Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Schumer shoots his mouth off—again

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Schumer shoots his mouth off—again

U.S. Senator Charles “Hold That Pose” Schumer (D-N.Y.), everybody’s favorite publicity-seeking, TV-camera-loving narcissistic politician, has been saying publicly that Amtrak’s board of directors has selected Alstom Transport to supply a fleet of new high-speed trainsets for the Boston-New York-Washington D.C. Northeast Corridor, to succeed aging Acela Express equipment. Schumer, according to reliable sources with whom I’ve spoken at Amtrak, has opened his big mouth way, way too soon.

Schumer went as far as to visit Alstom’s Hornell, N.Y. plant on Monday, Sept. 21, in the process contacting local and national media (Industry Week, WGRZ-TV, the Rochester Times-Herald, among others), and boldly declared that the contract would and should go to Alstom. He also issued a press release. Here it is, in full. It’s extremely long-winded, like him:

“SCHUMER ANNOUNCES: AMTRAK IS SET TO SELECT HORNELL’S ALSTOM AS PART OF $2.5 BILLION PROGRAM TO BUILD SAFER, NEXT GENERATION HIGH-SPEED TRAINS; SENATOR SAYS PROJECT WILL CREATE 750 JOBS INCLUDING 400 DIRECT MANUFACTURING JOBS AT ALSTOM IN HORNELL

“Schumer Says NY Companies Like Alstom, ATM, and Transit Air in Hornell, as well as PWI in Wellsville and Vapor Stone Rail in Plattsburg, Will Directly Benefit from Impending Amtrak Board Decision. Project Will be Major Lift to Upstate New York Economy, Including Alstom & Their Suppliers & Create Hundreds of Good-Paying Jobs

“Schumer: ‘All Aboard!’ Jobs Will Be Rolling Into The Southern Tier

“U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today visited Steuben County to announce that tomorrow the Amtrak Board of Directors is expected to select Alstom as the train provider for a $2.5 billion program to build the Next Generation High-Speed trains that will create over 750 jobs, including 400 jobs directly at Alstom in Hornell. During Schumer’s visit, he explained that while the final details of the contract still need to be negotiated, the Amtrak Board of Directors is expected to give the green light needed to move forward with those final negotiations exclusively with Alstom. This impending decision by the board paves the way for Alstom to build the next generation high-speed trains that will operate on the Northeast Corridor and is a monumental victory for upstate manufacturing. According to company executives, Alstom anticipates such a contract would create approximately 400 jobs in Hornell and potentially an additional 350 or more across the rest of New York. With more than 750 jobs expected between the Alstom’s Hornell facility and the ripple effect this massive contract would have throughout Upstate NY, Schumer said it would be a win for the entire Upstate NY economy.

“’This contract will add a massive injection of economic energy and hundreds of good-paying jobs for the economically struggling Southern Tier,’ said Schumer. ‘It will prove to be a win-win-win that would improve rail safety, bring jobs to Upstate New York, and improve the Amtrak experience for passengers along the entire Northeast Corridor.’

“Schumer said the Amtrak Board of Directors is poised to give Amtrak management permission to move forward with negotiating a final contract with Alstom starting later today with the goal of final approval by the end of December 2015. While the final details of the contract between Amtrak and Alstom are still being worked out, tomorrow’s action by the Amtrak Board paves the way for that process to happen quickly and seamlessly. In addition to negotiating final contract details, final approval of federal funding from the RIFF program will also be needed. As a result, Schumer said during his visit that he will continue to urge the USDOT to provide Amtrak with all of the necessary approvals so that it can move the project forward with Alstom as its provider as quickly as possible.

“Schumer has long fought on Alstom’s behalf, which has, for more than 150 years, manufactured and serviced high-quality trains in their Hornell manufacturing facility. In June, Schumer visited Alstom in Hornell to urge the Department of Transportation (USDOT) to green light Amtrak’s efforts to buy brand [new] Next Generation High-Speed trains. During his visit, Schumer explained that, currently, Acela service is at a critical stage because the leases on its current trains, which were acquired in 1994, are set to expire in the next six to eight years – between 2021 and 2023 – depending on the train. As a result, Schumer said, Amtrak must advance the production of its next generation of the Next Generation High-Speed Trainsets quickly, as they will not only replace the existing fleet but also greatly improve service, capacity, reliability, safety, and trip times. The USDOT, through both waivers and approved financing – through its Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program – plays a critical role in allowing Amtrak to undertake this important effort. Through the RIFF program, the USDOT authorizes and provides direct loans and loan guarantees to finance the development of railroad infrastructure. In this case Amtrak would pursue such a loan in order to help pay for the Next Generation High-Speed trains.

“Schumer said that with ridership and ticket revenue on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) line increasing over the last decade, Amtrak needs to purchase trains that meet the high demand and quality conditions. That is why Schumer said the state-of-the-art trains manufactured by Alstom would greatly improve rail safety and protect passengers in the event of a derailment or accident. Schumer said finalizing the negotiations for Amtrak’s contract with this Southern Tier-based company would be a huge win for American manufacturers and suppliers throughout the region as well, like ATM and Transit Air in Hornell, PWI in Wellsville and Vapor Stone Rail in Plattsburg. Schumer said the high number of trains needed to service the NEC would mean good-paying manufacturing jobs for Alstom and other NY State-based suppliers for the project.

“By allowing Amtrak to move forward with contract negotiation, Schumer said Alstom and its employees would have new opportunities to play a leading role in helping to design and construct the latest in high-speed rail technology. This project has the potential to provide a tremendous lift to the area’s high-tech manufacturing sector. For more than 150 years, Alstom has manufactured and serviced trains across the U.S. creating good, sustainable jobs in the City of Hornell, the Southern Tier, and across America.

“Currently, Alstom employs over 1,000 people in Upstate NY and the number is growing. Over the years, Alstom’s committed workforce has delivered steam, diesel-electric, electric, and high-speed rail technology, including more than 7,000 transit vehicles, to U.S. customers. Schumer said the company is widely recognized for its deep understanding of U.S. regulations and standards, delivering trains with the highest quality and reliability in the market. Finally, Alstom consistently exceeds domestic content requirements and often achieves up to 90 percent U.S. local content on both completed and current contracts.

“Schumer was joined by local and county elected officials economic development leaders, as well as representatives from the International Brotherhood of the Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Schumer said the need for better trains along the NEC is needed now more than ever. In FY 2014, the Acela service saw 28 days where daily trips exceeded 14,000 passengers, compared to just five such days in FY 2013. This comes as the NEC generated nearly $500 million in profits last year, the highest ever. As passenger ridership projected to continue increasing in the coming years and Amtrak offering affordable fares, there is a significant need to increase the capacity size for Amtrak trains as soon as possible. Procuring new trains made by American manufacturers and suppliers would prove to be a win-win, as it would meet Amtrak’s increased passenger load while providing jobs for American workers.”

Are you still with me?

My source at Amtrak says the trainset contract is still an “open procurement” and that the board is “furious” that Mr. Give Me the Microphone and Take My Picture (my description, for the record) took liberties to declare a winner when in fact Amtrak management has been given the go-ahead to negotiate with not one, but two pre-qualified builders, one of which is Alstom. (The other is Talgo.)

Could Alstom land the contract? Of course! Is this a done deal? Hell no!

What do you say if you’re Alstom Transport President Henri Poupart-Lafarge, and Chuck Schumer knocks at your office door, press and local legislators and unionized workers in tow, press release already issued, and says “Congratulations!”?

I suppose you try to make the best of the situation, being very careful not to jeopardize the hard work your people have put into a proposal that’s worth, well, billions—and not upset your potential customer: “Should this contract materialize, this would ‎be a great recognition of Alstom’s expertise in high speed and we will be honored to serve Amtrak for this ambitious project,” Poupart-Lafarge said.

I suppose that’s innocuous enough.

By the way, Alstom is not revealing any information about the contract itself or the technical specifications of the trainset proposed at this stage of the negotiations.

That’s the sort of thing one does with a signed contract.

On the other hand, who at Amtrak or at Alstom shot their mouth off to provide media fodder—real or imagined—to Schumer?

William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

With Railway Age since 1992, William C. Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age’s leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts, among them Next-Generation Train Control, Light Rail, and Rail Insights. He is the author or co-author or editor of several books, among them All About Railroading; John Armstrong’s The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does; Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary; and Planning, Engineering, and Operating Light Rail, With Applications in New Jersey.

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