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Buy America’s Shocking Pricetag

Within the big pro-transit tent, positions on Buy America policies -- which compel agencies to purchase domestically-made materials -- vary wildly. But from the perspective of providing more rail service to more people, these restrictions are unequivocally bad news. How bad?

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Network blog Systemic Failure recently looked at how the Federal Railroad Administration is about to spend a staggering sum to ensure that its new railcars are made with materials sourced from America. Rail in the United States will be worse for it:

The FRA is soliciting bids for a $551 million contract for 130 bi-level railcars. As a condition for the contract, the railcars must be manufactured entirely with American steel and components. If you do the math, that comes to 4.2 million dollars each – double the global market price for a bi-level car.

In other words, the FRA is pissing away a quarter billion dollars. Imagine all the projects that might have been done with $250 million. Imagine all the jobs that might have been created with that money. I’m talking real jobs — not bureaucrats enforcing Made-in-America rules. Jobs like installing new PTC signaling, repairing bridges, or expanding the transit network. You know, things that have tangible benefit to riders.

Sorry, but domestic passenger rail manufacturing is gone. And subsidizing obsolete FRA-compliant rolling stock isn’t the way to revitalize it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington reports on how the suburb of White Flint is making itself more walkable and sustainable. M-bike.org peeks in on Detroiters who are carfree by choice. And The Political Environment shares the disappointing news that US DOT has thrown its support behind the billion-dollar-plus Zoo Interchange in Wisconsin -- a boondoggle if there ever was one.

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