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Fed. Railroad Officer: Clear Need For Rail Systems Investment
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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 itâ€™s steaming hot.
Around the corner in another building, workers put the final touches on rail car undercarriages for Amtrak trains.
â€œWeâ€™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. â€œItâ€™s old school, but in the same token itâ€™s very high tech.â€
The Amtrak order created 30 local jobs. Another contract with rail car manufacturer Nippon Sharyo will mean 50 more jobs.
â€œAs 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.â€
Thatâ€™s the type of news and stats Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo likes to tout. Szaboâ€™s pushing Congress to approve spending $19 billion for rail projects that he says will create even more jobs.
â€œItâ€™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 itâ€™s that order that has resulted in the $70 million investment in 50 new jobs here in Ohio.â€
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 Californiaâ€™s high-speed rail project which is now double original estimates at $68 billion.
â€œIf 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 Foundationâ€™s transportation director. He opposes high-speed passenger rail in most cases in the U.S. He said itâ€™s expensive, not self-sustaining; and not competitive.
â€œItâ€™s very, very hard to see anything like the future for passenger that it has today in Europe or Japan.â€
And Poole said itâ€™s unclear if jobs created from rail projects subsidized by federal dollars are actually net gains.
â€œThe 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 itâ€™s not at all clear thereâ€™s a net job creation.â€
The $19 billion in rail money is part of the Obama Administrationâ€™s large transportation bill. Most of the $300 billion measure would shore up funding for highway construction and maintenance.