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United States Department of Transportation bid-out for domestically designed and manufactured rail passenger equipment is both to be applauded and viewed as just a start. The last major orders for railroad passenger cars ended in the mid 1950's. Any Amtrak orders since founded in 1971 has been very small compared to that era of industry in America. What went wrong with the preservation and promotion of our country's rail passenger system is up for debate. What entities were responsible for the failure? It is arguably a very complex and detailed subject involving many private and federal concerns. If federal funding and assistance would have been offered to the private rail corporations in the 1960's to continue our nation's valuable and strategic rail passenger network, it would have remained to this day a fantastic system serving both huge cities and small rural towns. Unfortunately, there was no strong congressional lobby at that time for passenger rail! If, in the late 1950's and early 1960's the science and design of rail passenger transportation would have been continued, America would have had today the world's most advanced rail passenger system, transporting hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers daily. Now it will cost a mountain of money and investment to ever recover. The chances of a nationwide genuine high-speed rail system are slim. My professional advice is the same now as it has been the last couple of years...build one system and pay the price, then survey the results after several years of patron travel. If the numbers are solid and show growth, then dump everything available into expanding the true high-speed passenger industry! America is way behind! Maybe to the tune of 50 years or so, but we can catch up, we've done it before in many industries!
Very perceptive and knowledgeable, goldenspike. The best solution to the loss of passenger rail service in this country would have been to subsidize the railroads that already were providing it and that knew and understood network operations. But politicians had painted the railroads as the bad guys, so they were not going to get subsidies. What we got is what we have now - quasi-nationalization, and even at that, so-called conservatives in Congress never have been willing to fund Amtrak adequately and frequently sought to kill it altogether.
I have to disagree, strenuously, that the "fix" Mr. Hume thinks was needed would have been a good idea.
In the '50s, the railroads real problems were simple: over-regulation and personnel staffing that reflected needs that were twenty, forty, and even sixty years in the past.
Politically, we weren't ready to tackle overstaffing, even in the long term, until it was obvious the whole system was ready to collapse; subsidy in the '60s, as the political landscape stood, might have given us the worst of both worlds.
Let me bring this back to the original topic. I see this as somewhat of a noble goal, to jumpstart the US carbuilding industry by specifying a standard vehicle. But, the cynic in me sees more of the same "Buy America" farce.
This is a potentially significant order, but hardly enough to justify opening a new plant and outfitting it. Fact is, there is only one plant in the US today that can build passenger car shells and most of the cars produced in recent years have used foreign built bodies, with some subsystems furnished by American suppliers. The litany of problems that caused the US industry to go out of existence could keep us in PhD theses for the rest of the century, but most of those problems are still in place ---
--Non standard vehicles - partly driven by consultants specifying different vehicles for each contract
--Government procurement regulations
-- large contracts one year and none for the next five
-- Agencies trying to generate "local jobs"
-- Overcapacity in the industry globally
-- Wacky buy America regulations
I predict we will see a fleet of cars largely made overseas, but which qualifies under the buy America regs, surrounded by a gaggle of politicians beating their breasts and telling us what a good job they did.
Crain's Detroit Business published an article dated 8/9/2011 about the 89 shuttered GM automobile and supply chain support plants. (crains.com)
"The RACER trust: Empowering America's Auto Communities. Cleaning up and positioning for redevelopmenr forner GM properties in 14 US states". (racertrust.org)
Here's a 'GOLDEN SPIKED OPPORTUNITY' to convert former auto communities into railroad communities with good paying jobs before the surrounding plants are demolished and the areas become impoverished for good...for potato farming...
Many permanently laid-off former auto workers still await and await the return of the 'golden calf'.
What could the railroad industry do with 44,000,000 square feet in 66 buildings across 7,000 acres in 14 Midwestern & Northeastern States?
Try this: build thousands of locomotives, passenger, sleeper, dining-galley, mail freight and tank cars, thousands of miles of high iron, design and components manufacturing and assembly for refurbishing and constructing new passenger stations, rail-freight terminals and control towers, and lots more stuff that is required for railway operations and infrastructures...Don't forget all the great looking uniforms and hats.
As usual, Railwayist prattles on and on with absolutely no consideration given to fundamental economics. Here are a few questions you might try to discuss, Railwayist: Who will pay for all these wonderful things you say should be manufactured and used? How will they be paid for? What market exists or can be developed that will be served by the spending you advocate? I suspect you get the picture now, and if not, then you truly are beyond redemption.