congress. The bill also includes the rail security package that the Senate has already approved three times, most recently in last year's SAFE Port Act.

Highlights of S. 294 include:

Title IV of the Act is substantially different than it was in S. 1516 - besides including the previous Amtrak security provisions, it now also includes the Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007 (STARS).

Witnesses included: Amtrak President & CEO Alexander Kummant, PA Governor Ed Rendell, FRA Administrator Boardman; Wisconsin DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi; and Kelly Taylor, Oregon DOT's Rail Division Administrator.

During the hearing, Amtrak President Kummant made no mention of Amtrak's workers, according to BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman.

"Unfortunately, President Kummant chose not to acknowledge the needs of Amtrak's workers and the sacrifices made by them for the past 35 years," Tolman said. "I had hoped that he would recognize the men and women who have kept the railroad afloat, but after denying BLET members a contract more than seven years, I'm not surprised."

Metra locomotive engineer hit by rock

CHICAGO - A rock flew through a running Metra train window on March 4, shattering glass and injuring its engineer.

Metra said it appears someone threw a rock at the northbound train just before the 87th Street station, shattering a window directly near the train's engineer about 11:40 a.m. When police arrived, they were unable to find anyone who might have been the suspected rock thrower.

The incident occurred on Metra's Electric Line - which was running northbound on the Southeast Side from 93rd Street to the Millennium Park Station - and delayed the train for about an hour.

The train was held up as a new engineer was located to operate it, while the original engineer was taken to an area hospital in an unknown condition. His injuries were non-life-threatening.

The train was only a couple minutes away from its second stop when the incident happened.

(From Chicago's Daily Southtown).

State lawmakers say no stopgap funding for SEPTA in 2007

HARRISBURG, Pa. - As SEPTA heads toward another financial crisis, state lawmakers said that they would not provide the stopgap financial aid used in recent years.

The administration won't divert federal highway funding to SEPTA or other transit agencies, Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler told the House Appropriations Committee.

"It's sink-or-swim time," Biehler said. He said the use of federal highway funding "was putting a patch" on the problem. "Now it's time to do something about it."

Gov. Rendell has proposed a tax on oil companies' gross profits to help fund mass transit. SEPTA, which faces a $130 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that will begin July 1, will specify service cuts and fare hikes it says will be necessary if it does not get more state aid. On average, SEPTA says, fares would rise 31 percent and service would be cut 20 percent.

SEPTA general manager Faye Moore said that she remained "guardedly optimistic" that Rendell and the legislature would provide $100 million in time to avoid such serious measures. SEPTA hopes to cover the remaining $30 million of the deficit through revenue enhancements and cost savings. Moore told legislators that even with $100 million in additional state funding, SEPTA planned to raise fares an average of 11 percent, but that the base cash fare would remain $2 and service would be largely unaffected.

(From the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

MBTA looks to balance budget

BOSTON - Despite higher fares, more riders, and the addition of the new Greenbush commuter rail line, the MBTA still plans to dip into its rainy day fund to balance its next operating budget, the third consecutive year the authority will do so.

In addition, the authority has not set aside any money for new union contracts, MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas said.

The MBTA plans to take $2.5 million from its reserves for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The T used $10.5 million in emergency funds in fiscal 2006 and $4.7 million in 2007. Among other items, high fuel prices hurt the railroad's bottom line in 2006.

(From the Boston Globe.)



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen