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What does Donald Trump's victory mean for the US rail industry?

Posted by Luke Upton on Nov 9, 2016

What does Donald Trump think about the rail industry? (SmartRail World)“You go to China, they have trains that go 300 miles an hour. We have trains that go ‘Chug, chug, chug.’..."

As the campaign chapter ends, so the presidential chapter must begin. On January 20, 2017 Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Few will have anticipated this scenario at the beginning of the election, probably not event Trump himself. And by the slightly stunned demeanour of the New Yorker after hearing Clinton’s concession, even this bombastic figure will take some time to come to terms with this fact. In a long, often unpleasant campaign, the details of which there’s no need to revisit, debate on the nation’s infrastructure was often drowned out by more controversial and salacious discussions. Yet this morning, in his victory speech at the Hilton Hotel in New York City infrastructure received a mention within the first two minutes; “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

Trump is like no other candidate the US has ever seen. So piecing together an idea of his plans when it comes to rail and mass transit is not easy. But our Editor Luke Upton has dug through some of his key statements, that offer, perhaps, some indication of what is coming up next and look also at how some of his wider policies may impact on the industry. 

In a wide-ranging conversation with the UK newspaper the Guardian in October 2015 Trump said; “We have to spend money on mass transit…We have to fix our airports, fix our roads also in addition to mass transit, but we have to spend a lot of money. China and these other countries, they have super-speed trains. We have nothing. This country has nothing. We are like the third world, but we will get it going and we will do it properly and, as I say, make America great again.”

Find out what the future holds in store for the US rail safety and security at SafeRail Congress, taking place in Washington D.C. in April 2017

China was again a theme at a speech (go to 47:13 for the rail bit) in March 2016 on the campaign trial in Portland, ME when he pushed the difference between there and the USA: “You go to China, they have trains that go 300 miles an hour. We have trains that go ‘Chug, chug, chug.’ And then they have to stop because the tracks split, right? There’s trains in China, Japan a lot of countries, we’re like third world…”

In the preface of his 2015 book, ‘Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again', available to read here he talks about again about an overhaul of the transit infrastructure: "Domestically, we need to undertake a massive rebuilding of our infrastTrump Tweets on rail industry (SmartRail World)ructure. Too many bridges have become dangerous, our roads are decaying and full of potholes, while traffic jams are costing millions in lost income for drivers who have jobs in congested cities. Public transit is overcrowded and unreliable and our airports must be rebuilt. You go to countries like China and many others and you look at their train systems and their public transport. It’s so much better. We’re like a third-world country."

The May 2015 Amtrak train derailment in in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which killed eight and injured over 200, saw Trump take to Twitter (see left) to comment and make some political points and reiterate, seemingly a commitment to investment. 

So there is campaign rhetoric to point towards that Trump will spend money on the rail and metro industry.

But let’s take a look at some wider issues that may emerge within the Trump Presidency. As an avowed enemy of free and open trade, and a supporter of tariffs on Chinese imports, freight railroads will likely see a downturn in traffic, particularly from the west coast ports.

If, and at an estimated cost of $25billion its a big if, his proposed 2,000-mile wall along the Mexico border is built, it is hard to see rail traffic doing anything but fall between the two countries. 

Read the Rail and Metro Innovation Guide 2017

Then there’s the wider unknowns, one of the key aspects of the Trump campaign has been controls on immigration. If the USA becomes both harder to move to and in turn less appealing, staff shortages, particularly within technology sectors is likely. Rail is an industry that is seeing some major posititve changes from new, disruptive technology. created often by international teams worked collaboratively. If America becomes less multicultural or international in its outlook, perhaps a revolutionary new technology that can improve our industry will now be developed in Hong Kong, Melbourne or Amsterdam rather than in Silicon Valley, New York or Boston?

What is the future of European rail technology? Find out at SmartRail Europe in Amsterdam in April 2017

And of course, underpinning all of this is the economy. A thriving economy, with strong central leadership has the opportunity to quickly invest in infrastructure, as we’ve seen for example in China this past decade. There are though many who predict that tariffs on imports, would invite retaliatory tariffs on American exported goods, creating huge problems for domestic exports and businesses and even potentially triggering another recession. A recession and renewed global financial crisis would make the proposed US rail investments, which if on the scale of Trump's rhetoric would be in the tens of billions of dollars, very unlikely. 

From January we will begin to have an idea, until then, we can only guess. He is after all like no other candiate ever elected to the Presidency. 

What do you think? Comment below or email to share your thoughts. We'll publish the best and most interesting. 

Update #1: Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), has issued the following statement on the Presidential Election: "Congratulations to Donald Trump and his entire campaign team. As a business leader, Mr. Trump understands many of the economic challenges facing this country. As such, we hope he will move quickly on issues such as comprehensive tax reform that reduces the corporate rate, a review and reform of the broken regulatory system and an embracement of fair and open trade. These policies, as well as the steady presence of America's privately owned freight rail network, are critical to enacting much of Mr. Trump's agenda, including public infrastructure investment."

Update #2: APTA Chair Doran Barnes and Richard A. White, Acting President & CEO wrote: “On behalf of the more than 1,500 members of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the public transit riders who take 10.6 billion trips a year, we congratulate President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence."

"President-Elect Trump spoke of the need for increased infrastructure investment during his campaign and APTA is grateful to have had the opportunity to share its perspective and expertise with the transition team in recent months. APTA members stand ready to build on this work with President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence on revitalizing our economy and creating jobs through greater federal investment in infrastructure. Public transportation is critical to a community’s economic prosperity and competitiveness. As nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, we believe that a significant portion of his infrastructure proposal should be dedicated to public transportation."

Interested in Donald Trump and the rail industry, then read... 

European 'Smart Cities' inspiration for Transportation Secretary Foxx. 

Hong Kong tops Urban Mobility Index but cities struggle with transit challenges.

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Topics: projects

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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