On August 3, the American High Speed Rail Alliance (AHSRA) hosted a successful briefing on "Job Creation and U.S. Investment in High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail" in the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. The briefing was organized by the Congressional Bicameral High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. The event proved timely as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reinforced the importance of investment in the domestic manufacturing industry by announcing a $336.2 million award for California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri to purchase next-generation equipment; American-made trains that will run on rail corridors in those states.
The Secretary's announcement tied in perfectly with the AHSRA event where a panel of rail industry experts addressed a large crowd of Congressional staff, advocacy groups and other interested parties, as well as a select group of media, on the impact the high speed and intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) program currently has and will have on direct rail industry construction, manufacturing and supply jobs, in addition to indirect economic growth spurred by improved passenger rail transportation.
Chuck Baker, president of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association and advisory board member of the American High Speed Rail Alliance, highlighted that underperformance of the U.S. transportation systems costs the U.S. economy almost $1 trillion a year, but that more infrastructure investment can stimulate productivity gains and employment growth.
"Investment in high speed and intercity passenger rail immediately creates jobs in many rail related industries," Baker said. "In Vermont alone, a modest investment of $50 million in HSIPR funds to upgrade track to improve the passenger rail service of the Vermonter has already created more than 150,000 man-hours of construction and manufacturing work."
Talgo, a Spanish rolling stock manufacturer, is already manufacturing HSIPR train sets in the United States and purchases the majority of train parts from 250 separate American vendors located in 30 states. The establishment of Talgo's new facility in Milwaukee created 125 direct manufacturing and maintenance jobs and 450 initial indirect manufacturing jobs. Talgo estimates that $1 billion investment in passenger rail creatses 30,000 jobs. However, amid Wisconsin's rejection of passenger rail funds and the overall setback in HSIPR funding, Talgo may be forced to shut down their manufacturing facility as early as fall 2012.
Another panelist, Susan Howard with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT), estimated that ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) passenger rail grants for North Carolina will create and sustain 4,800 job years. She also stated that NC DOT "currently has 17 professional engineering firms under contract and will add another 19 this year."
The briefing packed the room with an audience of Congressional staff that was clearly interested in the importance of infrastructure investment to the United States and the job creating potential of passenger rail.
In a reflection of the depth and diversity of jobs that HSIPR development can bring to the United States, panelists also gave job creation statistics for the DesertXpress project — a high speed train connecting Las Vegas with Southern California — as well as an overview of the rail workforce through an United Transportation Union representative.