Foreign companies vying for Florida high-speed rail work
October 15, 2010
You can find 250-mph trains built by Siemens Corp. in Austria, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain and Switzerland.
You can get a glimpse of one of the German company's trains in Tampa, too â?? Siemens recently put up a billboard on West Hillsborough Avenue in Town 'N Country showing one of its high-speed Velaro trains and bearing this message: "More Speed. Less Gas. With Siemens' Answers For Florida High-Speed Rail."
Siemens is establishing a marketing base in Florida as it prepares to bid for nearly $3 billion in business, building a high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando by early 2015.
Its marketing tour touched down this month in Tampa and Orlando and also made stops in Miami, where high-speed rail could be extended in 2018 if federal funds become available, and Tallahassee, where a lead contractor will be picked early next year.
Siemens isn't alone in its pursuit of Florida business. In all, at least 40 companies from throughout the world have filed letters of interest for a piece of the project with Florida High Speed Rail, the state Department of Transportation's office handling the high-speed rail project.
Spain has the most extensive high-speed rail network in Europe, with nearly 3,500 miles of high-speed routes in place or under construction and 4,350 miles expected to be in place by 2015, when the United States' first 88-mile high-speed rail line is scheduled to open in Florida.
France organized a high-speed rail seminar in Miami Beach in May, where French foreign trade minister Anne-Marie Idrac compared the business prospects for high-speed rail with the gains the state saw from the space program.
The French TGV â?? "Train Ã Grande Vitesse," or "high speed train" -- was developed in the 1970s. In 2007, a French train set the current speed record of 357.2 mph.
Manufacturers from Canada, China and Japan also have been in contact with Florida officials.
On Nov. 8 and 9, the Florida Department of Transportation is sponsoring an industry forum at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando where small firms interesting in working on the project can meet with larger companies putting together teams to build and operate Florida's high-speed network. Eight major teams, including one led by Siemens, are forming to lead the project.
So, it's not surprising that foreign rail manufacturers dominate the market. But those interested in U.S. projects have pledged either to expand their current U.S. manufacturing plants â?? Siemens, for example has built light rail cars in Sacramento, Calif., for more than 25 years â?? or establish U.S. operations.
While some high-speed rail project critics lament the lack of U.S. rail companies, others point to how foreign auto manufacturers, who account for about half of autos bought in the United States, have set up U.S. manufacturing sites that create jobs here.
The Federal Railroad Administration has created a set of strict "Buy America" standards for high-speed rail contracts being financed through the Obama Administrations $8-billion nationwide high-speed rail program, to create jobs and investment here. The complex guidelines allow for some exceptions for materials or technical equipment that cannot be obtained or feasibly produced in the United States.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Tampa in January to deliver a $1.25-billion down payment on Florida's high-speed rail project that will cost nearly $3 billion to build between Tampa and Orlando. The state has applied for $1.1 million in additional federal funding. The lead contractor will be expected to invest at least $500 million into the first phase of the Florida project.
That involves manufacturing high speed train sets, laying track and electrical power lines to operate the trains and building stations in Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando. Operational costs are projected to be covered by ridership, though that issue will be revisited in a report that's being updated this year.
A lot at stake Under the ground rules Florida officials have set up, the company that wins the bid to build the Tampa-Orlando leg will also have the first shot at building the Orlando-Miami segment.
If and when the high speed rail line is extended to Miami, with east coast stops at Cocoa, Fort Pierce and Fort Lauderdale, the end-to-end travel time of three hours and 15 minutes is expected to change the face of Florida transportation and provide competition for intrastate airline travel.
"Most of all, we are trying to create excitement in Florida as the first state to have high-speed rail," said Oliver Hauck, president of Siemens' mobility division in Sacramento on a recent visit to Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry, where Siemens built a high-speed rail car for public display.
It's unclear how companies' marketing efforts might affect their chances.
But the stakes are high. In addition to the Obama Administration's initial $8-billion nationwide investment in high-speed rail, more money for high speed rail is expected to become available from $50 billion the administration said last week it wants for additional transportation projects.
The Florida high-speed rail project could create 27,000 jobs, Hauck said.
"We are trying to market ourselves as one of the best suppliers in high-speed technology," said Hauck. "We have 5,000 employees in Florida and have a long history of creating jobs."
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