Could Common Design Standards Bring Back U.S. Transit Manufacturing?

The Portland area is the only place in the country that manufactures streetcars these days. United Streetcar, in the suburb of Clackamas, opened last year to build Portland’s streetcars — and to serve as a lesson, perhaps, that rail transit manufacturing doesn’t all need to happen overseas.

This streetcar was Made in the USA. Could the USA make more? ##http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2009/07/transportation_secretary_watch.html##Doug Beghtel/The Oregonian##

This streetcar was made in the USA. Could the USA make more? Doug Beghtel/The Oregonian

Ray LaHood’s deputy, John Porcari, said as much at Rail~volution. His idea for reviving the domestic transit manufacturing industry? Common design standards for transit companies all over the country.

Streetcars are springing up, almost spontaneously, around the country as a great transportation alternative. Make no mistake about it, we are going to use that as an economic development opportunity, and by that I mean we are insistent that this is a Buy America opportunity. These dollars are actually going to stay in America.

This is not about getting final assembly jobs that come and go with each order. This is about capturing the entire value chain so that in all 50 states throughout the country, the transit manufacturing, from streetcars to subways, will be there.

There are a couple ways we’re doing that. One way is common sense writ large: We’re not going to make the mistake we made as a nation with subways and then with light rail, where every transit property orders their own rolling stock and it’s different than everybody else’s. You pay more to buy it, you pay more for parts, you pay more for mid-life overhaul.

We think the right way to do this is have common design standards and let as many American manufacturers as possible compete for every single part, every wheel bearing.

It’s a significant suggestion, especially since political support for transportation often hinges on job creation as much as improving capacity and service. Keeping more transportation-related jobs in the country would strengthen the case for investing in transit. Do you think standardizing rail car designs would help create these types of jobs in the U.S.?