As part of the contract, two pilot cars will be built. These cars will be fully assembled and tested in Japan and, to meet Buy America requirements, will be disassembled and shipped to Rochelle for re-assembly and limited retesting.
Here we have a make-work program to build, disassemble, and then re-assemble train cars. Remember when the Soviets used to be ridiculed for this? Why would SMART go to all the trouble?
The reason might be the ill-fated Metro project in Houston, where two prototype cars were to be assembled in Spain. As reported in the Houston Chronicle:
A year-old voicemail retained by one of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s outside attorneys may hold the key to preserving the first federal light-rail funds in Houston history. The April 17, 2009, message from Scott Biehl, then the Federal Transit Administration’s acting chief counsel, to Metro attorney Ed Gill responded to Gill’s inquiry about whether “Buy America” rules would permit the assembly of two prototype rail cars in Spain if the cars were purchased with local, not federal, funds.
“Ed, you nailed it,” Biehl said in the message, which was included in Metro’s formal response Friday to the FTA’s Buy America investigation. “The answer is we don’t care.”
Based on this message and the advice of its lawyers, Metro believed the arrangement would pass muster under Buy America rules, which require that assembly of all rolling stock for federally funded projects take place in the United States, Metro chief counsel Paula Alexander said in the response letter. Metro sent the eight-page letter, along with a binder containing 32 supporting exhibits, to the FTA on Friday.
In the end, Metro lost its appeal — even though the regular fleet would have been assembled in the US. With the vehicle procurement scrapped, the project got delayed. All because of two test vehicles!