CTA’s Largest Railcar Purchase Will Bring Jobs to the South Side

Chicago is planning to update its railway system, and it's expected that 846 new rail cars will put into services in 2020.

By Xuanyan Ouyang

The Chicago Transit Authority announced an overhaul of the city’s rail cars with an historic contract of over $1.3 billion requiring the winning bidder to build a brand-new rail car assembly plant on Chicago’s South Side, creating 170 jobs.

CTA awarded on Thursday the agency’s largest car purchase contract to CSR Sifang America JV, a China-based joint venture of CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co. Ltd. and CSR America Inc., a subsidiary of another Chinese company. As part of a requirement of the contract, the train car producer is proposing to build a rail car assembly facility near 135th and Torrence, south of the Pullman neighborhood. The city expects an investment of $40 million for the facility.

“With this agreement, CTA riders will get state-of-the-art rail cars and Chicago returns to our roots as the place where the next generation of rail cars are built, providing good jobs for our residents,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the CTA press release. “This is a classic win-win for Chicago.”

The expected 170 jobs will be “good-paying jobs” including mostly union, high-skilled, sheet metal and electrical workers, according to CTA officials. The contract will also bring additional temporary jobs for the construction of the facility.

“This is one of the biggest steps the CTA has taken in years to improve and modernize service for our customers,” said Jeff Tolman, CTA spokesman, in an e-mail. “The facility will be the first of its kind in Chicago and mark the return of rail car assembly to Chicago for the first time in more than 35 years.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the city’s unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, fourth highest among the nation’s large metropolitan areas.

The Chicago Federation of Labor originally proposed the plan to include a “U.S. Employment” provision in the bid for manufacturing the 846 new railcars.

The organization’s president, Jorge Ramirez, said the plant is “the culmination of nearly two years of collaboration with Mayor Emanuel to bring rail car manufacturing back to Chicago where it belongs. ”

The city plans to pay the cars by issuing new municipal bonds. The CTA said the contract will be funded by a combination of Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act or low-cost loans for large-scale infrastructure projects, existing and future CTA bonds as well as Federal Transit Administration funds.

CTA expects that prototypes of the new cars will be completed by 2019 and the new cars will roll into the system commencing in 2020.

The announcement was hailed by Mike Symanski, president of the Historic Pullman Foundation, as “very exciting.”

Pullman, about two miles north of the new plant’s tentative location, was once a vibrant industrial district in Chicago. George Pullman, the owner of the Pullman Palace Car Company, built housing for the company’s employees in the neighborhood. The area is regarded as one of the most successful company towns in the country. But the town experienced a bust amid the economic depression in 1890s, the death of George Pullman and industrial restructuring. Railcar manufacturing in Pullman ceased in 1981.

In his statement Mayor Emanuel said he expects the new plant to attract rail car suppliers that will create more jobs in the city.

Photo at top: Chicago is planning to update its railway system. A new assembly plant will build 846 rail cars that will go into service starting in 2020. (GCF Photography/CREATIVE COMMONS via Flickr)