A joint bidding process that rail officials hoped would make it cheaper to buy new trains for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor has been canceled by the two agencies.

The cancellation comes because the specifications of the trains needed in each region were "just too different" for manufacturers to accommodate under a single contract, said Frank Vacca, chief program manager for the California rail agency.

Would-be bidders were notified of the cancellation late Thursday afternoon, said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority.

When Amtrak and California issued their request for bids in January, after a year of discussion between the two agencies, "we were hoping that would be possible to leverage joint procurement and establish a national standard for high-speed trains for the U.S.," Vacca said Friday.

But over the course of discussions with nine potential manufacturers in recent weeks, Vacca added, "what came out was the fact that they really were not able to provide a common platform or common train that met both of our needs."

Both Amtrak and California want streamlined, electric-powered trains for their high-speed passenger-rail corridors. But for manufacturers, the devil was in the differences.


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The California High-Speed Rail Authority wants passenger trains capable of operating at 220 mph for its proposed statewide rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Amtrak is looking for trains with peak speeds of about 160 mph to operate in its Northeast Corridor, which runs between Boston and Washington, D.C.

While California anticipates building hundreds of miles of new dedicated rail with a combination of long straightaways and wide-arced curves to accommodate higher speeds, Vacca said Amtrak is confined to a corridor largely designed and built in the late 19th century, "and to meet their trip times and optimize the corridor, they required a tilting train."

Amtrak and California each hoped that joining forces on an order of at least 42 trains -- and possibly as many as 50 to 60 trains over the next decade -- would be attractive enough for international manufacturers of high-speed rail equipment to commit to building trains in the U.S. as required by the federal government's Buy America laws. The agencies wanted also to leverage an economy of scale that might create a lower price tag for each train set.

Although high-speed rail lines are in operation in Europe and Asia and are being planned and built in other parts of the world, the U.S. currently has no dedicated high-speed rail lines in operation, and there are no American companies in the business of building high-speed trains.

Vacca said he expects the California rail agency to reissue its own request for proposals from manufacturers in October for an initial order of 15 train sets. Depending on ridership demand, the order could expand to as many as 70 trains over the next 15 years, he added.

Because there are no high-speed rail manufacturers in the U.S., however, Vacca said the high-speed rail authority will seek a Federal Railroad Administration waiver from the Buy America rules for two prototype train sets to be assembled overseas to allow for testing while the winning bidder establishes a plant on American soil.