While APTA provides lobbying services for rail contractors in Washington, DC, those contractors must often do their own lobbying at the state and local levels. Their work is most visible in campaign finance reports when rail projects are on the ballot. Railcar manufacturers such as Siemens and rail contractors such as Kiewit Construction will often donate tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars each to support rail ballot measures.
For example, when a $4.7 billion rail transit plan was on the ballot in Denver in 2004, Siemens donated more than $100,000 to the campaign. After the measure won, Denver’s transit agency awarded a no-bid contract worth more than $100 million to Siemens for light-rail cars.
In order to underscore claims that rail transit boosts the economy, Congress requires that federally funded projects pay prevailing wages and include buy-American requirements. This makes rail transit even more expensive than it otherwise is.
For example, Portland built its initial streetcar line without federal funds, buying 30-seat streetcars from the Czech Republic for $1.9 million each. This was pretty expensive considering that 40-seat buses typically cost under $400,000. But when the federal government helped fund Portland’s second streetcar line, Portland had to buy from an American company. An Oregon company with no previous experience in building railcars got the contract, which cost $4 million per car for cars that were delivered late and turned out to be inferior to the Czech streetcars.