United Streetcar and Earl Blumenauer’s misplaced boosterism

Only a politician would want to throw good money after bad, arguing that a failed company should get MORE federal dollars.

The Washington Post, in a Nov. 29 story picked up by both Willamette Week and the Portland Business Journal, told of how Portland’s United Streetcar, supposedly destined to reinvigorate the U.S. streetcar business, failed miserably.


In 2005, Oregon’s own Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) secured $4 million for Portland to buy an American-made streetcar. The contract went to Clackamas-based United Streetcar, a company founded that year, “Leading the way for today’s urban transport needs,” the company’s website says.

United Streetcar was formed in December 2005. It is a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, Inc., which recently became a division of Vigor Industrial.

Despite White House cheerleading, United Streetcar became a symbol of ineptitude, with frequent missed deadlines and cost overruns. It ended up building just 18 streetcars for three customers, and still couldn’t deliver them on time. According to the Post, the company has no new orders and the facility built to produce up to 24 streetcars a year is dormant.

But Blumenauer, arguing that the U.S. needs to make streetcars and not give the business to foreigners, wants the government to double down. Specifically, he wants the Feds to order 500 or 1,000 streetcars and give some U.S. companies a shot at making 50 or 100 each.

“That would get production humming,” Blumenauer told the Post.

Does he even remember the United Streetcar fiasco, or care?

In a classic instance of the Peter Principle at work, in August 2010, President Obama appointed Chandra Brown, President of United Streetcar, to the Department of Commerce Manufacturing Council. “Throughout her career, Chandra Brown has demonstrated how good leadership can allow smart companies to do well on the bottom line, do right by their employees, and do good for the country,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Chandra Brown

Chandra Brown

Then, in March 2013, President Obama again helped Brown fail upwards again by appointing her Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

I guess Blumenauer figures that if Brown can mess up and move up, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t help United Streetcar do the same.