Rochelle plant wins $352 million passenger rail car contract

From Crain’s Chicago Business:

Federal and state officials are making it official today: Illinois will be  the place that builds the next generation of passenger railroad cars.

In a press conference later today, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are to announce that Nippon Sharyo’s  Rochelle plant has been awarded a $352 milllion contract to build 130 passenger  railroad cars that will go into Amtrak service beginning in 2015.

The award had  been expected, but is nonetheless huge both for passengers and for  Chicago’s rail manufacturing base, which once led the world in the Pullman days  but had faded to almost nothing in recent decades.

“Illinois is committed to building a high-speed, 21st century rail system and  leading the nation in rail equipment manufacturing,” Mr. Quinn said in a  statement. “By working together with other states, the federal government and  outstanding Illinois-based companies like Nippon Sharyo, we can put people back  to work and advance Illinois’ role as one of the nation’s top transportation  hubs.”

Added Mr. LaHood, “This is good news for rail travelers and for the regional  economy.”

The order officially is being placed by the California Department of  Transportation, known as Caltrans, which acted as the lead agency for itself  plus a coalition of Midwest states.

Caltrans will use 42 of the new bi-level cars, and the Midwest coalition  88, which will operate out of Amtrak’s Chicago hub.

The cars are designed to operate at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour.  They are gradually being added on routes between here and St. Louis and Detroit,  and “equipped to deal with weather extremes.” Beyond that, the cars will have  Wi-Fi. And exceed federal requirements for the disabled. And, because the cars  are bigger than the ones they’ll replace, they will expand capacity by as much  as 90 people per coach.

Nippon Sharyo opened its factory here after winning a $585 million Metra  contract. The firm says it will employ at least 250 people in Rochelle.

Amtrak service has been rising here, with ridership on its four Illinois  routes up nearly 75 percent over the past six years, to 2.1 million passengers a  year.

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