Production is expected to start soon at the largest factory built in western Massachusetts in generations – the CRRC rail car manufacturing complex in Springfield.
Even before the first gleaming new subway car rolls off the assembly line, the $95 million 204,000-square-foot factory has won accolades.
It was recognized this week as the engineering accomplishment of the year in Massachusetts by the American Council of Engineering Companies. Gov. Charlie Baker toured the cavernous building as construction was nearing completion last fall.
" I have a feeling this is going to become a really significant flagship for the manufacturing and assembly of rail cars here in the U.S., which is great," Baker said at the time.
The factory, which includes a 2,240-foot test track, is the only one of its kind in the eastern United States.
In 2014, the Chinese-owned CRRC won a $566 million contract to produce 402 new Orange Line and Red Line subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Because the contract did not include federal money, the state mandated the rail cars be assembled in Massachusetts.
CRRC built the factory on Page Boulevard in east Springfield on the site of the former Westinghouse manufacturing complex. All of the old brick Westinghouse buildings had long ago been torn down except one, which was restored as the administrative offices for CRRC’s North American operations.
Since arriving in Springfield, CRRC has worked with local trade unions, the city’s vocational high school, area colleges, and the regional employment board to develop a skilled workforce for the factory. The factory is purchasing goods and services from dozens of local suppliers.
"To enhance the local economy in Springfield is our goal and what we committed to do when we first came into Springfield wanting to build a facility and return manufacturing to that area," said Lydia Rivera, the spokesperson for CRRC MA.
She said the Springfield facility has 124 employees, including administrators.
" CRRC will continue to hire and we anticipate a workforce of approximately 200 by fall 2018," said Rivera.
As one of the last activities at the factory before production begins, CRRC is hosting an outreach event for minority and women-owned businesses on March 29th.
CRRC has invited 40 minority and women-owned businesses to set up tables on the factory floor to show off their products or services to representatives from about 100 companies that are part of the supply chain for the rail car manufacturing operation.
"This also provides these businesses an opportunity to meet the larger corportations and maybe do business with them on another project," explained Rivera. " What we are trying to do is stimulate the economy in western Mass. and hosting this event can help to do that."
Rivera declined to say exactly when production is scheduled to begin at the Springfield factory, except to confirm it will be “soon.”
The Springfield factory will also fill orders CRRC has received to deliver new rail cars to transit systems in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Officials say there is currently enough work to keep production humming through 2025.