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World Briefs II

Postal Service May Postpone Price Increase Because of Strike

The Washington Post

Thanks in part to the United Parcel Service strike, the U.S. Postal Service will make so much money this year that it may delay its planned increase in the price of a stamp to 33 cents.

Postal Service Board Chairman Tirso del Junco said in an interview Friday that he would "like to push the (increase) date back" because of the billion-dollar profit that the agency seems certain to report for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. As of mid-July, the Postal Service had reported a $1.2 billion profit so far for the current year.

Postal officials have said the 15-day UPS strike, which began Aug. 4, brought large volumes of unanticipated mail to the federal agency and boosted its revenues higher than expected for a normally slow period in which it usually reports a loss.

Spokesmen for two organizations of bulk mailers had indicated earlier this week that they would press for delaying the proposed increase because the agency's profits will surpass $1 billion for a record three years in a row.

The request to delay the increase would likely find some sympathy among the nine governors on the postal board. Some were publicly curious about the necessity for the increase before they approved it July 1.

The 1-cent hike from 32 cents a letter is before the independent Postal Rate Commission, which has 10 months to consider the request. Even if the commission approves the increase, the governors have the power to delay its implementation.

Railroad Applies Wreck's Lesson to Avert Repeat

The Washington Post

Three days after Amtrak's Los Angeles-Chicago Southwest Chief derailed in Arizona at nearly 90 mph during a flash flood, the same thing almost happened again several hundred miles to the east, according to federal and railroad officials.

However, new procedures put into place by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad after the Aug. 8 wreck near Kingman, Ariz., coupled with an alert track supervisor and freight train crew, prevented the Southwest Chief from possibly repeating the accident on Aug. 11 near Trinidad, Colo.

BNSF Chairman Rob Krebs ordered new flash-flood procedures within hours of the Kingman wreck, in which the eastbound Chief derailed at an estimated 88 mph at a short wooden bridge that had been undermined by a pre-dawn flash flood.

There were a number of injuries, mostly minor, and no one was killed despite the speed.

The Krebs orders, among other things, hold passenger trains to no more than 20 mph when a flash-flood alert is issued by the railroad's private weather company.

The unusually heavy rains that caused the Aug. 8 derailment continued sporadically for days. On Monday afternoon, Aug. 11, an eastbound freight train crew on the Colorado plains east of Trinidad radioed dispatchers to report heavy rain in the distance behind it.

The BNSF dispatching center in Fort Worth, Texas, informed the track supervisor at Trinidad, who was already preparing for an inspection of the line, based on his own observations. He informed the dispatching center he would wait until the Southwest Chief was nearby, then inspect track ahead of it in his "high rail" vehicle, a truck with both rubber tires and steel wheels for traveling on tracks.

French Left Takes Pleasure In UPS Settlement

The Washington Post

The denouement of the United Parcel Service strike has brought not just relief to Americans but satisfaction to the French, particularly to the political left and labor unions.

The UPS accord, in which the Teamsters won substantial victories in such areas as pay raises and full-time jobs, is being portrayed here as the contradiction to American boasts about the superiority of untrammeled capitalism. Frequently irritated by American claims that low U.S. unemployment and high growth are the result of less regulation and free markets, many French are reveling in the success, as they see it, of American unions over American bosses.

Clinton Fails to Bowl Them Over on Vacation

Los Angeles Times

Clinton's visit to this tidy vacation spot may be a big thing for local civic leaders, but most of the island's 90,000 permanent residents are taking it in stride. While there are a few "Welcome, Mr. President" signs in the island's six picturesque villages, it is mainly tourists who have been showing up to cheer the chief executive and take a few photos.

One exception has been a tongue-in-cheek "special" offered by an island bowling center: "Today Only: All U.S. Presidents Bowl Free." Alas, Clinton is a golfer, White House aides point out. Knocking down tenpins just isn't up his alley.

Martha's Vineyard may have everything Clinton could want for a relaxing stay, but to those who are accompanying him - White House staffers, Secret Service agents and journalists - it has been a communications nightmare.

Partly because the island is so far from mainland transmitters, nationwide beepers do not work in many areas.

Cell phone coverage is spotty.

And even ordinary telephones sometimes do not seem to have enough signal strength on long-distance calls for computer transmissions.

White House aides have been pressuring telecommunications companies to beef up their signals, but so far they've had little success.