As a Daily News reporter, I covered the debut of Amtrak’s Acela at Penn Station in December of 2000. I’m a transportation buff and was immediately impressed by the futuristic, bullet-like train, which became vital for the nation’s passenger rail service in the Northeast corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Now, a second generation of these high-tech trains is going into service, and the only place in the country where high-speed rail trains are being manufactured is in Hornell. This once-prosperous railroad town in the state’s Southern Tier, with a population of 8,500, is on a comeback because of the work on the Acela trains and others.
Now a Biden administration proposed “waiver of non-availability” from its “Buy America” policy requirements would allow some railroad stock for an ambitious $12 billion high-speed rail project connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles to be built in Germany. That has local businesspeople and politicians, including Hornell Mayor John Buckley, up in arms. The mayor pointed out that the Hornell plant operated by French train manufacturer Alstom employs 700 local residents, and that another 250 employees will be added once a new car shell manufacturing facility is completed. Buckley also noted how the “ripple effects” of so many manufacturing jobs spurred new businesses around town, including a hotel and cocktail lounge. A former school was also converted into affordable housing.
Even if the waiver is approved, the plant’s supporters, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, have already helped raise the profile of this tiny town as America’s high-speed rail manufacturing home. That’s a major distinction that should have the state proudly tooting its horn.