Last week, even before President Obama reminded us in his inaugural address of the importance of railroads to the American economy, two events marked a significant step forward in U.S. high-speed rail.
First, on Wednesday, the California High Speed Rail Authority announced that by the end of the week the state would receive final sealed bids for the first leg of the Golden State's high-speed rail project. On the following day, Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority jointly issued a "Request For Information" seeking to purchase high-speed rail locomotives and passenger cars currently being manufactured and in commercial service that are capable of operating safely at speeds up to 220 mph.
True to the CaHSRA announcement, on Friday five major firms submitted their final bids to build the first 29 miles of high speed train track in California's Central Valley. This brings the state's largest infrastructure undertaking in history one step closer to breaking ground later this year. And that means President Obama's vision of high speed rail in America is one step closer to reality.
Also last week, the state gave the CaHSRA permission to begin acquiring the necessary land for the Central Valley line, and that's even more good news. Given the increasing number of passengers on Amtrak routes in the Central Valley--up 6.4 percent in Bakersfield and 5.9 percent in Fresno for 2012--construction can't start soon enough.
Through the collaboration, the two partners hope to drive down manufacturing costs by combining their buying power. CaHSRA CEO Jeff Morales says it's simple: "When you buy in bulk, you get a better price."
The end result? The riding public will have lighter, faster, more energy efficient passenger rail service. This is exactly why we encouraged the two partners to explore joint purchasing opportunities for the next generation of high-speed rail equipment, and we applaud them for answering that call.
And, as Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo pointed out, the benefits of the new US-made rail cars won't be limited to the company that submits the best proposal.
A separate order for 130 new railcars for existing Amtrak service in California and the Midwest shows the potential for new train equipment to create manufacturing jobs. The new order is creating more than 250 new jobs at the newly built Nippon Sharyo plant in Rochelle, Illinois.
"Thanks to our tough Buy America standards for this order, which requires all of the rail car parts to be made in the U.S., the jobs gains won’t begin and end in a single plant,” said Administrator Szabo. “Paint companies, ball bearing manufacturers, and many other employers across the country will also have a hand in manufacturing these train sets."This all goes back to President Obama’s vision to not only build true 21st century rail, but to put Americans to work doing it. And today, thanks to Amtrak, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and all of our state partners, that vision is moving forward.