House Jobs Bill Could Make General Electric’s Amtrak Wish Come True

The House is poised to take up a jobs bill later today that provides $37.3 billion in new transportation spending, including $27.5 billion for roads, $8.4 billion for transit … and a holiday gift for General Electric?

ecomaginationhybrid5.jpgCould this cleaner GE locomotive be coming soon to Amtrak? (Photo: Inhabitat)

GE’s transportation division recently joined its main labor union in a lobbying campaign aimed at winning federal money for Amtrak to buy its lower-emissions locomotives, which are catching on in China but not in the U.S.

And tucked into the new House jobs bill is language that appears to give GE the opening it has sought. The bill states that its $800 million in Amtrak funds can be used (emphasis mine):

for fleet modernization, including rehabilitation of existing and acquisition of new passenger equipment, including fuel-efficient locomotives.

What’s more, the House jobs bill also includes language requiring the Transportation Secretary to adhere to "buy American" rules for Amtrak even if the equipment in question "cannot be bought and
delivered in the United States within a reasonable time." (Existing law allows the U.S. DOT to waive Amtrak "buy American" rules in such cases.)

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Amtrak management will opt to use any new job-creation money to purchase GE trains — and the House jobs bill faces a decidedly uncertain fate in the Senate. But given the punishing layoffs that GE Transportation made this year at its plant in Erie, PA, one wonders if local workers will begin to press the company about possible re-hiring.

Late Update: It’s worth noting that the stronger "buy American" rules apply across the board for construction projects in the jobs bill, as Bloomberg reported this afternoon.

Even Later Update: Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter (D) and Bob Casey (D) joined Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who represents the Erie area, in praising the GE victory — which they note would only be sealed after a "competitive bid process" by Amtrak.

Dahlkemper said in a statement:

Funding for Amtrak fleet modernization is critical to job creation and
retention in Western Pennsylvania. With this funding, Amtrak will help create demand for fuel efficient
locomotives, which could be produced in Erie and Grove City by GE
Transportation. Not only can this funding support our local
manufacturers, it can also improve intercity passenger rail service and
help create a more fuel efficient rail system nationwide.

  • jim

    Amtrak has RFPs out on the street for 130+70 single-level passenger cars and 20+40 electric locomotives, all for use on Eastern routes (specced to fit through the New York, Baltimore and Washington tunnels). They were issued in July, I think. It wouldn’t surprise me if the responses they want to turn into contracts add up to something close to $800M.

  • Goosfraba

    What Jim says is true and that would be amazing if Amtrak could get those funds and revamp their old and flagging fleet of locomotives and cars!

  • JT

    Trains, a great idea to make the country stronger, our air cleaner, and trains don’t need imported oil, a win win win. So, if we have to make buy American provisions and give GE a nice fat bankroll to do it, well it beats buying crap hummers and weapons that either don’t work or aren’t needed.

    Yes to trains!

  • Mad Park

    While replacement of older equipment is much needed and is to be cheered, it is crucial that the Amtrak Board of Directors start to plan for immediate and long-term system growth by planning new (or replacement) routes AND by buying more than just replacement engines and cars – LOTS more.

  • David Gunn

    The irony here is that Amtrak desperately needs new electric engines for the NEC. It has more GE P42s than it needs as it is, and they are fine, modern engines that Amtrak has yet to pay off.

    The idea of buying new GE diesels is pure political cr@p. Give Amtrak the cash to buy new ALP46 units like NJT, and _that_ would be a step forward.

  • Nathanael

    Don’t you think Talgo and Bombardier will simply open up factories in the US to satisfy the rules?….. Talgo’s already opening up a final assembly plant.

  • GJP

    It seems as though China, with four times the population of the U. S., and being a DEVELOPING country, and (eventually) with more trackage, and road mileage will wind up having fewer carbon emissions than the U. S.

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