Makers of a wide range of equipment and components used by both the freight and passenger rail industry want the Obama administration to standardized and streamline its Buy-America provisions for grants issued through its intercity passenger rail program.
The Railway Supply Institute, a Washington-based trade association with over 200 members who are manufacturers of railroad gear - from locomotives and track to railcars and signaling systems -- issued a white paper that says a restrictive interpretation by the administration of U.S.-content mandates in the 2009 stimulus law "present new and serious compliance issues for suppliers."
RSI President Tom Simpson said his group "has been a strong supporter of Buy America regulations," and U.S.-content rules helped keep some domestic passenger-rail suppliers alive.
But RSI says while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act mandates that all iron, steel and manufactured goods used in its projects must be U.S.-produced, "100 percent Buy America is not achievable at this time given the lack of demand and sustained level of funding."
The position paper does not mention freight projects, but Simpson said most ARRA-funded passenger rail work goes into freight rail corridors and delivers infrastructure benefits for both. "Investment in inter-city passenger rail is also investment in the freight rail network," he said.
And many RSI companies fill both freight and passenger rail orders. "This proposal will strengthen that industry," said Simpson, with ideas that "buy us time to get to 100 percent (domestic content) and keep companies going."
RSI wants Congress to see "long-term, dedicated sources of funding" for the intercity passenger rail program so manufacturers can count on orders and lock in factory plans, especially since much of the passenger rail supply base and workforce is overseas.
It also calls on the administration to clarify its domestic content standards and iron out differences among its various rail and transit programs. And it wants a National Rail Plan to promote a sustained equipment supply program that avoids a boom-bust cycle for RSI members.
Although the group issued its policy paper after a fiscal 2011 budget deal stripped funding for the rail grants, Simpson said "we're optimistic that the country and the states are going to continue to invest in intercity passenger rail."