CHICAGO — The world’s largest rail equipment manufacturer is marking its latest entry into the U.S. market with a ground-breaking ceremony earlier today for a new plant in southeast Chicago.
The plant, in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, will be used by CRRC Sifang America to build new cars for the Chicago Transit Authority’s L system. CRRC — the Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corp. — won a contract in March 2016 to build up to 846 new 7000-series cars, at a cost of up to $1.3 billion. The initial order is for 400 cars with options for the rest. Completion of the full order will take 10 years after the plant begins production in late 2018. The first prototype is expected to be complete in 2019.
“Four years from now,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “Chicagoans like myself will be commuting in a railcar made in Chicago by Chicagoans. That’s what we’re talking about for the future of the city of Chicago.”
The new plant will become the first in Chicago to build rail cars since the closure of the nearby Pullman plant in 1981, and the first in Chicago to build equipment for the CTA in more than 50 years, said CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr.
“To put that in context,” Carter said, “that was when Lyndon Johnson was president, and the Beatles had their first No. 1 record in America. But that’s about to change.”
Speakers included Emanuel, U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and CRRC Vice President Sun Yongcai, who praised the partnership of the city and local unions that made the plant possible. Yongcai says CRRC is committed to hiring and training local residents for 169 jobs. Those jobs, said Chicago 10th Ward Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski-Garza, represent “a ray of hope for everybody that lives in this neck of the woods.”
CRRC already builds equipment for use in more than 20 countries, but the Chicago project will help the company “expand its influence here in the United States,” said Hong Lei, Consul General for the People’s Republic of China in the U.S., “and make its brand be better known to our American friends.”
While the CTA contract is the impetus for the plant’s construction, the company plans to pursue contracts throughout the U.S. that would also be built in Chicago.
“I was joking with Sun Yongcai just a minute ago,” Emanuel said. “I said tell me what cities you’re going to go [to]; I’ll make calls to those mayors, and if I’m successful, I get a one percent commission.”
This is the second major transit contract for CRRC in the U.S. Another affiliate, CRRC MA, is building a plant in Springfield, Mass., to fill a $566-million order of 284 subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.