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Streetcar production, by Portland Transport

Portland Transport has some great shots of the new Oregon Ironworks facility where they are assembling streetcars. The cars are designed by Skoda, the Czech company that produced the SLU streetcar, and are assembled from some parts produced abroad. The FTA has a “Buy American” rule that requires at least half of the price of transit equipment funded by FTA money to be spent in America. The Oregon Ironworks satisfies the “Buy America” rule.

Sound Transit’s Link EMUs have similar construction arrangement. Most of the parts are produced in Japan and brought to a Boeing-owned building in Everett and assembled by Kinkisharyo.

I’ve got a suggestion for Congress. We know that the global auto industry produces far more cars than there is demand, and especially need. This was true before the recession started, and is even more true now. Congress has approved $50 billion in bailouts for the Big Three automakers in just the last six months. Rather than spend ever more money on bailouts for automakers, why not spend that money on creating a home-grown train car construction industry? Obviously it won’t provide a job for every GM employee, but it has better long-term prospects than dumping more money into the Big Three money pit. Especially if the Federal Government wants to invest in mass transit systems.

27 Replies to “Oregon Ironworks”

  1. The Buy American rule seems weird. Does assembling the cars in the states cost a lot more money? It’s also funny that both examples here are foreign companies : Kinkisharyo is Japanese and Skoda is Czech. so much for “american”

    1. Oregon Iron Works is a US company. The work share mostly US with design and some components coming from Skoda.

      Sadly the market here for transit and passenger rail vehicles all but dried up which killed our manufacturers.

  2. what’s gonna happen to the Kinkisharyo assembly facilities once they have finished producing all the trains for Link.

  3. That’s the problem Max. There are no companies in the US that design and make railcars. But the last time we did, Boeing made a spectacularly awful streetcar for Boston and San Francisco. Let’s not have a repeat of that please.

    1. Well there is Bombardier which sort of counts due to NAFTA. Still other than cars for commuter rail, heavy rail rapid transit, and Amtrak/VIA most of their products are designed in their European divisions.

      1. Bombardier bought all of the design and engineering IP of the Budd company when they closed up shop back in the 80’s. On a local note Boeing bought but then divested itself from Bombardier Aerospace. Be it trains planes or automobiles all of the players are multinational corporations but of all the suppliers I think Bombardier has the largest US presence:

        Bombardier entered the U.S. rail transportation market in 1977 and in 1982
        was awarded a contract for 825 subway cars for New York City, the largest export
        contract ever awarded to a Canadian manufacturer at the time. Bombardier’s rail
        transportation business has since expanded, and maintains a strong presence
        in the U.S. market, with a workforce of approximately 2,800 people. Bombardier
        operates three manufacturing sites and three overhaul facilities in the states of New
        York and Pennsylvania. It also has operations and maintenance facilities, customer
        service sites, and administrative offi ces in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia,
        Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas,
        Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia. Bombardier complies with the
        Buy America Act and works with an extensive network of U.S. suppliers, including
        Disadvantaged Business Enterprises.

      2. Well that was more or less my point. Bombardier is the closest thing to a US passenger and transit manufacturer we have. They have a large US footprint, their HQ is in North America, and they have several products originally designed for the North American market.

  4. HB 1652 in front of the legislature this session would eliminate a requirement that certain ferry vessels be constructed within the boundaries of the state of Washington. I’m all for spending Washington tax dollars in Washington but I also believe that the legislature has a public responsibility to be smart shoppers. Some sort of multiplier effect should be considered when spending tax dollars at home but for the long haul government needs to enable our region to compete globally.

    We supply the world with planes. We used to build rail cars in Renton. I’d like to believe we can continue to have a maritime industry but blanket buy it build it here laws aren’t the answer.

    1. I don’t think that law was ever legal in the us constitution anyway, since the supreme court has repeatedly upheld a requirement of free trade between states.

      1. That is a somewhat odd reading of the constitution. The restriction only applies when the State is the buyer with no Federal funds (as the rules attached to the Fed funds prohibit limiting suppliers to one state). A private company in Washington is free to purchase boats from any supplier.

  5. I wonder if OIW would take up production of the Colorado Railcar designs assuming there was enough interest?

    1. its possible since trimet more or less owns colorado railcar now.

      apparently portland area appropriation requests are seeking money for a “dmu prototype” likely to provide more cars than the 4 in service on the WES line.

  6. Nowadays Nissans are made in Tennessee, Toyotas in Kentucky and other parts of the south. These cars are all made in America by Americans and bought by Americans, and it is very difficult to tell what is foreign in those cars. Practically the only thing foreign about them would be the names only.

    Now not to digress or start a trade war but do viewers think the government should award Boeing the contract for the refuel tanker which was initially awarded to EADS, simply because of “buy American”? Or the best bid should win?

    1. That’s not entirely true. Most of the parts for those Nissans are made in Japan still, they are just assembled in the states. The Toyotas in Kentucky probably get a larger percentage of their parts in the states than Nissan does.

  7. As far as having GM manufacture railcars/streetcars, I think it would be a FANTASTIC irony. It was GM that, in the 30’s and 40’s, deliberately bought up all of the streetcar lines in the US and purposefully ran them into the ground. Of course, the purpose was to drive up sales of Buses to the municipalities who no longer had private companies to provide the fantastic streetcar service.

    Of course, this would all just make too much sense. Amtrak needs passenger cars to replace wrecked cars, and they need cars to build up a decent reserve so that they are not running by the skin of their teeth on the Long Distance Trains (read: Empire Builder here this past winter). Of course, there is the mothball fleet, but something still needs to be done.

      1. Given the current state of intercity rail I think rather than investing further in Acela, Amtrak would be better off investing in more projects like Amtrak Cascades or Amtrak California even where state governments aren’t willing to be quite so generous.

        A fair portion of what is needed for improving Amtrak service are investments in track and signaling improvements. To a large extent the state of the track and outdated signaling are why the trains are so slow. Acela can do 150 mph but reaches that speed for very little of the DC to Boston route.

        Getting rail up to speeds that compete well with driving on 300 mile or less journeys and increasing frequency to several trips per day would do much for passenger rail.

        At the same time I’m not sure cutting the long distance trains is necessarily a good idea. Amtrak ridership is up, even on the long distance trains.

      2. #2190 NY to Boston, 231 miles, avg. speed 139mph which includes five stops.

        DC to NY, 226 miles (5 stops) only averages 82mph so clearly there’s some work to be done on this section. 80+mph including stops ain’t too shabby. But you’re absolutely right that without the ROW improvements first there’s no reason to invest in rolling stock.

        There’s only so much that is going to get allocated to rail so dinosaurs like the Empire Builder are killing any hope of something like decent passenger service between Seattle and Portland. LA to SF and LA to Phoenix are a couple of routes where I think rail could be competitive with airlines.

  8. Anyone want to start an American equivalent to Bombardier and then push congress to help us with startup financing and land us big projects?

      1. (raises hand) I could design you a train. I specialized in machine design in college. Ok, it might take me a while to design you the entire train, but I would hope many of the parts and pieces have run past their patent lifespan and could just be copied.

  9. I’ve always thought that Boeing should look into this; Bombardier is one of their suppliers anyway. I think there was a bad experience back in the ’60s with BART, and that keeps Boeing away…but I was told that story years and years ago, so I may not remember correctly.

    BTW: It was exactly ten years ago in the winter and spring of 1999, when I spent the last semester of my baccalaureate degree studying transitional economies in Prague. I rode the #9 tram everyday…nice to see us partnering with Skoda to create trams over here.

  10. The Kinki facility will remain with the passing of Prop 1. I am sure in the next year or four, ST will announce the procurement of the additional vehicles needed for the South, East and North lines.

    1. “Buy America” is 60% US dollar value and US final assembly. It only applies to Federally-funded transit projects. If you take Federal money, you are prohibited from any local preference procurements.

      Boeing did not build rail cars for BART — that was Rohr. Boeing did have two large contracts with San Francisco MUNI and MBTA in Boston for light rail vehicles in the 1970’s which were generally agreed to be terrible; it cost Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the legal actions.

      The “GM destroyed the streetcar” myth has been around for decades and just won’t die; the truth is, they died a natural death all over the world, including dozens of US cities where GM had no role at all. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, streetcars were becoming impossible to operate at a profit, but it WAS still possible to operate buses at a profit, which delayed the governmental takeover of transit for two to four decades.

      US railcar demand is simply not sufficient to support much in the way of US suppliers and the result of “Buy America” is a significantly higher price for vehicles and other components than if it did not exist.

  11. Last night I was listening to a Canadian radio show, and they mentioned that 40% of all music played on Canadian stations is required to be Canadian music. That seems more odd to me than keeping heavy steel parts from being shipped around the world.

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