Fed. Railroad Officer: Clear Need For Rail Systems Investment

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A Columbus Castings worker preps an undercarriage piece for an Amtrak order. The steel foundry is expected to hire 50 more workers after rail car manufacturer Nippon Sharyo placed an order through 2015.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News)
A Columbus Castings worker preps an undercarriage piece for an Amtrak order. The steel foundry is expected to hire 50 more workers after rail car manufacturer Nippon Sharyo placed an order through 2015.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News)

Even though Ohio has decided not to expand passenger rail service, a Columbus company is benefiting. Columbus Castings makes rail car components. A top federal official toured the company touting the economic benefits of passenger rail. As advocates call for more tax money, rail skeptics remain unconvinced.

Everything is loud at Columbus Castings: the sounds, the sites, even the smells. And it’s steaming hot.

A large conveyer rolls overhead deep inside the foundry.IMG_2433

Around the corner in another building, workers put the final touches on rail car undercarriages for Amtrak trains.

“We’ve got castings staged for paint, and then the finished product which will actually go under the rail car is there with the gray enamel on it,” Columbus Castings manager Jesse Morris said. “It’s old school, but in the same token it’s very high tech.”

The Amtrak order created 30 local jobs. Another contract with rail car manufacturer Nippon Sharyo will mean 50 more jobs.

“As the economy grows and the transit industry grows we expect it to come to Columbus, and then, of course, grow our economy base right here in Columbus, Ohio, as well.”

That’s the type of news and stats Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo likes to tout. Szabo’s pushing Congress to approve spending $19 billion for rail projects that he says will create even more jobs.

“It’s because of those projects in Illinois and Michigan that Columbus Castings here has just gotten that order from Nippon Sharyo,” Szabo said. “Nippon Sharyo is building the 130 high-performing coaches for the Midwest, as well as the state of California, and it’s that order that has resulted in the $70 million investment in 50 new jobs here in Ohio.”

And Szabo said as the population increases and demand for freight systems grows, there will be a need for more rail investment.

In 2010, The Kasich Administration turned down federal dollars to help construct a rail line from Cleveland to Cincinnati. And critics say that was a smart move. They point to California’s high-speed rail project which is now double original estimates at $68 billion.

“If they ever find the money to ever do that system, I expect that figure to be closer to $100 billion by the time they get finished,” Robert Poole said.

Poole is The Reason Foundation’s transportation director. He opposes high-speed passenger rail in most cases in the U.S. He said it’s expensive, not self-sustaining; and not competitive.

“It’s very, very hard to see anything like the future for passenger that it has today in Europe or Japan.”

And Poole said it’s unclear if jobs created from rail projects subsidized by federal dollars are actually net gains.

“The places that get the jobs are benefited, but the taxpayers that pay more taxes across the country to pay for it have less money to spend on other things,” he said. “So it’s not at all clear there’s a net job creation.”

The $19 billion in rail money is part of the Obama Administration’s large transportation bill. Most of the $300 billion measure would shore up funding for highway construction and maintenance.

  • Garl Boyd Latham

    Haven’t you heard? Obama just decided to go with the Republican transportation bill because, just like all professional politicians, he’s SCARED!

    Scared of substantive change; scared of the highway lobby; scared of what might happen if our society attempted an honest dialogue concerning the creation of a comprehensive domestic transportation/energy/environmental policy!

    Personally, I couldn’t care less what “rail skeptics” say about ANYTHING! They will forever remain “unconvinced,” as will all the other ideologues.

    Is Robert Poole’s defeatist attitude justifiable? Should the Reason [sic] Foundation’s pre-paid rhetoric be allowed to direct our steps?

    For that matter, is the U.S. roadway system “sustainable”? If so, then why are we even discussing a bail-out of the Highway Trust Fund?!

    Oh, we’ll continue catering to the pave-and-pollute crowd’s every whim, throwing money at their half-baked ideas while we ignore reality.

    So…let’s just suffocate in our own waste! Let’s act as if we really believe autocentrism provides us with a future worth embracing!

    While we’re at it, let’s refuse to act upon our knowledge, behaving as if our progeny truly deserve the world they’ll inherit!

    Our actions are as unconscionable as they are DISGUSTING!

    Garl Boyd Latham

  • https://twitter.com/campchasetrail Jody Dzuranin

    Uh Robert Poole – Are highways self sustaining? We all know the gas tax only partially offsets highways expenditures, the rest comes from taxpayers. Time to create some transparency in this equation.