Friday, December 04, 2009

LaHood champions HSR for manufacturing, job prospects

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave the opening address Friday at a conference in Washington, D.C. convened to address domestic high speed rail manufacturing potential, and hammered at rail manufacturing’s potential to put Americans to work as an extension of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

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Perhaps mindful of criticism in recent days suggesting a large portion of federal stimulus dollars targeted for alternative energy development was reportedly generating jobs outside the U.S., LaHood stressed that no such scenario would occur for U.S. high speed rail. “If this program is perceived as not creating American jobs, it is not going to succeed,” he asserted. “This a tremendous opportunity for the rail industry to capitalize on a historic achievement.”

DOT noted the Federal Railroad Administration has received 45 applications from 24 states totaling about $50 billion to advance large HSR corridor programs, while 214 applications from 34 states, totaling $7 billion, were submitted for corridor planning and smaller projects.

LaHood noted that 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers, “foreign and domestic, have established or expanded their base of operations in the United States,” cognizant that in all likelihood they would be “required to build in the U.S.” if they hoped to capture any significant business.

DOT released a list of those rail industry manufacturers and suppliers, which included: GE Transportation; Wabtec; Columbus Steel Castings; Bombardier Transportation; Alstom; Talgo; Kawasaki Rail Car; Siemens; Hyundai Rotem USA; Motive Power; National Railway Equipment Co.; CAF USA; US Railcar; Nippon Sharyo; Electro-Motive Diesel; Ansaldo STS USA; Lockheed Martin; Safetran Systems Corp.; Tangent Rail; Amstead Rail;  AnsaldoBreda; American Railcar Industries; CXT Tie; Railroad Controls Ltd.; A&K Railroad Materials; Cleveland Track Material, Inc.; New York Air Brake; Plasser American; Simmons Machine Tool; Ellcon-National; Harso Rail; and ORX Railway.

“This is a significant achievement for America, and a positive sign of things to come for our country,” LaHood said. “This will be a real win-win for private industry, American workers, and the traveling public.”

Questioned aggressively by one meeting attendee on the slow pace of spending the $8 billion for HSR in particular and transportation needs in general, LaHood, polite but bristling, defended DOT’s performance in 2009. “The money that hasn’t been spent is the $8 billion for high speed rail; this notion that the ‘recovery money [in general] hasn’t been spent is nonsense,” he declared.

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Citing funding commitments to numerous modes, including light rail transit, LaHood asserted, “Our money is out the door, it is being spent, people are being put to work.” He added, “When it comes to DOT, I don’t care what anyone says; I know what’s going on. ... I make no apologies; our money is out the door. We’ve done our job [so far] at DOT.”

Another questioner asked whether identifying manufacturing states with high unemployment was a form of favoritism. Replied LaHood, “There are places in America that are really huring. This money could be used to put Americans back to work.” And, too, he added, the states themselves have been proactive in submitting HSR proposals, further limiting the concept of political favorites in the HSR development process. “What we want to do is what the Recovery Act is supposed to do; use the money to put people back to work.” 

LaHood also lauded the current Congress, which he said was the most pro-passenger rail assemblage in recent memory. “High speed rail is a priority; this Congress gets it,” he said. “They understand that the $8 billion is a down payment.” It’s only a funding start, he acknowledged, “but it’s $8 billion more than we ever had.”

FRA Associate Administrator Mark Yachmetz echoed LaHood’s belief in opportunity for the private sector. “Success for us is development of a long-term program that transforms the way Americans view intercity travelingoptions,” he said.

“Rail capital investment was once one of the engines that drove the U.S. economy. That is not the case today,” but it could be once again, Yachmetz said, driven in large measure by the “development of the high speed rail program.”