The FRA is soliciting bids for a $551 million contract for 130 bi-level railcars. As a condition for the contract, the railcars must be manufactured entirely with American steel and components. If you do the math, that comes to 4.2 million dollars each — double the global market price for a bi-level car.
In other words, the FRA is pissing away a quarter billion dollars. Imagine all the projects that might have been done with $250 million. Imagine all the jobs that might have been created with that money. I’m talking real jobs — not bureaucrats enforcing Made-in-America rules. Jobs like installing new PTC signaling, repairing bridges, or expanding the transit network. You know, things that have tangible benefit to riders.
The really crazy thing is that there is a glut in the passenger railcar market. The last thing needed is yet another product (a hopelessly primitive one at that). And since few operators besides Amtrak will be interested in this railcar, a lot of design and development will just go to waste. And yet, the Commerce Dept. has delusions of making industrial policy:
And this morning, at the Next Generation Rail Supply Chain Forum in Kansas City, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo spoke about the importance of bringing rail equipment manufacturers and suppliers together so we can make these parts in America, too–helping support even more American jobs. The forum was held by the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a Department of Commerce partnership with DOT to help develop a robust domestic supply base to support our nation’s transportation infrastructure. It was a terrific opportunity to connect manufacturers of passenger rail and locomotives with potential suppliers so we can foster an all-American rail supply chain that produces quality goods and puts our friends and neighbors back to work.
Sorry, but the domestic passenger rail manufacturing is gone. And subsidizing obsolete FRA-compliant rolling stock isn’t the way to re-vitalize it.