NorthBridge Blog

Pat DuganAmid all the hubbub about industrializing our country again and bringing jobs home, we’re getting by with a little help from newfound friends. We’ve found an enthusiastic partner in China.

In mid-March, Chicago hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for a new manufacturing plant set to build 846 new railcars for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to replace nearly half of the agency’s current railcar fleet. This new facility and business operations are spurred by Chinese investment.

The company behind it, China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) Sifang America, sees this as the beginning of rebuilding one of Chicago’s historic manufacturing strengths that ended 36 years ago when the Pullman Company’s operations finally closed down.

They’ll invest $100 million in building a 380,944-square-foot manufacturing facility on 45 acres in the Hegewisch neighborhood, with production due to start in early 2019. CRRC will begin testing the new car prototype later that year and the cars will hit the rails by 2020.

Here’s a fun fact: adding these cars to the fleet will cut the average age of CTA cars in half  from 26 to 13 years.

Plans are for CRRC’s operations here to ultimately grow beyond working with just the CTA to manufacture cars for railways all across the country.

Image courtesy of Metro Report International

Image courtesy of Metro Report International

A blast from the Pullman past

Now, let’s go back 155 years, when in 1862 George Pullman started his railcar manufacturing company with the purpose of building a passenger car that offered luxury sleeper berths.

From there grew the Pullman neighborhood, keeping workers close to their workplace. In 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the Pullman Company to divest itself of the town, which became a neighborhood of the city of Chicago, and still features landmarks from its days as a company town..

While the Pullman neighborhood factory closed in 1955, Pullman’s business continued for a time in the form of a merger with their purchase of the Standard Steel Car Company.

George Pullman

George Pullman

For some Chicagoans, this Chinese hand in our backyard business might be bittersweet, tinged with memories of a thriving enterprise that was once built by a local. But ultimately it’s an opportunity for economic growth that’ll create employment for management, factory workers, engineers, suppliers and more.

For the manufacturing future, this means jobs for Chicago’s Southeast side, 170 of them. Add to that the 130 jobs needed to build the factory.

It’s a real shot in the arm for the Southeast side, not just a reminder of what’s been lost. It’s a (train) ticket for the future.

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