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.

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