The railroad industry has set its sights on getting the House Energy and Commerce Committee to derail the bill, approved by its transportation subcommittee last week, to modify the Staggers Rail Act.
While not surprised at the approval, industry officials were furious over the changes that were made in the final hours to the substitute bill crafted by the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Thomas A. Luken, D-Ohio.They saw nearly all the late changes as harmful to the railroad industry's interests.
Richard E. Briggs, executive vice president of the Association of American Railroads, scoffed at the notion that the proposal approved, termed Luken III, was a compromise of the positions held by the railroads and by the primary movers behind the bill, Consumers United for Rail Equity.
The idea that it's a compromise is malarkey, Mr. Briggs said. This bill would bring the railroad industry to its knees in five years.
Mr. Briggs said, This bill is an all-out assault on the Staggers Act that deregulated much of the industry, not a compromise.
But to Thomas R. Kuhn, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, the subcommittee vote was a major victory for consumers and captive shippers.
The institute, an association of utility companies, was one of the forces behind the CURE group.
All parties will now turn their attention to the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mr. Briggs said, I think there's a good chance that bill will never get out of committee in anything near that form.
Railroad officials have also expressed their belief that if a CURE bill makes it through Congress, President Reagan will veto it.
The subcommittee's actions Thursday may also spark new interest in railroad management and labor forging a united front against the bill.
While amendments supported by the railroad industry to modify the Luken proposal were all defeated during the subcommittee's action on the bill, attempts to attach proposals sought by labor lost by the largest margins of the day.
The losses by both sides may restore the old coalition between the two groups over such legislation. Earlier attempts to create such a link have not been fruitful.
The railroad industry's unhappiness with the bill is increased by the trend it took. When Mr. Luken unveiled his original intent, the railroads were not displeased.
The longer the bill was around, said one industry insider, the closer it got to the CURE bill and (Rep. Frederic C.) Boucher (D-Va.), the chief proponent of the CURE bill on the panel.
That Luken eventually voted against us wasn't any surprise, said one railroad source. But that he let the bill get into the shape it's in now was a big disappointment.
Railroad industry officials said the most troubling parts of the bill to them were provisions calling for rate rollbacks, changes in the revenue- adequacy standards, alterations in maximum-rate procedures, competitive access requirements and changes in sales of lines.