EXTRA CASH for urban rail projects, diverted from fuel taxes dedicated to road construction, has been proposed by President Clinton for the US fiscal year commencing October 1 1999. He wants Congress to endorse a 14% increase in transit funding to $6·1bn, even more than the $5·8bn projected in last year’s TEA-21 legislation. About $1bn would be available for rail modernisation, and a similar sum for new starts. Clinton’s budget also includes $571m for Amtrak’s capital spending programme.

On freight, however, a dark cloud is looming in the shape of possible Congressional approval of bigger and heavier trucks that the highway lobby has been fighting to secure since 1991 - thus far unsuccessfully. The Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration has warned that road trains consisting of two 53ft or three 28ft trailers, already permitted by a few western states, could soon be roaming freely across the continent. ’B-doubles’, more than 35m long and grossing 66 tonnes, are particularly feared by motorists because of the difficulty of overtaking them safely.

DoT’s draft report on the impact of bigger trucks is currently out for public comment before being formally published, possibly next month. Input from the Federal Railroad Adminstration has ensured that the impact on the railways is fully assessed, and it makes gloomy reading: annual revenues totalling $5bn could be lost, and the rate of return on capital halved.

With well over 50000 killed every year on US roads, the rise in deaths and injuries implied by a modal shift of this magnitude has to be substantial. Congress should question the logic of promoting safer and cleaner public transit while unleashing B-doubles on the nation’s highways.