Amtrak is shopping for new trains for its Acela Express. It remains to be seen whether they will be built in the United States.
On Wednesday Amtrak announced that it had issued Request for Proposals (RFP) asking train manufacturers to submit bids by Oct. 1 for up to 28 high-speed trainsets which could meet or exceed current Acela trip-times on the Boston-to-Washington corridor.
Acela Express ridership is up seven percent over last year and the number of daily trips on Acela has topped 14,000 on 25 occasions so far in the current fiscal year.
The RPF comes five months after Amtrak put into service the first of 70 new Siemens electric locomotives assembled at its rail manufacturing plant in Sacramento, Calif. (See above for a speech by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., about those trains.)
Last month Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority called off plans for a joint bidding process to buy new trains because their specifications were too different.
The Acela Express train fleet now consists of 20 trainsets, the first of which was delivered in 1999. The equipment was manufactured by a consortium of Bombardier, a Canadian firm and Alstom, a French company.
Apart from Bombardier and Alstom, there are 10 other companies capable of meeting Amtrak’s specifications for the new trains, according to Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz. They are based in Italy, Spain, South Korea, Japan, and China.
“We look at this as an opportunity to stimulate manufacturing of high-speed equipment here in the United States,” said Schulz.
Schulz said if foreign-based firms are “willing to look at establishing a manufacturing facility here in the United States, that’s something that we would factor into the decision.”
“Buy America” provisions in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 will apply to Amtrak’s new purchase.
But that law gives the Federal Railroad Administration the authority to waive the law’s requirement that the steel, iron, and manufactured goods used in equipment purchases be produced in the United States.
The waiver can be issued if the FRA finds one of four things:
Buying U.S.-made goods is “inconsistent with the public interest.”
The steel, iron, and goods produced in the United States aren’t produced “in a sufficient and reasonably available amount or are not of a satisfactory quality.”
The train equipment can’t be delivered within a reasonable time.
Including domestic material will increase the cost of the purchase by more than 25 percent.
The Container covers the transportation community in Washington.
Tom Curry (@TCurry_Himself) writes for The Container. He has been a national affairs reporter and editor for nearly two decades, having covered elections, Supreme Court nominations, fiscal policy and the health care debate.
Joe Warminsky is managing editor of CQ Weekly magazine and editor of The Container.