The Federal Railroad Administration is again turning up the heat under the Union Pacific Railroad, sending a cadre of 85 safety inspectors to scrutinize the company's troubled operations in Texas.
The inspections begin this week. FRA's move came barely 24 hours after another collision near Houston. Just 10 days ago, four people were hurt in a crash in downtown Houston.Jolene Molitoris, who runs the FRA, had a pointed message for UP's management: ''These collisions must stop.''
Inspectors made a more sweeping investigation of conditions at UP less than two months ago, leading to a report that identified a ''fundamental breakdown in safety'' at the railroad.
At the time, UP promised to work with the agency and labor unions to make improvements. Concerned about fatigue, UP and unions representing train crew workers in Texas also announced a plan that guaranteed workers 48 consecutive hours off if they worked 14 straight days.
Under federal law, engineers and conductors are subject to recall eight hours after they go off duty, even if they work the legal maximum of hours before a rest period.
In addition to the stepped-up safety pressure, UP also has been pounded by customers and state officials for a service breakdown that has cost rail shippers hundreds of millions of dollars.
GO AHEAD, twist my arm.
Undecided lawmakers are bracing for pressure on the upcoming ''fast track'' trade vote - or asking for it, as the case may be.
With as many as 110 House members still on the fence, President Clinton and House GOP leaders will be asking what it will take to move many of them into the ''yes'' column.
Mr. Clinton needs to win at least 50 Democrats to craft a majority with pro-business Republicans to enact fast track, which is being opposed by organized labor. As in the 1993 Nafta push, members will be offered special favors in exchange for their support.
''The necessary ingredient of politics, and that is arm-twisting, will start now,'' said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., who says he's going to vote against fast track because of the damage Nafta did to Florida's tomato growers.
Among Republicans, word from Speaker Newt Gingrich is that it will be up to Majority Whip Tom Delay, R-Texas, to make the fast-track vote happen. Rep. DeLay, it should be noted, is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, from whence ''pork barrel'' projects often flow.
EVERY VOTE COUNTS in President Clinton's search for fast-track supporters in the House, including the votes of members who would rather be getting on with their lives after Congress.
It seems that the White House has prevailed on two retiring members of Congress to stay in Washington long enough to cast their votes in favor of new trade authority.
Rep. Tom Foglietta, D-Penn., who already has been confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Italy, seems in no hurry to reach sunny Rome. At the request of the White House, he is sticking around until after the fast-track vote. (Since Rome is the Eternal City, he no doubt figures it can wait a few more weeks.)
Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y., is eager to return to his regular job as a pastor in Queens, N.Y., but has decided to stay on until Nov. 15 to cast his vote for fast track, and to see through legislation on school vouchers.
THE U.S. NUCLEAR power industry may see its first contracts, cash flow and jobs from export sales to China by late 1998 under the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement signed last week, executives said.
The agreement, which will lift a longtime ban on exporting nuclear power technology to China, is expected to provide a major boost to General Electric, ABB/Combustion Engineering and Westinghouse. They hope to capture about 50 percent of China's $60 billion market for nuclear-power generating equipment over the next two decades.
Before U.S. companies begin bidding for any projects, however, the Clinton administration must submit the agreement to Congress for a 30-day evaluation. That could happen soon, but with Congress set to adjourn shortly, action may not come until February.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the ranking minority member of the House Energy subcommittee, is introducing legislation that will extend the review process another 120 days. That will provide Congress with another four months next year to study the documents.
WITH THE CONGRESSIONAL clock winding down, the Senate has stepped up the pace in considering nominees for executive-branch jobs.
Peter Scher has been confirmed as ambassador for agricultural trade within the U.S. Trade Representative's Office.
Two other jobs seem destined to remain empty, however - and no one can blame Senate political maneuvering. President Clinton still has not named his choice to head either the Maritime Administration or the Customs Service, and lobbyists say no announcements appear imminent.