From: Caroline Nolan/CNN
Subject: Senate Team Reaches Amtrak Deal
A Senate negotiating team has reached a deal on a $3.4 billion Amtrak bill, CNN has learned. The legislation would establish a two-year limit on prohibition on contracting with non-Amtrak employees, and would allow Amtrak to barter with its unions over severance pay.
The deal also establishes a $250 million cap on liability payments to Amtrak passengers in the event of a railroad accident.
Senate members have been negotiating since last weekend, after a tentative agreement fell through following objections from Democratic senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Breaux (D-La.).
They said union members would be unfairly penalized by a cut in the length of severance pay. Collective bargaining law mandates that Amtrak employees be provided with six years of severance pay, while the Senate deal gives Amtrak 180 days to negotiate a decrease in severance pay with the unions.
A spokesperson for Senate Transportation subcommittee Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said that as of this morning, all senators involved in the talks, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, had signed off on the deal.
The bill is expected to reach the floor before the Senate adjourns. If passed, it will likely face a battle in the House, where Democrats have opposed a reduction in severance pay and a limit on damage payments.
In addition to the $3.4 billion Amtrak would receive under re-authorization, the railway is also awaiting $2.3 billion for capital improvements allocated by the balanced budget agreements. Availability of those funds is contingent on the passage of re-authorization.
The deal does not affect the agreement reached between Amtrak and the Brotherhood of Maintenance Employees on Sunday. Amtrak spokesman John Wolf said this morning that even with the passage of re-authorization, Amtrak's financial problems remain serious.
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