Boise Wants Single Bid On Boston Trains

Boise’s Team Dave, U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, and Rep. Mike Simpson are seeking to derail a waiver of Federal Law on some Boston area public transit locomotives.



There motive is to “preserve Boise jobs,” but the action would allow Boise’s Motive Power to be the only bidder and provider of new locomotives for a Boston transit project.

The politicos cite the Buy America Act as the basis for their letters to the Federal Transit Administration, the agency providing most of the funding for new locomotives for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

With certain exceptions, FTA’s “Buy America” requirements prevent FTA from funding a project unless “the steel, iron, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States.”

One such exception is if applying the Buy America requirements “would be inconsistent with the public interest.” Boston and the Spanish firm, Vossloh, are seeking a waiver to allow the foreign company to bid. They want to build a couple of prototype engines in Spain at their design and engineering facility.

Without the waiver, Vossloh says the geographic separation between the design-engineering department in Spain and the USA final assembly facility in Mayfield, Kentucky, would result in an unacceptable increase in labor costs to Vossloh for final assembly of two prototype locomotives (to be built in Spain). The waiver for the two units would limit the cost, advance the schedule, and therefore reduce Vossloh’s bid price for the entire procurement of many more locomotives.

Vossloh and MBTA claim such a waiver is in the public interest because it will enable Vossloh “to submit a competitive bid with respect to price and schedule,” and because it will “expand the competitive range to include Vossloh as a compliant bidder.”

The politicos won’t concede their actions are politically motivated, but while Boise may save some jobs at Motive Power, there will be some unhappy Ridgerunners in Mayfield, Kentucky where the Spaniards plan to build the rest of the order which could ultimately be over 50 locomotives. It all boils down to whose ox is being gored.

The politicos welcome a French nuke processing plant at Idaho Falls, but theywould be outraged if powerful democrats in Boston tried to scuttle it for some reason. The Boston locomotives will ultimately be built wherever the most powerful politicos decide they will be built–not necessarily at the lowest price for the best quality.

Ironically, the FTA routinely grants such “Buy America Waivers” waivers for light rail, but not standard gauge trains.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Looks like one more step down the spiraling flush of our society! We no longer are capable of competing with another entity economically, so we turn to the government and yell “NO FAIR”! My God, we are talking about Spain! This isn’t some 3rd. world country that exploits their labor and wastes their resources. We are talking about a company that gives it’s employees 8 weeks vacation a year,(if they are at all like the rest of Europe), takes 2 hours for lunch and is a freaking ocean away from the customer!! If the day has come that we are no longer equipped to compete under these circumstances, it’s time for us to fold up the tent! Success is not measured by how much business you are given, it is measured by how much business you earn!

  2. Dick Cheney just called me from his secure and undisclosed location and said that the best thing to do would be to bomb Spain. After that, we could build trains in both Boise AND Kentucky.

  3. Cyclops I think you have it wrong.
    Success is measured by how much you pay your CEO.

  4. Maybe the Mayor should talk to Spain about his train plans.

  5. First off, before you assume to much…oh wait, nevermind, well, read this anyways, my sister works at MotivePower and sent this email out.


    The letter details a few very important things that MBTA asked for, such as a service proven locomotive, that the Spanish company CANNOT provide at this point because they have nothing more than drawings on paper.

    Also, if you’re from Boise or Idaho or both, and you don’t mind our jobs being shipped overseas because foreign labor is cheaper than having your own countrymen do the work, perhaps you should consider a change of residence…maybe Spain since we’re on that line of commentary.

    Another point, though 200 jobs might not seem like “a lot”, it’s quite a different story if you’re one of the 200 people that might be laid off should this waiver get granted. Stop thinking about how messed up our political system is and start thinking about the actual people it will affect. I worked at MotivePower for almost 5 years and they’re some of the hardest working, most dedicated people when it comes to putting out a quality product that I’ve ever known.

    Oh, and to clarify one of your points, MotivePower is the the only bidder in the US because they are the only US company that can produce these sophisticated locomotives quickly, efficiently, and in the numbers required.

    As with the French nuke plant, I’m sure the MBTA job was put out openly and allows everybody who wants to to bid on it. I agree that the eventual decision will not mean taxpayers or anyone else is getting “the best deal”, but for now, I’m going to make sure the jobs of Americans are secured in whatever way I can.

    EDITOR NOTE–Jon, your points are ALL well taken. However, if motive power can compete only by eliminating competition, it serves no public purpose for the people of Boston. Also, as we read the FTA summary, all but the two prototypes would be built in Kentucky–not Spain. Micron, the largest non-profit company in Idaho turned a profit a couple quarters, but only because the government came to their rescue and froze out foreign competition. Now THEY build and buy in foreign lands and get tax breaks in Idaho. No easy answer, but protectionism is NOT the answer.

  6. Tom Anderson
    Oct 24, 2008, 3:57 pm

    If you want to do the “Buy America” campaign, the first step would be to carpet bomb all the WalMart’s and Harbor Frieght Tool type businesses.

    Why do the braindead masses whine when government wants to buy foriegn, but treat Walmart like a sacred shrine they must frequent weekly?

  7. I think Jon has excellant points, and so does Cyclops…he points out well the shape of our economic work ethic in the US…..but I want to simply add that such political action is simply the way of buisness today. Its the lay of the battlefield… that both MotivePower and the Spanish company know it.

    Even if I knew I had a competitive product, or a better product, I would be remis as a CEO not to stack the odds in my favor and use ALL the tools at my disposal.

    Its unfortunately the world we work in. Not the one I like, but its a simple fact that there are very few good guys left. They keep getting shot dead by men in black (or red 🙂 ) hats. The good guys simply need to learn to duck more and get a bigger gun.

    Perhaps that is what MotivePower is doing…getting (and using) the biggest guns at their disposal?

  8. The global economy is in a constant search for the highest profit potential on the front end of ALL transactions. It is capitalism on steroids and may not be the best deal in the long run for everyone. You have to look beyond the initial purchase and try to get a fix on GOOD, FAST AND CHEAP.

    Generally you can get two out of the three but rarely three for three. Think about these three things in your personal lives and when was the last time you scored 3 for three.

  9. Dean Gunderson
    Oct 25, 2008, 3:48 pm


    I think the Buy America requirement is a solid re-investment plan of tax money gleaned from American taxpayers. Why would we take ‘our’ money and ship it (and the jobs it creates) overseas (to Europe or Asia)?

    Another bid requirement, when using federal (that is, American taxpayer) money is an assurance that bidders use the most current Davis-Bacon wage rates when paying their employees. This eliminates bidders who are under-paying their employees to create the illusion that they’re a lean and efficient operation.

    When all we look at, when we spend our money, is how cheaply we can satisfy our needs — then the corner of the world we live becomes impoverished.

    If, according to Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society” — how we spend those taxes becomes a measure of our respect for that society.

  10. One thing the discussions haven’t gotten into that bothers me is in the first paragraph:

    “Boise’s Team Dave, U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, and Rep. Mike Simpson are seeking to derail a waiver of Federal Law on some Boston area public transit locomotives.”

    Anytime there’s a request for or a granting of a “waiver,” it leaves me wondering: Why do we have the law if officials can make exceptions to it?

    Of course, it happens all the time locally — waivers to allow more homes per acre than the comprehensive plan or whatever allows; somebody with enough money can extend a building over The Grove, or build right up to the sidewalks despite the setback law, etc.
    And, each of those cases has made me wonder: Why do we have the law? And could I get a waiver on the law against robbing banks?

    What ever happened to the idea that laws are to be enforced equally on everybody? And a law that can’t be so handled needs to be removed and let the lawmakers try again.

    While I can understand the concept of the waiver in this particular case, the condition under which it can be granted is so vague that any decision on it is totally subjective.

    That’s not the way it should be!

  11. Alright Tom Anderson what kind of car do you drive? If your postings match the political bumper stickers I see all over town I will bet a Subaru. Next time your at the co-op with the rest of the enlightened “buy local” crowd take a look at the parking lot… not a domestic made car insight. Now check the local Walmart parking lot…The “braindead masses” have you beat in that department.

    As far as govt agencies buying goods overseas that could be bought domestically I think it is despicable. Shame on Boston.

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