Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker toured the nearly completed $95 million subway car factory in Springfield Thursday. The facility will provide good-paying jobs for people in western Massachusetts and improved mass transit in the eastern part of the state.
After walking through the cavernous building with officials from CRRC and chatting with some of the local people the Chinese company has already hired to work there, Baker said he can’t wait for production to begin.
"These cars can't get here fast enough," Baker said.
The new modern subway cars that are to start rolling out of the Springfield factory next year will replace ones on the MBTA’s Orange and Red lines that are more than 40 years old.
In 2014, CRRC won a $566 million contract to build new cars for the MBTA. The state used no federal money for the project so it could require the cars be assembled in Massachusetts. CRRC chose to build the 204,000 square foot factory in Springfield.
" I want to give CRRC a high-five for living up to the commitment to hiring and supporting local businesses and local people," said Baker.
Baker said the benefits to the local economy from that decision are already apparent.
CRRC expects to employ 150 production workers, with salaries between $50,000 - $60.000 plus benefits, according to union officials.
Earlier this year CRRC sent 32 people hired to work at the Springfield factory to company headquarters in Changchun, China for training. Brian Perkins, who went to China to train said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
" With the help some translation apps and patience we were able to communicate and work together to learn how to produce a fantastic product," said Perkins
The first prototype of the new Orange line subway car for the MBTA rolled out on test track in Changchun earlier this month. The shells and other parts for the cars are built in China and delivered to Springfield where wheel assemblies, motors and other parts are built and installed on the finished product, according to Mark Smith, general manager of the Springfield plant.
" We are going to start production officially no later than April 1st with the first cars due ( for delivery) by the end of the year," Smith said.
In addition to the MBTA work, CRRC has contracts to build new train cars for Los Angeles and Philadelphia. There is enough work now to keep the Springfield factory humming through 2025, according to Smith.
Springfield Mayo Domenic Sarno said there have been spin-off benefits including partnerships between CRRC and local trade schools to develop a workforce.
" They are the largest railway car manufacturer in the world and this is there North American hub right here in the city of Springfield and they are going after contracts all across North America, so we expect bigger and better things," said Sarno.
The CRRC factory was built on the site of a former Westinghouse manufacturing center, which shut down in the 1970s. Kathy Brown, president of the East Springfield Neighborhood Council said many thought they would not see manufacturing return to the property.
" The neighborhood is very excited and we know it will spin off into lots of jobs and lots of economic development," Brown said.
CRRC kept one of the old brick buildings that was once part of Westinghouse, and restored it for office space.