Thursday, February 9, 2012

Making German High-Speed Rail, but bolted together next door, in Sacramento.

Boy, am I confused.  Here's a US Department of Transportation press release about a speech that Secretary Ray LaHood gave yesterday at the Siemens Assembly Plant outside of Sacramento, California.

Just to make sure, you do know that Siemens is a German corporation dedicated to electric equipment and machinery, including transit, both light and heavy, rolling-stock. That includes high-speed rail. Their headquarters are in Munich. They are a very old corporation dating back to 1847. You can well imagine what they were manufacturing during both the first and second World Wars.

Siemens, several months ago, acquired additional property at this Sacramento site to expand their operation.  Many believe it's because they hope to get the California high-speed rail rolling-stock contract. They also manufacture other bells-and-whistles required for operating a high-speed train, such as positive train control and signalling.

Let me get right to the heart of this problem.  The Secretary of the Department of Transportation is giving a speech at a German assembly plant whose owners hope to assemble all the German pieces of a high-speed train.  Meanwhile, he keeps talking about employment in the US and how all of the train's components would be US manufactured.

LaHood goes on about Siemens and other overseas manufacturers and how beneficial their contributions to this all-American project will be.  What am I missing?

Yes, yes, I know that this Siemens plant will hire some US Union laborers. But, the fact remains that it's still a German plant, with profits going back to Germany.  It's also German managed, and the Germans make all the nuts and bolts that fit together to make these trains.  That doesn't sound like a US owned and operated manufacturing facility to me. These are still going to be German trains.

To be clear.  The US has no high-speed rail manufacturing capacity.  The US has far less general railroad manufacturing capacity than it did fifty years ago. Furthermore, there is very little professional experience in the US labor force with the know-how to build high-speed rail infrastructure. The closest project for that purpose we've had is for the Northeast Corridor Acela, and that's not really high-speed rail.  Their trains are built in Canada, by the way. 

There is no choice but to go overseas for both the hardware and construction capacity if we wish to have it here. It has to be imported, lock, stock and barrel.  The situation is not unlike the assembly plants in Tennessee owned and operated by BMW.  Do they make American cars at those assembly plants? Of course not. They are still German, BMW cars.  Volkswagen cars are built in Mexico. Does that make them Mexican cars?

Before the California High-Speed Rail Authority starts spending ARRA Stimulus Fund money, we need to see a full accounting of where those dollars are going to end up. Who, exactly, will this California HSR project bail out?

By the way, the Parsons Brinckerhoff Company is the lead contracting consultant for this high-speed rail project. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Balfour Beatty Group, which is headquartered in London. In other words, profits from this US bought-and-paid-for-with-our-tax-dollars HSR construction project in California will go to the UK. 

We are getting the wool pulled over our eyes. The Administration, with it's HSR spokesman, Ray LaHood, is selling us snake-oil made to look like a US, all-American cure for what ails us. Sorry, Mr. LaHood, it's still snake-oil.  


February 9,2012
Forging a strong future for rail in Sacramento

In the “Weld and Bogie shop” at the Siemens manufacturing plant in Sacramento, thousands of pieces of steel are welded together to form a “car shell,” or skeleton of a rail car.  Thousands of individual pieces go in; one cohesive structure comes out.  Elements are then added to this structure until it leaves the factory as a fully formed vehicle ready to ride the rails. 

Yesterday I saw firsthand how these trains are made and met with some of Siemens’ employees in Sacramento. I could not have been more impressed.

Since the 1980s, Siemens has been employing workers in Sacramento to build our nation's light rail vehicles.  In the years since Siemens began this line, American communities have increased the number of light rail systems five-fold thanks to federal, state, and local investments in public transit.  More than three million people now ride light rail each day, and the plant employs 800 men and women.

Recently, Siemens has begun supporting our next rail revolution by constructing electric locomotives and streetcars. In late 2010, through DOT's investment in high-speed and inter-city passenger rail, the company won a contract to supply Amtrak with 70 locomotives to run in the busy Northeast and Keystone corridors.  They 

At Siemens, and across America, we are not only investing in state-of-the-art transportation that will be our legacy for generations to come, but we are investing in American workers right now

And what I saw at Siemens is rippling out to rail suppliers from coast to coast thanks to the Obama Administration's rail investments.  Businesses are bringing jobs back home to America to build our rail future.  In fact, 30 different rail companies from around the world have pledged that--if selected for high-speed rail contracts--they will hire American workers and expand their bases of operation in the United States. 

I met with some of these manufacturers in California yesterday at the Next Generation Rail Supply Chain Connectivity Forum.  This forum, held by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), gave potential suppliers the chance to meet with rail equipment manufacturers. The Forum was a huge success for capable and interested American manufacturers--even those outside the rail sector--who want to grow their businesses through opportunities in the rail industry supply chain.

The MEP is a Department of Commerce partnership with DOT to help develop a robust domestic supply base to support our nation's transportation infrastructure.  We're pumping new life into domestic manufacturing across the country because President Obama knows that we can't build an America that lasts without American manufacturers and American workers.

We want to ensure a 100 percent domestic supply base to support the Next Generation passenger railcars and locomotives America needs, and yesterday's forum was a terrific way to build that base, bringing together manufacturers and suppliers like those thousands of steel pieces that weld together to form a car shell.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they produce.

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