Tuesday, January 13, 2009

No Nukes?, No Rail Safety, No PRIIA

The Don Phillips column appearing in February TRAINS, certainly gives insight into 'the ways of Washington'. Mr. Phillips suggests that President Bush could have cared less one way or the other about enhancing railroad safety, let alone any additional authorizations (as distinct from appropriations) for Amtrak. But Mr. Bush wanted a treaty entered into with India regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons - and in order for that treaty to be ratified by the President, it needed "advice and consent' by the US Senate.

According to Mr. Phillips, Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) addressed through intermediaries the President that a major passenger train incident with fatalities had occurred at Chatsworth CA and that he wanted enacted legislation to enhance rail safety (RSIIA'08) principally and immediately modifying existing Hours of Service provisions (this guest author, who often is confronted with insomnia, is 100% in favor of any such modifications). The President wanted his treaty, and what happened next, treaty consented, RSIIA (into which PRIIA had been conveniently 'attached' as Division II) enacted, is as old as Washington itself.

Now since Ellis' blog mainly addresses passenger train affairs, I must wonder to what extent President Bush was even aware that he was enhancing Amtrak's and its advocates's interests when signing RSIIA. While Mr, Bush, save a little "bluster' manifested by an '05 initiative (often called in railfan circles "the Mineta Dog and Pony Show"), never really did anything TO Amtrak, he certainly never did anything FOR Amtrak. It was simply a non-issue during his Presidency.

So there it is, Bush got his treaty, Amtrak got some of the most positive legislative backing it has ever enjoyed, and maybe just maybe some railroad workers will report for duty feeling a bit more 'fit for duty'.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Gil, and bringing Don Phillips column to our attention. Like G-d, Washington works in mysterious ways.

    Too bad Trains doesn't post its print content to its website so you could have included a link.

  2. One must wonder what went on in the Oval Office this past October 16 when RSIA'08 (and PRIIA '08 riding "piggyback')was signed into law.

    This is a guess on my part:

    First a White House 'staffer", who was more concerned about his/her fate come Jan 20, reviewed the Bill identifying the salient points and summarizing them. I would guess then a more Senior staffer with access to Joshua Bolten, WH Chief of Staff, revised the points into a format President Bush was accustomed to reviewing. Presumably Mr. Bolten had a "change or two' to make.

    Mr. Bolten then presents the work of the day to the President; now Mr. Bush gets to the folder regarding RSIA...let's listen in:

    GWB: Josh, what's this Rail Safety all about?

    JB: Well Mr. President, it looks like they want to strengthen railroad safety by changing the amount of time Engineers can be on duty...also some stuff about new signals that can stop a train. Also it looks like they put some stuff in there about Amtrak.

    GWB: Why do we need any of this/

    JB: Mr. President, there was a bad train crash last month near LA; people got killed. Reid has to show they're acting. In fact he wants this enough that our Nuke treaty with India is going nowhere over there.

    GWB; Oh..how much is all this gonna cost?

    JB: Not too much for us, may cost some railroads a dime or two. The Amtrak stuff is really little more than some route studies...

    GWB: We'll be gone before anything comes of that...

    JB: Yeah

    GWB: OK Josh, but I don't want any horsin' around with our Treaty.

    JB: He'll play ball...

    GWB: Yeah (signs the Bill)