Summary: S.738 — 105th Congress (1997-1998)All Information (Except Text)

Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House amended (11/13/1997)


Title I: Reforms

Subtitle A: Operational Reforms

Subtitle B: Procurement

Subtitle C: Employee Protection Reforms

Subtitle D: Use of Railroad Facilities

Title II: Fiscal Accountability

Title III: Authorization of Appropriations

Title IV: Miscellaneous

Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 - Title I: Reforms - Subtitle A: Operational Reforms - Amends Federal transportation law to direct the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) to operate a national rail passenger transportation system which ties together existing and emergent regional rail passenger service and other intermodal passenger service. Repeals the condition that Amtrak provide intercity rail passenger transportation within the basic system unless it is provided by: (1) rail carriers without a contract with Amtrak; or (2) regional transportation authorities under contract with Amtrak.

(Sec. 101) Repeals Amtrak's mandate to continue to carry out a specified plan to improve rail passenger transportation.

Increases from 90 days to 180 days before a discontinuance the deadline for notice that Amtrak must give of its intention to discontinue rail service over a route to States, regional or local authorities, or other persons.

Repeals Amtrak's mandates for: (1) annual cost and performance reviews of Amtrak routes in the basic system; and (2) provision of special commuter transportation.

(Sec. 102) Repeals: (1) Amtrak's mandate to take action to increase its mail and express transportation revenues; (2) the authority of others besides Amtrak to provide auto-ferry transportation over any route; (3) the requirement of congressional review of amendments to route and service criteria with respect to route discontinuances and additions; (4) the mandate for Amtrak to provide rail passenger transportation over certain additional qualifying routes; (5) the authority of a State, a regional or local authority, or a person to request Amtrak to provide rail passenger transportation or keep such service it intends to discontinue; and (6) authority for the Amtrak Commuter (thus abolishing it as an Amtrak subsidiary).

(Sec. 106) Exempts certain commuter authorities from paying a tax or fee to the same extent that Amtrak is exempt. Declares that such exemption is without prejudice to Amtrak's retention of trackage rights over property owned or leased by commuter authorities.

(Sec. 107) Authorizes Amtrak, with a specified exception, to contract with a motor carrier of passengers for the intercity transportation of passengers by motor carrier over regular routes only if certain conditions are met.

Urges Amtrak and motor common carriers of passengers to use specified authority to provide improved service to the public and economy of operation.

(Sec. 108) Authorizes Amtrak and motor carriers of passengers, subject to Surface Transportation Board review, to: (1) combine their respective services and facilities to the public as a means of increasing revenue; and (2) coordinate schedules, routes, rates, reservations, and ticketing to provide for enhanced intermodal surface transportation.

(Sec. 109) Authorizes Federal employees to travel on Amtrak for official business where total travel cost from office to office is competitive on a total trip or time basis.

Subtitle B: Procurement - Repeals the prohibition against contracting out work normally performed by bargaining unit employees covered by a contract between a labor organization and Amtrak, if the contracting out results in the layoff of a bargaining unit employee. But deems any collective bargaining agreement entered into between Amtrak and an Amtrak employees organization before the enactment of this Act to include such prohibition.

(Sec. 121) Declares that proposals concerning the contracting out of work (other than work related to food and beverage service) which results in the layoff of Amtrak employees: (1) shall be included in negotiations commenced under the Railway Labor Act between Amtrak and an Amtrak employees organization on the date a labor agreement may be re-opened, or November 1, 1999, whichever is earlier; (2) may, at the mutual election of Amtrak and such organization, be included in any negotiation in progress on the date of enactment of this Act; but (3) may not be included in any such negotiation unless both Amtrak and its employees agree to include it. Prohibits any contract that is under negotiation between Amtrak and an Amtrak employees organization from containing a moratorium that extends more than five years from the date of expiration of the last moratorium.

States that this subtitle is without prejudice to the power of Amtrak to contract out the provision of food and beverage services on board Amtrak trains, or to contract out work not resulting in the layoff of Amtrak employees.

Subtitle C: Employee Protection Reforms - Provides that notices to Amtrak employees regarding employee protective arrangements and severance benefits, including all provisions of Appendix C-2 to the National Railroad Passenger Agreement, signed July 5, 1973, shall be deemed served and effective 45 days after enactment of this Act.

(Sec. 141) Requires the National Mediation Board to complete all efforts with respect to the dispute over such arrangements and benefits not later than 120 days after enactment of this Act. Authorizes parties to such dispute to agree to submit it to arbitration under the Railway Labor Act.

Declares that nothing in this Act shall affect the level of protection provided to freight railroad employees and mass transportation employees as it existed before enactment of this Act.

(Sec. 142) Repeals certain requirements for fair and equitable employee protective arrangements in the event of a discontinuance of intercity rail passenger service (effectively eliminating such contracts).

Subtitle D: Use of Railroad Facilities - Makes enforceable any contracts between Amtrak and its passengers, or private railroad car operators and their passengers, regarding claims for personal injury, death, or damage to property in connection with the provision of rail transportation, if: (1) punitive or exemplary damages, where permitted, are not limited to less than two times compensatory damages awarded to any claimant, or $250,000, whichever is greater; and (2) passengers are provided adequate notice of any contractual limitation or waiver or choice of forum.

Permits the award of punitive damages in connection with passenger claims for personal injury, death, or damage to property arising from the provision of rail transportation only if the claimant establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the harm was the result of conduct carried out by the provider of rail transportation with a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of others. Limits to no more than $200 million per accident the aggregate allowable award to all rail passengers for compensatory and punitive damages against all defendants. Requires Amtrak to maintain a total minimum liability coverage for claims through insurance and self- insurance of at least $200 million per accident or incident.

(Sec. 162) Declares that a rail carrier or regional transportation authority facility that Amtrak used to provide rail passenger transportation on January 1, 1997, may be downgraded or disposed of only after approval by the Secretary of Transportation.

Title II: Fiscal Accountability - Directs Amtrak to prepare a financial plan to operate within specified funding levels, including budgetary goals for FY 1998 through 2002. Requires Amtrak within five years after enactment of this Act to operate without the need for Federal operating grant funds.

(Sec. 202) Directs the Secretary to contract with an independent entity (subject to the oversight of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General) to conduct an independent assessment of the financial requirements of Amtrak through FY 2002.

Requires Amtrak, in the capital needs part of its Strategic Business Plan, to: (1) distinguish between that portion of the capital required for the Northeast corridor and that required outside the Northeast corridor; and (2) include rolling stock requirements, capital leases, "state of good repair" requirements, and infrastructure improvements.

Requires such assessment also to determine whether, and to what extent, Amtrak has performed each year from 1992 through 1996 services under contract at amounts less than the cost to it of performing such services with respect to any activity, except the provision of intercity rail passenger transportation, or mail or express transportation. Requires Amtrak, if it has performed contract services for less than the cost of performance, to revise its methodology for preparation of bids to reflect its cost of performance.

(Sec. 203) Establishes as a independent commission the Amtrak Reform Council to: (1) evaluate Amtrak's performance; and (2) make recommendations for achieving further cost containment and productivity improvements, and financial reforms. Authorizes appropriations.

(Sec. 204) Directs the Council to notify the President and specified congressional committees if it finds that: (1) Amtrak's business performance will prevent it from meeting its financial goals; or (2) Amtrak will require operating grant funds five years after enactment of this Act. Requires the Council, after making such a finding, to develop and submit to the Congress an action plan for: (1) a restructured and rationalized intercity rail passenger system; and (2) the complete liquidation of Amtrak.

(Sec. 205) Sets forth Senate procedures for consideration of the restructuring and liquidation plans.

(Sec. 208) Exempts Amtrak (and Amtrak subsidiary) passengers and customers from any tax, fee, head charge, or other charge imposed by a State or local taxing authority on any persons traveling in intercity rail passenger transportation or mail or express transportation provided by Amtrak (or a subsidiary), or on the carriage of such persons, mail, or express, or on the sale of any such transportation, or on the gross receipts derived from such activities.

(Sec. 209) Prohibits Amtrak from using certain tax refund amounts received under the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997: (1) for any purpose other than making payments to non-Amtrak States or the financing of certain qualified expenses; or (2) to offset other amounts used for any purpose other than the financing of such expenses. Directs the Amtrak Reform Council to report to the Congress on the use of such tax refund amounts.

Title III: Authorization of Appropriations - Authorizes FY 1998 through 2002 appropriations to Amtrak for capital expenditures, operating expenses, and certain mandatory payments.

Title IV: Miscellaneous - Extends from October 15, 1996, to October 15, 2001, the deadline for retrofitting certain intercity rail passenger cars with human waste disposal systems that provide for waste discharge at a servicing facility only.

(Sec. 403) Repeals the authority or mandate for: (1) assistance for upgrading rail facilities that pose a hazard; (2) a plan for demonstrating new technology in rail passenger equipment; and (3) a program master plan for a Boston-New York main line.

(Sec. 406) Declares that Amtrak shall be responsible for its share, if any, of the costs of accessibility improvements required under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 at any station jointly used by Amtrak and a commuter authority. Declares that Amtrak shall not be subject to certain requirements under such Act until January 1, 1998.

(Sec. 408) Amends the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 to repeal the mandate for determination of a costing methodology with respect to certain Northeast Corridor cost disputes.

(Sec. 409) Requires the DOT Inspector General, in any fiscal year for which Amtrak requests Federal assistance, to assess Amtrak's financial requirements and report the results to Amtrak's President, the Secretary, and specified congressional committees.

(Sec. 410) Grants congressional consent to States with an interest in a specific form, route, or corridor of intercity passenger rail service, including high speed rail service, to enter into interstate compacts to promote such service.

(Sec. 411) Amends Federal transportation law to abolish the Board of Directors of Amtrak, and establish, in lieu of it, the Reform Board, which shall assume the Board's responsibilities. Authorizes the Reform Board to recommend to the Congress a plan to implement the recommendations of the 1997 Working Group on Inter-City Rail regarding the transfer of Amtrak's infrastructure assets and responsibilities to a new separately governed corporation. Requires the selection, five years after the establishment of the Reform Board, of an Amtrak Board of Directors if Amtrak: (1) has received Federal assistance during the current fiscal year; or (2) has not received Federal assistance during the current fiscal year, and the Reform Board shall be dissolved.

Declares that all authorizations of appropriations for the Reform Board made by this Act after FY 1998 shall cease to be effective if the Reform Board has not assumed the responsibilities of the Amtrak Board of Directors before July 1, 1998.

(Sec. 412) Requires Amtrak to participate in educational efforts with elementary and secondary schools to inform students on the advantages of rail travel and the need for rail safety.

(Sec. 413) Directs the Comptroller General to report to specified congressional committees on financial and other issues associated with Amtrak bankruptcy, including an analysis of the impact of such a bankruptcy on the Federal Government, Amtrak's creditors, and the Railroad Retirement System.

(Sec. 414) Requires Amtrak to notify specified congressional committees of the names involved, the purpose, and the amount and nature of Amtrak's financial obligation if, at any time during a fiscal year in which Amtrak receives Federal assistance, it enters into a consulting contract or similar arrangement, or a contract for lobbying, with a lobbying firm, an individual lobbyist, or any individual affiliated with a lobbying firm.

(Sec. 415) Urges Amtrak to include employee stock ownership plans when issuing authorized stock.

Requires Amtrak, before October 1, 2002, to redeem, for fair market value, all previously issued common stock. Eliminates liquidation preference and voting rights of preferred Amtrak stock held by the Secretary.