No fingerprints on NEC track grab

September 3, 2015

Here’s a mystery for you, but don’t anticipate—as in the board game, “Clue”—that it’s “Col. Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick.” The perp here is the U.S. Senate—the deed done under the Capitol Dome and with a pen (okay, a word processor).

As for the “what,” it’s a provision in a Senate-passed bill to extend, for a short distance south, the Northeast Corridor by adding to it track of the Amtrak-owned Washington Terminal Co. that runs from just north of, and south through, Union Station, thence within a tunnel between the Capitol Building and Supreme Court, and ending shortly thereafter at a CSX interlocking.

The Northeast Corridor (NEC), of course, is the 450-mile long, primarily Amtrak-owned, unbroken longitudinal right-of-way linking Boston with Washington, D.C., attracting more covetous eyes than Kim Kardashian or even the Caitlyn Jenner cover of Vanity Fair.

With that knowledge, your challenge is to determine the author and motive of this stealth Senate provision, which we warn you has even highly proficient congressional savants in a quandary—some suggesting sneakiness benefiting a so-far invisible special interest.

If you naively disbelieve anything sinister is afoot in a Congress fueled by political contributions—Capitol Hill’s lawful equivalent of crystal meth—recall that not long ago, the PAC-rich United Transportation Union deftly guided into the nether shadows of a foreign affairs bill an unrelated and malevolent provision forcing the transfer to the UTU of a rival union’s members. When serendipitously discovered prior to a final vote, the provision was removed.

As for this instant provision redefining the NEC—a so-called legislative orphan, as no senator is claiming parenthood—it is slyly buried in a 1,030-page highway bill. While the NEC’s redefinition ignores precise geography elsewhere on the otherwise loosely defined NEC, this provision is meticulous in defining the southern extension, quashing a Senate staffer’s low-wattage illumination of it being “simple legislative housekeeping.”

Let’s begin the gumshoe reconnaissance with Washington Terminal Co., created more than a century ago by the then multiple railroads whose passenger trains stopped at Union Station. Amtrak took title to Washington Terminal Co. in 1981, but unlike Amtrak, which is exempted by law from most Surface Transportation Board (STB) economic regulation, Washington Terminal Co. is subject to STB track-access and rate regulation. Are you getting warm?

Read Railway Age Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s full story by clicking here.


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