Who Wants to Buy a New Locomotive? General Electric Hopes Amtrak Does

General Electric’s Transportation division inked a high-speed rail technology-sharing deal with China last month, but the prospects on the home front for its fuel-efficient locomotives are downright "bleak" heading into 2010, as its chief executive recently told Dow Jones.

6899.jpgSen. John McCain (R-AZ), at right, addressed GE Transportation workers in Erie, PA, last year. (Photo: NY Sun)

So even as workers at its plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, cope with large-scale layoffs, the company has adopted a new strategy: urging the federal government to approve money for new Amtrak locomotives. GE Transportation’s hope, as the local Times-News reports, is that it can win an Amtrak bid that doesn’t yet exist:

In what might have once seemed like an unusual
collaboration, company officials and its main union are making a joint
plea for Congress to include an appropriation for new locomotives.

"We have the best technology and we know the
customer requirements and believe we are best positioned," Lorenzo
Simonelli, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview Monday.

"This comes down to funding. Funding for Amtrak
for the purchase of diesel electric locomotives isn’t currently planned
for in the 2010 appropriation."

Convincing lawmakers to add funding for new Amtrak locomotives may
sound like a tall order at a time when the Obama administration is
seeking to embrace fiscal austerity, but GE has some influential allies.

Pennsylvania
Sens. Arlen Specter (D) and Bob Casey (D) joined Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper
(D-PA), who represents the Erie area, to introduce legislation in October that would offer a 30 percent tax credit for new locomotive purchases made before 2013.

"In
addition to the economic impact," Specter said in a Senate floor speech
on the proposal, "the [bill] will also benefit the environment, as new
and newly manufactured locomotives are typically more fuel efficient
and emit fewer harmful pollutants."

Even if the Amtrak
strategy does not pan out for GE, the company’s Chinese partnership
offers an opening for new business as the U.S. gears up for its first
high-speed rail construction. The company testified
on Capitol Hill in June that its trains were prepared to meet the
administration’s goal of top speeds between 110 and 124 miles per hour.

And
at a time when infrastructure investment is gaining currency as a
job-creation tool, GE can point to international interest in its
cleaner-burning trains, which are hitting the railways in Egypt, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.