Merkley Offers Amendment to Expand ‘Buy America’ Program to Freight Rail

WASHINGTON, DC – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today put forward a measure makes sure that federal freight rail projects paid for with taxpayer dollars use components made by American workers.

The Department of Transportation operates under Buy America rules for its grant programs administered by the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.  However, the Federal Railroad Administration only has Buy America rules for its passenger rail programs, not its freight rail programs.   Senator Merkley’s amendment would close this loophole.

“When the federal government spends taxpayer dollars in core industries, it should be looking first to American companies and American workers.  This has been particularly relevant in transportation and defense programs but for unexplainable reasons, there is a loophole for freight rail.  That just doesn’t make sense,” said Merkley.  “I am pushing to make sure that whether it’s passenger or freight, when we’re improving and expanding America’s railroads, we’re building America’s industrial strength.” 

This loophole has already had a detrimental effect on American manufacturers.  A few months ago, a bid was awarded to a Chinese company to build an American bridge in Alaska with Chinese steel.  This happened even though there was a strong American competitor.  Chinese steel companies receive unfair subsidies from their government and use those unfair – and often illegal subsidies – to undercut American companies. 

The Merkley amendment would correct this problem by: 

  • Requiring that all freight rail transportation contracts exceeding $100,000 funded in the appropriations bill use U.S. produced steel, iron and manufactured products.
  • Allowing the Secretary of Transportation to waive this requirement if:
    • The application is inconsistent with the public interest
    • Such materials and products are not available in sufficient quantity or quality
    • The inclusion of domestic material would increase the cost of the project by more than 25%

“At a time when we should be investing in America, making things in America and creating American jobs, we shouldn’t be outsourcing the building of American bridges to China,” said Merkley.  “If we don’t make things in America, we won’t have a middle class in America.”