Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Streetcar fantasy off track

U.S. effort to help build homegrown streetcar manufacturer falls short 
Washington Post, November 29, 2014  By Michael Laris

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, speaks at the unveiling of an American-made prototype streetcar in Portland, Ore., on July 1, 2009. Standing in the background, from left, are Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) (Don Ryan/Associated Press)

Early in President Obama’s first term, transportation secretary Ray LaHood traveled to Portland, Ore., stood before American workers in red, white and blue hard hats and made a pitch for their gleaming back-to-the-future product.

“These are the first streetcars to be manufactured in America in nearly 60 years,” LaHood told the cheering crowd in 2009. “This is the dawn of a new era for public transportation in the United States, a new opportunity to claim ‘Made in America.’ That is a great thing to be able to say!”

Company executives and their patrons greatly overestimated the size of the market they could capture and underestimated the difficulty of starting a homegrown streetcar business from scratch. Executives hoped to sell 10 or 15 of the 8-by-66-foot vehicles each year and create hundreds of new jobs as communities embraced a national streetcar revival. The company’s president at the time, Chandra Brown, set her gaze further. “One day, we can’t wait to be exporting these cars,” she said during another LaHood visit in 2011.

Instead, the company built just 18 streetcars for three customers — the District, Tucson and Portland — and was late delivering them to all three cities. There are no new orders, and the facility built to produce up to 24 streetcars a year is dormant after the last Portland car was shipped out Nov. 21. Some workers have been laid off, others have been reassigned to United Streetcar’s parent company, Oregon Iron Works, which builds bridges and boats.

"..we figured out how to pull together all these American resources* and American people to,build a very nice streetcar, and we don't have the orders to build more," said Clarke.


Clackamas County taxpayers spent millions in financial incentives to OIW for job creation and business generation. The love affair with streetcar and light rail transportation was spearheaded by Earl Blumenauer and supported by local politicians including:
-  Judie Hammersted - former director of Portland Streetcar, Inc.  The City of Portland contracts with Portland Streetcar, Inc. to construct and operate the Streetcar system. Portland Streetcar, Inc. is a private non-profit corporation.
-  Ann Lininger - voted for a package of benefits for Oregon Iron Works just before the end of her term as Clackamas County Commissioner.  She received campaign money from OIW, and went to work for the company immediately after leaving office.  

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