Who Wants to Buy a New Locomotive? General Electric Hopes Amtrak Does

General Electric’s Transportation division inked a high-speed rail technology-sharing deal with China last month, but the prospects on the home front for its fuel-efficient locomotives are downright "bleak" heading into 2010, as its chief executive recently told Dow Jones.

6899.jpgSen. John McCain (R-AZ), at right, addressed GE Transportation workers in Erie, PA, last year. (Photo: NY Sun)

So even as workers at its plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, cope with large-scale layoffs, the company has adopted a new strategy: urging the federal government to approve money for new Amtrak locomotives. GE Transportation’s hope, as the local Times-News reports, is that it can win an Amtrak bid that doesn’t yet exist:

In what might have once seemed like an unusual
collaboration, company officials and its main union are making a joint
plea for Congress to include an appropriation for new locomotives.

"We have the best technology and we know the
customer requirements and believe we are best positioned," Lorenzo
Simonelli, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview Monday.

"This comes down to funding. Funding for Amtrak
for the purchase of diesel electric locomotives isn’t currently planned
for in the 2010 appropriation."

Convincing lawmakers to add funding for new Amtrak locomotives may sound like a tall order at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to embrace fiscal austerity, but GE has some influential allies.

Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter (D) and Bob Casey (D) joined Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who represents the Erie area, to introduce legislation in October that would offer a 30 percent tax credit for new locomotive purchases made before 2013.

"In addition to the economic impact," Specter said in a Senate floor speech on the proposal, "the [bill] will also benefit the environment, as new
and newly manufactured locomotives are typically more fuel efficient
and emit fewer harmful pollutants."

Even if the Amtrak strategy does not pan out for GE, the company’s Chinese partnership offers an opening for new business as the U.S. gears up for its first high-speed rail construction. The company testified on Capitol Hill in June that its trains were prepared to meet the administration’s goal of top speeds between 110 and 124 miles per hour.

And at a time when infrastructure investment is gaining currency as a job-creation tool, GE can point to international interest in its cleaner-burning trains, which are hitting the railways in Egypt, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.

  • Steve

    Ironic that you’re using a picture of McCain, noted for his anti-Amtrak stance, to report a story on Amtrak getting increased funding.

  • Steve S

    We should not be using diesels. All new rail should be electric. Long distance or short distance. Quieter, cleaner. I’m sure G.E. could turn out a few thousand electric engines and make a lot of money, maybe even get into the business of electrifying the railroad lines. Diesels are not green, no matter the publicity, they produce a lot of smog, they are noisy. Go electric rail!

  • David Gunn

    The real irony here is that Amtrak’s diesel loco fleet is young and healthy, and the engines they propose would have no track where their higher speed would be useful. Amtrak needs new electrics in the NEC, and if Congress sinks the money into this boondoggle, I suspect it will be at the expense of that real need.

  • Electrification would be nice, as Steve S made note.

    However, what is the cost of electrification? It would be a nice national goal, except I honestly don’t think the nation can afford it at the moment. The freight railroads could be encouraged over time to do so, especially in higher density freight corridors. The problem is, getting the capital outlay would be very intense.

    The primary corridors need electrified also, I’d say more so than the freight lines. In and around all major corridor pairs outlaid in the HSR plan the administration put forth. That’s something that could be done NOW and should already be started on.

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