Deputy DOT Commish: No American Manufacturers Produce Track for Light Rail

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A streetcar in Portland (photo by Steven Vance via Flickr)

Buy America is a provision in U.S. law to "ensure that transportation infrastructure projects are built with American-made products."

And John Porcari, the Department of Transportation deputy secretary, says he's the man who signs the waivers allowing companies to buy materials outside the U.S. "Waivers for the  requirements have been routinely granted--I can tell you, I'm the person who signs the waivers, and I try very very hard not to."

But he said there's no American manufacturer who currently produces girder rail -- the type of on-street rail used for streetcars and light rail. Speaking this morning at the Building the Future: New York State Transit Manufacturing conference at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Porcari said he's been working to change that.

"What we've done is we're aggregated the demand. We've looked at, nationwide, every transit project, how much demand there is, got all the steel companies together, and basically said 'whichever one of you opens a production line for it first wins."'

The DOT estimates 18,000 metric tons of steel girder rail will be needed over the next three years to meet the demand of streetcar projects being planned and built in the U.S.

But Porcari acknowledged that winning the American girder rail business doesn't come cheaply.

"Existing steel companies in America would have to make a very large investment, on the order of over $100 million, for this production line," he said. "We've said [to the steel companies] 'there's enough demand to justify that investment. And if you take that risk, if you make that investment, we'll never sign another waiver.'"

Porcari said that he's hopeful that day will come. "I'm confident we'll have good news on that shortly."