The following comments were offered by SMART Transportation Division New Jersey State Legislative Director Dan O’Connell:
“It’s fitting that he will travel by rail – as he did many times to Washington, D.C. – one last time.
“I first met Sen. Lautenberg after I became state legislative director in 1996. We discussed Amtrak, mass transit (New Jersey Transit), labor issues and more. He couldn’t have been nicer. I let him know that I had, as a Conrail employee, worked Amtrak trains between New York City and Washington, D.C.. As our meeting was coming to a close, he asked about working in the engines of those trains. I watched him transform from the U.S. senator from New Jersey to another man mesmerized by trains. He turned to his aides with him and said ‘you really have to experience this, being on the head-end of a train at 110 mph.’ Our members, especially those in passenger service, owe him a great debt for his fights to secure funding for the survival of Amtrak, to allow commuter rail to grow and for being a reliable supporter of the working men and women of this country.
“Thanks to him, our members at Amtrak and New Jersey Transit have better infrastructure, locomotives, rail cars, and improved stations. Because of that, they have a more secure employment.
“He was one of the cosponsors of the Railroad Retirement Reform legislation that has made our pension system more secure for our active and retired members. He had been one of the prime movers behind the ARC tunnel before the project was cancelled. He was working to insure that Amtrak’s Gateway Project would go forward, adding another rail tunnel under the Hudson River along with a new Amtrak station in New York City. That will allow more trains into and out of New York City and that will mean more jobs.
“I mention these things for two reasons. One, because in most of the articles that have been written about him and his accomplishments, these either get a quick mention or no mention at all. Second, many Americans are disgusted by our politics these days and after reading the news, one can understand why. But, when you see what one man – Sen. Lautenberg – accomplished after serving in World War II and using the GI Bill after the war to found a company that employs more than 55,000 people, he should be respected.
“In some 30 years as our senator, he never forgot his roots as a poor kid from Paterson whose father died when he was young. He cared about working people and people that needed a hand up. He made our country a better place and that should be what politicians aspire to today.”
WASHINGTON – Legislation to privatize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, as a first step toward destruction of Amtrak, will almost certainly be dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and will face a tough challenge in the Republican-controlled House; but the authors of the bill – House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and House Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) – continue to press ahead.
And beyond the slim likelihood this legislation might pass both the House and Senate, it is highly unlikely to survive a judicial challenge.
According to the senior Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the bipartisan Congressional Research Service reported to him that the Mica/Shuster proposal is probably unconstitutional.
The Mica/Shuster bill violates the Appointments Clause and the Takings Clause of the Constitution, Rahall said in referencing the information he obtained from the Congressional Research Service.
The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO warned that the Mica/Shuster proposal would cancel labor agreements covering all of Amtrak’s unionized workers, and eliminate coverage under the Railway Labor Act and the Railroad Retirement Act.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) previously said the Mica/Shuster bill has “no legs” in the Senate. Nonetheless, said a UTU official, “The legislation remains a rat hole worth watching, and our National Legislative Office will work diligently toward its defeat.”
WASHINGTON — An assault on the future of Amtrak and its employees was launched June 15 by the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), and the chairman of the House Rail Subcommittee, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)
The UTU and other rail labor organizations are gearing to fight this effort to privatize the Northeast Corridor, which would be the first step toward eliminating Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor as well as its long-distance passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor. The proposal likely would destroy America’s national rail passenger network.
Mica and Shuster said they will introduce legislation to strip from Amtrak its ownership of the Northeast Corridor – linking Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston – and look to unnamed private operators to bid on operating high-speed passenger trains on the 437-mile long corridor.
Destruction of Amtrak could cause a crushing financial blow to the Railroad Retirement system if private operators were permitted to place their employees under coverage of Social Security rather than Railroad Retirement.
“I think we can make the service even better and reduce subsidization,” Mica said. “The whole concept of this is attracting private capital.” He opposes an Amtrak plan to operate 220-mph trains over the corridor in the future, saying so-far unnamed private operators could provide better service at a much reduced cost to taxpayers.
Amtrak President Joseph Boardman responded, “The Mica/Shuster proposal takes Amtrak apart only to put something in its place that looks quite similar.
“The Northeast Corridor is not just a piece of real estate,” Boardman said. “It is a major transportation artery and a vital component of the regional economy, carrying more than 250,000 intercity and commuter passengers every day. Amtrak provides the region the best opportunity to achieve the needed improvements. The Northeast Corridor is a success under Amtrak stewardship and many components of our next-generation high-speed rail vision plan are already moving forward.
“We don’t want to run the risk of adopting something that won’t work, that compromises safety, or that simply costs more than we can afford,” Boardman said. “The last thing the Northeast needs is a plan that’s poorly thought through and that doesn’t take key issues into account.”
Boardman recently told a rail labor group that privatization of British Rail has not been a success and increased costs.
Former Amtrak President David Gunn was blunt in a statement he made about British Rail privatization when Gunn ran Amtrak: “Since privatization [of British Rail], the system has had more accidents and delays.” And former Amtrak President Tom Downs, when he ran Amtrak, called privatization of British Rail “a disaster … They have multiple rail companies and fares, and trouble even issuing a national ticket.”
The conservative Economist magazine reported in 2005, “The privatization of British Rail has proved a disastrous failure … a catalogue of political cynicism, managerial incompetence and financial opportunism. It has cost taxpayers billions of pounds and brought rail travelers countless hours of delay.”
In responding to the Mica/Shuster proposal, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Amtrak is the entity most capable of taking the next steps to modernize rail service in the Northeast Corridor.”
The Mica/Shuster proposal, which likely will have support of the House Republican majority, will face tough opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), said June 15, “I will fight in the Senate to stop any plan that threatens Amtrak and commuters on the Northeast Corridor.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said the Mica/Shuster proposal “makes as much sense as privatizing Medicare or Social Security. In other words, no sense at all.”
Senate Republicans also are likely to oppose the Mica/Shuster proposal. The current ranking Republican on the Democratic-controlled Senate Commerce Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, told The Washington Post some years ago, “There will be a national system or there won’t be an Amtrak at all.”
In fact, in passing the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, a bipartisan congressional majority said, “It is the sense of the Congress that long-distance passenger rail is a vital and necessary part of our national transportation system and economy; and Amtrak should maintain a national passenger rail system.”
Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said of the Mica/Shuster proposal, “They want to hand over the conductor’s cap to the same folks who ran the stock market off a cliff. Privatizing passenger rail in the Northeast Corridor will not merely affect train service in that region; it will have a crippling domino effect on train service from sea to shining sea.
“Because of its national scope, Amtrak is able to invest profits from [its profitable Acela service on] the Northeast Corridor to offset less profitable long-distance lines in other parts of the country,” Rahall said. “Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation invited proposals from private companies to develop high-speed rail in the United States. Not one single proposal was submitted by the private sector for developing high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. Not a one.
“We ought to be looking at ways to help Amtrak achieve the goal of high-speed rail; not looking at ways to dismantle it,” Rahall said.