Last Friday, Quebec-based rail car manufacturer Bombardier Transportation announced that it will open a new assembly plant in California. The facility is close to San Francisco — and the current contract Bombardier has to produce rail cars for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District will be transferred from its Plattsburgh, New York facility to the West Coast. WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has reaction from North Country officials.
The Plattsburgh assembly plant received a contract in 2012 to manufacture 775 rail cars for BART, and construction is underway at the Plattsburgh plant.
On Friday Bombardier officials announced the company is opening a new assembly plant in Pittsburg, California, about 50 miles from San Francisco, and the remainder of the BART work will be transferred there from Plattsburgh.
KQED spoke with Bombardier spokesperson Maryanne Roberts, who said the move opens up opportunities for new West Coast customers and provides needed space for East Coast manufacturing. “We began that order in our main manufacturing site in upstate New York in Plattsburgh New York. But the site has become pretty full. We needed room there for other East Coast orders and we were always interested in increasing our West Coast presence. We found this site in Pittsburg. It was available and we decided to transfer the BART order to the new site here in California.”
Officials in Plattsburgh do not appear worried about the loss of the BART contract at the northern New York plant. North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas says it’s a strategic move by the company, noting the Plattsburgh plant will remain the main manufacturing site. “The plant here is operating at full capacity. There’s a major New Jersey contract that needs to come online. So something needed to be done somewhere in terms of accommodating several of these major contracts that are all hitting the pipeline at the same time. So it’s a logical response from Bombardier to look at the fact it’s maximized its capacity at Plattsburgh. It needs more capacity. Put that on the West Coast it’ll enhance competition in the western U.S. And at the end of the day for us here in Plattsburgh this is going to remain basically their U.S. rail headquarters.”
Despite the loss of one of the local plant’s major contracts, Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman echoes the Chamber, saying he has no concerns about Bombardier’s move. “I’ll take Schluetter Systems as an example. Their North American headquarters is right here in the Town of Plattsburgh and I think they have a workforce of about over 500 people. But now they have a plant out in the Nevada area and it’s not really taking away opportunities. What it’s doing is expanding the brand and expanding the opportunities for North America as a whole.”
Douglas adds that while the BART and New Jersey contracts attract the most attention, Bombardier’s Plattsburgh plant is also fulfilling a number of smaller orders. “There are rail cars that’ll be coming off the line this year at Plattsburgh for Malaysia, actually exporting completed rail cars to the Asian market. For some sites in Canada there are cars. This has become an export generating business here in Plattsburgh as well. So this is going to remain their main operation.”
Bombardier already employs about 500 people in California and its rail car manufacturing operations is expected to begin this fall.