“PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Tucked away near a cemetery and behind wartime-era houses that have seen better days, this is the place where the new CTA rail cars are getting their start in a life that will span at least 25 years on the rails of Chicago.”
Thus begins a testimonial to Bombardier Transportation that appeared June 18 in a column in the Chicago Tribune by columnist Jon Hilkevitch, who spend some time at the plant observing how the company will fill an order for 300 rail cars under a $331 million contract with the Chicago Transportation Authority.
“Traditional off-the-shelf rapid-transit cars up to 85 feet long wouldn’t be able to cut the tight curves on the Loop elevated tracks,” Hilkevitch explains to his readers. “So the 48-foot rail cars that Bombardier Transportation is building at its sprawling Plattsburgh plant in upstate New York are custom-made for the CTA.
“‘There isn’t any other transit agency that runs a car just like CTAs,’ said Robert Kielba, CTA chief rail equipment engineer, who heads the team of CTA inspectors roaming the Bombardier plant. ‘It would be beautiful if you could have a nice pointy, aerodynamic nose, but you can’t do it with short cars’ without taking away passenger space from the interior, he said.
“The new CTA 5000 Series rail cars are mostly handcrafted, too, weld by weld and rivet by rivet. Retrofitting the assembly line with robots, as automobile manufacturers around the world are doing, isn’t financially practical for the CTA’s $1.14 billion order for 706 rail cars, officials said.
“Since production resumed this spring after being stopped late last year due to the discovery of defective steel parts in the truck assembly that contains the wheels, Bombardier is turning out one new car every two days on average. Plant employees, some of whom were furloughed when production shut down, are being told the pace will soon quicken to a car a day.
“Increased production is fine with CTA officials anxious to retire 40-year-old trains clunking along the Blue Line, but only if it can be done without compromising quality, they pointedly told Bombardier officials.
“Instead of being fabricated elsewhere and transported to the assembly plant, the stainless-steel CTA car shells are built from scratch on site, which is a first for Bombardier’s 17-year-old Plattsburgh plant.
“While that is being done, welding samples from the stainless-steel sections are taken to a lab in the plant to ensure that the strength of the fused parts meets contract specifications.”
The column describes the painstaking work going on at the plant to make sure rigid specifications are met.
It’s gratifying to see the expertise and dedication of a local company and its workers documented for the people of America’s third-largest city. Bombardier helps Plattsburgh retain the status as a transportation hub for the country’s most sophisticated needs.