(House of Representatives - October 08, 1997)

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[Pages H8698-H8699]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the 
gentleman from Alabama [Mr. Bachus] is recognized for 5 minutes.
  Mr. BACHUS. Mr. Speaker, sometimes we are caught unawares without any 
warning. Last month there was a commuter strike in San Francisco where 
over 270,000 commuters found themselves without a way to work and a way 
home, when the 60-day cooling-off period expired on a labor dispute out 
there and the San Francisco Bay area's commuter railroads were shut 
  About the same time here in Washington, afternoon commuters who were 
going home on VRE suddenly found that their trains were not leaving 
Union Station, and tens of thousands of them were stranded when 
dispatchers at Norfolk Southern called a wildcat strike. Now, these 
were regional strikes, they were unforeseen but they caused a great 
deal of disruption.
  What may be happening to our Nation that I think most of the Members 
of this body are unaware of is another strike on the magnitude of the 
UPS strike. The gentleman from New York mentioned ``Groundhog Day,'' 
where suddenly Bill Murray woke up and it was the same day all over 
  We could very well be facing that again later this month. The date: 
October 22. Amtrak is faced on that day with a possible national 
shutdown because of an impasse between the Brotherhood of Maintenance 
of Way employees and themselves over wages and work rules.
  What precipitated this latest crisis was a Presidential emergency 
board, actually ruling 232, recommending that Amtrak pay the union 
employees what amounts to $25 million in wage increases, including some 
retroactive payments, and left another $30 million in arbitration. If 
this pattern were to continue, if this Presidential emergency board 
ruling were applied to all 27,000 Amtrack employees, it would cost 
Amtrak an additional $136 million. Amtrak, which as we all know is 
financially strapped, has simply taken the position that it cannot pay 
what it does not have, and it cannot pay these increases.
  As I said, this 30-day cool-off period expires on October 22. That is 
one day after we return from recess. At that time, I fully expect that 
Congress will be in the middle of resolving a strike or taking steps to 
prevent a strike. If Amtrak is shut down, it will not be a commuter 
authority, it will not be like San Francisco or Virginia, it will be 
nationwide. It will not be thousands of commuters, it will be millions.
  On the northeast corridor alone, think about this impact: Not only 
does Amtrak operate several hundred trains, but also commuter 
authorities in Boston, the MBTA operates over Amtrak territory; 
Connecticut DOT, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, 
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority; MARC and VRE. We are 
talking about commuters all up and down the northeastern corridor being 
unable to get to and from work. We are also talking about 73 freight 
trains on the northeastern corridor alone that would not be able to get 
to and from their customers.
  If this happens, the strike in San Francisco will pale by comparison 
and it will not be one city.
  What can we do about this? I would urge the Members of this body to 
come together and push for reauthorization of the Amtrak bill, or to 
authorize the Amtrak bill that has been reported by the Committee on 
Transportation and Infrastructure on which I am a member.
  I would also urge labor not to take this position of a win-at-all-
costs position. Unfortunately, they are holding up the authorization 
legislation this year because they are opposed to the same language in 
the bill that two years ago they wrote, language which would have been 
enacted as part of this year's tax bill and given Amtrak access

[[Page H8699]]

to funds. Now, these same unions are demanding a pay increase. They are 
now demanding that Amtrak pay this.
  In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, we have got to start thinking about what 
we are going to do. If we do not, we will wake up October 22 or 
sometime thereafter faced with a national crisis, and the American 
people, and us, will be caught unawares.
  Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record data in support of the topic of 
my special order this evening:

                Effects of a 1 Day Strike Against Amtrak

       Amtrak either operates or allows access over its tracks to 
     10 commuter agencies serving communities in 12 states. A one 
     day strike would strand or frustrate the communities of 
     nearly 600,000 commuters.
       Depending on the scope of the strike, all Amtrak trains 
     could potentially cease operation. Amtrak's average daily 
     ridership is 60,000 passengers. This would idle 253 trains, 
     stop service to 510 communities, 130 of whom have no direct 
     air service, and 113 of whom do not have intercity bus 
       Each day of the strike will likely cost $3.8 million of 
     lost revenue while costs will likely go up. In addition, 
     Amtrak receives nearly $200,000 each day in mail revenues 
     which would likely be lost. Mail service would be delayed to 
     35 cities nationwide.
       Freight train operations on Amtrak owned property would 
     also be disrupted or canceled. On the Northeast Corridor 
     alone, freight operators serve 308 customers, including such 
     large industries as Chrysler, Proctor and Gamble, and Delco 
     Battery. Twenty-seven of the 308 customers are listed as 
     Fortune 500 companies. Amtrak is a vital link for all freight 
     shippers and their customers along the Northeast Corridor. 
     Each day approximately 73 freight trains use the Northeast 
     Corridor and 2 daily trains serve 6 customers on the track 
     Amtrak owns between Porter, Indiana and Kalamzaoo, Michigan.
       There is currently nearly 250 non rail-related construction 
     sites on or near the Northeast Corridor. To access these 
     sites, construction crews must cross Amtrak property each day 
     to access job sites adjacent to the corridor. In the event of 
     a strike, Amtrak could not safely allow access over its 
     property potentially curtailing or idling work at these 
       In addition, to the lost revenues, Amtrak expects that 
     additional costs will be incurred from the securing of 
     facilities and equipment. This cost will escalate with each 
     day the system is idled.
       The effects of the strike will linger for several months 
     and be reflected in lost reservations and customer 
     uncertainty. The strike will also damage customer loyalties 
     enjoyed by commuter authorities. Even a short strike could be 
     devastating to the Virginia Rail Express still reeling from 
     service disruptions in June and July.
       Once any portion of the railroad right of way that Amtrak 
     owns or inspects has had a complete shutdown, it could be up 
     to 24 hours before any train can operate again. This time is 
     required to perform federally mandated safety inspections.
       If a system shutdown lasts more than 2-3 days, condition 
     such as rusty rails could keep the railroad shutdown for as 
     much as 1\1/2\ days beyond resolution of the dispute. If a 
     system shutdown lasts longer than 3 days, it will take as 
     much as 1\1/2\ to 3 days before trains can operate again.