Op-ed: America’s first high-speed rail line should be American-made, support U.S. jobs

America’s first high-speed rail line is on its way, a testament to the once-in-a-generation infrastructure investments being made across the nation. The new $3 billion grant to build Brightline West, which will connect Las Vegas and Los Angeles in just over two hours, will be a transformative step in reshaping how Americans travel.

America is finally set to join the growing list of countries that have high-speed rail. After decades of delays in developing this crucial technology, we’re ready for one of the most efficient and sustainable forms of transportation. While shovels in the ground on this project may be thousands of miles away across the country, the rail cars that operate on it can and should be built right here in New York.

Bringing trains up to speeds of 180 miles per hour, meeting Brightline West’s proposed top speed is no easy feat. The rolling stock used on high-speed lines around the world are specially designed and highly engineered machines. They are built to operate at extremely high speeds with impeccable safety. The first rail cars used on Brightline West will need to be up to these high standards, and they’ll need to meet the line’s tight deadline.

We should trust that our domestic manufacturers and workers continue to be up to this task, building off proven successes, and not take risks by using foreign models that have never operated in the United States.

While laying the tracks is complex work, so too is operating trains at such high speeds. As Brightline West and its partners look to acquire these top-of-the-line rail cars, there’s been discussion of importing them from overseas. While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act typically requires funding recipients to ‘Buy American’ - that is, use materials, labor and products from the U.S. - German manufacturer Siemens is currently trying to skirt these rules, bringing in foreign rail cars rather than ones built here in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Alstom, a globally renowned rail manufacturer, has invested in the opportunity for high-speed rail and rail innovation in the United States. Their manufacturing plant in Hornell, New York has the ability to supply Brightline West with cutting-edge, high-speed rail cars that can carry our nation’s first-ever high-speed passengers; and the best part? They’re American-made, built at a factory that employs over 700 workers.

IAM Local 2741 President Armin Bishop-Miller
IAM Local 2741 President Armin Bishop-Miller

Alstom has already designed, built and delivered a high-speed trainset from their factory in Hornell. The Avelia Liberty, currently slated for use on the Northeast Corridor, is designed for even higher speeds than what’s proposed for Brightline West. With the ability to operate up to 220 mph, this state-of-the-art train is ready to roll on Brightline West from day one.

The Avelia Liberty is close to wrapping up years of extensive safety testing, fulfilling the Federal Railway Administration’s requirements for high-speed operations, and will be ready to roll on Brightline West immediately. The same can’t be said for the proposed rail cars, which are merely plans, not even prototypes, overseas.

A Buy America exemption for Brightline West would not only threaten to delay the first high-speed rail project in the country at a critical time; it also threatens good, union American jobs. Rather than risk our progress on passenger rail being stymied by unsafe or delayed rolling stock, or vaporware promises from overseas; we should invest in our own industry and ensure that our tax dollars fund jobs right here at home.

With these massive, crucial investments in our infrastructure, we have the opportunity to meet multiple goals. A project in Nevada can and should support jobs in New York. Buy America ensures that federal investments in projects locally have positive impacts nationally. For Brightline West, arguably the most transformative infrastructure project in decades, it’s imperative that this massive investment fosters a domestic rail industry that’s capable of meeting the high-speed needs of the future.

More Buy America: How new policies will impact Hornell Alstom, US rail industry

For New York, Buy America means good jobs and continued economic growth, instead of shuttered factories, delivery delays, and untested technology from overseas. For the United States, it means safe, effective, emission-free, high-speed train travel that’s ready to go in just a few years, built by American jobs.

The choice couldn’t be clearer - we need to ensure that America’s first high-speed rail line is American-made.

-- Armin Bishop-Miller is the President of IAM Local 2471 in Hornell. 

This article originally appeared on The Evening Tribune: Buy America exemption would threaten U.S. jobs, like those in Hornell