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FRA Issues RFP for American-made Locomotives

FRA Issues RFP for American-made Locomotives

In May, Nippon Sharyo expanded its railcar assembly plant in Rochelle, Illinois by 330,000 square-feet creating 80 new jobs in the process, on top of the 250 created when the plant opened less than a year earlier. 

These jobs were added to help meet a contract to build 130 new rail cars for California and the Midwest.  And the order was the result of a groundbreaking multi-state effort – with funding through our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program – to jointly purchase standardized rail equipment to be used on state corridors.  Good news for workers in Illinois, and the people who will eventually ride in those cars.

The better news? We’re only getting started.

Last week we once again invited U.S. manufacturers to submit bids to produce next-generation rail equipment – this time for 35 high-performance, diesel-electric locomotives. 

With Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) leading the procurement, these engines will run on state corridors in the Midwest (Michigan, Missouri, and Iowa) and on the West Coast (Washington, California, and Oregon), supporting speeds up to 125 MPH.  The locomotives will be lighter, accelerate more quickly, feature improved crashworthiness and other safety features, and will be the cleanest of any diesel-electric locomotives ever produced.

Two key factors are driving the success of federally-funded multi-state equipment procurements.

The Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee – including representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration, the states, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Amtrak and passenger railroads, rail equipment manufacturers and suppliers – has worked hard to standardize the technical specifications for next-generation equipment.

Standardized procurements – as we’ve already seen – save money for taxpayers.  The procurement for the 130 rail cars, for example, resulted in a 36 percent cost savings from the original funding amount.

But the benefits don’t end there.  Standardization will drive down the cost of maintenance and allow more domestic companies to compete for contracts, fostering the healthy domestic competition we need to re-establish the U.S. domestic supply chain for passenger rail equipment. 

Then there’s our Buy American program, which ensures the major components of these locomotives are assembled with American hands and with American-produced steel, iron, and manufactured goods.  This is great news for nation’s network of railroad suppliers, located in 49 out of 50 states.

While we grow our economy, we’re also preparing for the huge uptick in demand for passenger rail services nationwide.  Amtrak’s ridership is up more than 40 percent over the past decade, with revenue and on-time performance also at all-time highs. 

In Illinois, ridership along state-supported routes is booming.  From Chicago to St. Louis – where we’ve invested in 110 MPH service – ridership is up 225 percent over the last seven years..  Ridership also is up 154 percent from Chicago to Carbondale, 95 percent from Chicago to Quincy, and 42 percent from Chicago to Milwaukee.

In California, intercity ridership growth in recent years has brought total ridership on its state-supported routes up to roughly 5.5 million. 

And in the Pacific Northwest, Amtrak’s Cascades service has come to gradually dominate the air-rail market between Seattle and Portland, with ridership increasing 30 percent over the past decade.

A manufacturer for the 35 locomotives will be selected in early 2014, and delivery is planned for 2016.  Here’s a copy of the RFP.

This is all more evidence that investing in American rail is an investment in American jobs and American workers. 

Joe Szabo is the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

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