China’s Government-Owned CRRC Just Bought a German Locomotives Factory

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

An interesting little story from Europe popped up in our news alerts on Tuesday morning.

It seems that Vossloh, a German rail technology company, is divesting its locomotives business so it can focus on rail infrastructure.

Normally, we here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing wouldn’t pay much attention to the business dealings of a German manufacturer like Vossloh. But what caught our eye was who ended up buying Vossloh’s locomotives unit: China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation Ltd (CRRC).

Nikkei Asian Review reports:

“CRRC, the Chinese state company that is the world’s largest train maker, is set to gain a key foothold in Europe by acquiring its first factory on the continent… Vossloh announced Monday that it would sell a locomotive factory it opened last year to CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed CRRC.”

If you aren't familar with CRRC, it is a massive Chinese government-owned conglomerate with deep ties to the Chinese communist party. CRRC is a key player in the government’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, in which China is aiming to dominate sectors of the global industrial economy, including rail manufacturing.

Most of the recent attention about CRRC has been centered on the Chinese government’s efforts to use the company to dominate passenger rail car manufacturing, including in the United States. Backed by government subsidies, CRRC has severely underbid (and won) taxpayer-funded contracts to build rail cars in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

But allowing a Chinese state-owned enterprise to use taxpayer dollars to build U.S. passenger rail cars has raised some big red flags.

A recent Oxford Economics report found that every $1 billion given to a Chinese state-owned company to build passenger rail cars leads to the loss of 3,250 to 5,100 jobs. There are 90,000 jobs — many of them unionized — in the transportation supply chain, and all would be at risk if China succeeded in controlling the U.S. rail and bus manufacturing market.

There also are major security concerns, including fears that China will use rail cars for espionage purposes (which isn’t far-fetched, given China’s sophisticated use of facial recognition technology and the fact it wants to build rail cars for the D.C. metro). There also are fears that CRRC will move into freight rail, which would create an litany of additional security issues.

In response, Congress is now moving to ban Chinese government-owned or controlled companies like CRRC from building passenger rail and buses (you can weigh in here).

But let’s get back to that Vossloh deal, shall we?

At first glance, it seems like a weird buy for a big company like CRRC, since the factory makes diesel locomotives for short distances. Railway consultant Maria Leenen told the Nikkei Asian Review that diesel locomotives are a shrinking market segment, and electric locomotives are the future of the industry.

So why would CRRC even bother? Simple. It wants access:

“The acquisition of Vossloh's business should give CRRC's European growth ambitions a significant boost as EU regulations effectively favor domestic producers, according to Klaus Holocher, a professor for transportation management at Germany's Jade University of Applied Sciences. ‘If a Chinese company acquires a domestic player, they get all the standards and technology required to bring its trains quicker onto European railway tracks,’ he said.”

Remember that CRRC is not a typical company — it doesn’t care if it makes a profit on any individual contract or even at a single factory. CRRC operates under the direction of the Chinese government and is motivated by the “Made in China 2025” plan. It wants to dominate markets.

CRRC’s entry into Europe now makes it a rival to players like Germany’s Siemens and France’s Alstom. Those two companies saw CRRC coming and sought “to combine their train businesses to thwart CRRC from grabbing European orders.” But the European Commission blocked the merger due to “serious competition concerns.” Now CRRC is making waves.

It's worth pointing out here that CRRC was created in 2015 through the merger of Chinese companies CSR Corp Ltd and China CNR, all with the encouragement of China's government. It now controls over 90 percent of the massive Chinese train industry. So much for competition, huh? 

But anyway, I digress. There is still a chance, although unlikely, that the German government will block CRRC’s purchase of the Vossloh factory. But even if that happens — again, it is unlikely — CRRC's decision to buy the Vossloh factory is a clear sign that the company is readying to make a splash in Europe.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.


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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work