USA: The Federal Railroad Administration has approved a waiver on Buy America procurement rules covering the supply of up to four high speed trainsets for the US market.

The letter dated November 24 is a response to requests from both Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority, who are each seeking to procure two pre-series trains for testing at speeds of at least 255 km/h on the Northeast Corridor and California’s nascent high speed line in the Central Valley.

Buy America rules are intended to ensure that federally-funded railway vehicles and equipment contain a high proportion of locally-produced components and that final assembly and commissioning is undertaken in the USA. But for the procurement of prototypes, FRA does not believe that it is in the public interest for Buy America to be imposed.

‘FRA believes a waiver is appropriate because domestically-produced high speed trainsets meeting the specific technical, design, and schedule needs of Amtrak and CHSRA are not currently available in the USA’, the letter explains. ‘Moreover, domestically-produced high speed trainsets cannot be bought or produced in the USA within a reasonable time given the programme schedule associated with Amtrak's and CHSRA’s projects.’

FRA believes that ‘in addition to acquiring specialised machinery and training and hiring the workforce’, the assembly plants used by existing passenger rolling stock suppliers in the USA are designed to produce steel-bodied vehicles, whereas any high speed fleet is likely to comprise aluminium-bodied cars to save weight.

However, FRA says that because it is limiting the Buy America waiver to a total of four pre-production trains, it is ‘not delaying or preventing the establishment of the selected supplier’s domestic assembly facilities.’

Both Amtrak and CHSRA issued requests for proposals for the supply of high speed trainsets earlier this year, although previous plans for a formal joint procurement between the two organisations were not pursued.