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U.S. Departments of Transportation, Commerce partner to unearth U.S. suppliers for high-speed passenger car components


Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced it is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Commerce to boost domestic manufacturing — particularly as it relates to a soon-to-be-announced order for high-speed rolling stock.

USDOT will use the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), which was created by the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, to scout small- and medium-sized U.S. manufacturing firms and make them aware of opportunities available through the rolling-stock order.

The MEP isn’t new — it was created in 1988 to help domestic manufacturers grow and become more productive — but has not yet been used for the rail sector, said U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari during a press teleconference held this morning.

Later today, the California Department of Transportation is expected to issue a Request for Information for bi-level passenger cars capable of reaching speeds up to 125 mph. The RFI is part of a $600 million, multi-state rail-car procurement that’s being funded with federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail funds. The cars will operate in California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa.

By leveraging the MEP’s 1,300 manufacturing assistance field staff located throughout the country, USDOT officials believe the rail cars can be 100 percent American made.

“In the past, we’d put out a Request for Information or Request for Proposal and we’d ask for 100 percent American content, but we would grant waivers when the winning bidder was unable to find American suppliers,” Porcari said. “We’ve harnessed the power of this vast Manufacturing Extension Partnership for every screw, every bolt, every nut, every pane of glass. Our goal is to keep all the money and all the manufacturing jobs in America.”

MEP scouts will not only make small- and medium-size manufacturing firms aware of the passenger-car opportunity, but also could help some of the businesses alter their operations to become more competitive in the rail field, said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo during the teleconference.

“If we find there is a part or component that currently is not being manufactured in the U.S., through the MEP we can find out how a company can make a minor tweak to their existing production to domestically manufacture the component we’re looking for,” he said. “This is our first time out of the box on this, so as part of the new initiative, it will give us a better opportunity to understand what the universe is for domestic manufacturing, and by bundling this order together, it will give us much better leverage when it comes to domestic manufacturing.”

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/18/2011