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Not made in America? California bullet train officials seek exemption to buy foreign parts

The California bullet train agency has begun a legal effort to import a significant amount of foreign equipment for its future Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system, a move that could prove politically controversial.

November 15, 2016

The California bullet train agency has begun a legal effort to import a significant amount of foreign equipment for its future Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system, a move that could prove politically controversial.

The Federal Railroad Administration disclosed last week that the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority was seeking exemptions from the Buy American Act on more than a dozen critical train parts —  including motors, gearboxes, axles, wheels, brakes, derailment mitigation devices, undercarriages and even the entire aluminum car body shells.

The rail authority’s 2016 business plan estimated the trains would cost about $3.4 billion, making them one of the most expensive parts of the system.

While advanced bullet trains currently cannot be made in the U.S., the exemption could make it less likely that the country ever develops such an industry, according to academic experts and trade groups.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said the train exemptions would fall into the same “dynamic” as California’s decision to use imported Chinese steel components for the Bay Bridge — a decision that caused engineering problems, delays and cost increases.

“If this waiver is granted, it virtually guarantees that there will be no chance for a domestic high-speed rail industry to take root in this country,” Paul said. “California could be a nationwide leader in this industry.”

According to the group, a collaboration of U.S. manufacturing companies and labor unions, the original intent of the federal government investing billions of dollars into the state’s high-speed rail program was to develop a domestic industry in the first place.

Importing something as important as the trains could further jeopardize any chance of additional federal funding, Paul said. “I find it hard to believe that the Trump administration would fund a project that would be made in China,” he said. “Why not make it here?”

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Tags:   Jobs & Economy    California bullet train
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California bullet train
California bullet train