California is a no-show

State officials cancel bilevel presentation at conference, send statement instead
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WASHINGTON — “Ongoing negotiations” are what stopped California rail officials from presenting information on a long-stalled bilevel car order at a national transportation conference on Tuesday.

At the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, California Department of Transportation’s Bruce Roberts was slated to speak about bilevel cars CalTrans ordered from Sumitomo Corp. of Americas. The contract is worth $551 million with a Sept. 30, 2017 deadline set for the first bilevel deliveries. To date, no cars have been built.

Instead of a presentation, the discussion panel’s chairman read a statement from Roberts’ replacement as head of rail and mass transportation with the California agency. It thanked attendees for coming and added little new information to the public record.

“At this time, final design of the [Next Generation Equipment Committee] compliant cars has not yet been completed and approved. The contract is behind schedule and negotiations are currently underway to address the delays,” Steven Keck, CalTrans’ interim chief for rail wrote. “At this time no further information can be presented.”

In a follow-up email with News Wire after the panel’s conclusion, Keck confirmed the statement’s content and said he sent it instead of a presentation because of on-going negotiations. Keck did not specify who the agency was negotiating with.

Despite CalTrans’ absence in Washington, research board panelists who helped develop or manage design work spoke about the bilevels. According to these experts, there have been 243 design changes, so far, on the bilevel cars. Each change may require months to process or as little as two weeks for urgent production needs. Bilevel designs were also the first produced by the all-volunteer Next Generation Equipment Committee. Designs now include locomotives, diesel multiple units, and single level passenger cars.

The panelists declined to comment further on bilevel progress and directed further questions to Keck.

California's transportation department became the lead agency for a coalition of states that want to run new passenger cars on Amtrak trains and ordered the next generation committee-designed bilevel cars from Sumitomo in 2012. The first prototype of that design failed a crucial safety test at Sumitomo contractor Nippon-Sharyo’s Rochelle, Ill., plant in September 2015. http://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2015/09/04-nippon-story

Nippon has since had massive layoffs and has repeatedly declined to answer Trains News Wire questions about the order, though Roberts did speak with News Wire in May 2016 about an upcoming funding deadline. http://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2016/05/10-nippon-sharyo

At stake are 130 bilevel cars slated for use in the Midwest and the $551 million put up by the Federal government from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for their purchase. Unless Congress steps in to change the law, the deadline for spending the stimulus funds is Sept. 30. After then the funds must be returned to the federal government.

In his email to News Wire, Keck confirmed that Roberts is still the lead contact with between CalTrans and Sumitomo, but that he’s moved into a policy development role with the agency

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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