First rail car specs approved for high-speed rail initiative

WASHINGTON — The first specifications for bi-level coach, dining, baggage, and business class rail cars to be constructed under the government's high-speed and intercity passenger rail program have been approved. At its executive board meeting in Washington, D.C., the Next Generation Equipment Committee gave the green light to specifications for a bi-level passenger rail car that can be used up to speeds of 125 mph. Bi-level cars have room for passengers on two levels.

"This decision," said the committee's chairman Bill Bronte, rail director for the California DOT, "is an important first step towards creating a pipeline of passenger rail equipment that will be needed over the coming decades. By providing a generic specification for rail equipment, the committee is creating a level playing field for U.S. manufacturers and creating a strong incentive for the expansion of the U.S. rail equipment manufacturing industry." California currently operates earlier models of the bi-level car on three intercity rail corridors in the state.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said of the milestone, "As part of the Obama Administration's focus on maximizing manufacturing opportunities, these first-ever uniform standards will provide an unprecedented opportunity for manufacturers in the U.S. — from rails to wheel bearings, to final assembly — to build a strong, stable manufacturing base."

"This clears the tracks and provides strong direction so Amtrak and states can move forward with modern bi-level equipment designed with updated passenger comfort, conveniences, and safety features to meet the ever-increasing demand for more rail service," said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman.

The committee was established by Congress in January to "design, develop specifications for, and procure standardized next-generation corridor rail equipment." Any state using federal funds for its high-speed and intercity passenger rail program must use equipment that meets these specifications.

The specifications approved were recommended by the technical subcommittee of the full committee, which included many representatives of rail equipment manufacturers. Members of the executive board include 11 state departments of transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, and Amtrak. AASHTO is acting as the secretariat for the committee on behalf of the state DOTs. By law, the committee is a collaboration of states, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Amtrak, rail equipment manufacturers, and others in the rail industry.

The committee began its work in January and set as its first-year objectives completing specifications for a bi-level car, a single-level car, and a diesel-electric locomotive, all qualified for speeds up to 125 mph. The committee will next address specifications for higher-speed equipment, and the development of a procurement strategy to be used by the states and Amtrak that will link the demand and supply. This would guarantee that equipment is available at the best possible price and that the equipment manufacturing industry will have the dependable market to justify investment for long-term production.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) provided $8 billion in funding for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) authorized $1.9 billion over five years for grants to states and required that states develop a comprehensive rail plan for both passengers and freight. It also required the FRA administrator to develop a long-range national rail plan. Additionally, federal funding in both FY 2009 ($2.9 billion) and FY2010 ($2.5 billion) was allocated for high-speed and intercity passenger rail programs.

The final specifications and additional information on the Next Generation Equipment Committee
(also referred to as the Section 305 Committee from the PRIIA legislation) can be found at
www.highspeed-rail.org/Pages/Section305Committee.aspx.

For more information on the high-speed rail program, visit www.highspeed-rail.org.


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