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Chinese Rail Manufacturer Eyes Former Westinghouse Site in Springfield

Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of rail cars, is strongly considering establishing its first North American operation in Springfield, on the 40-acre former Westinghouse site on Page Boulevard.

The Chinese company has been talking to city officials about building a 125,000-square-foot rail-car assembly plant and 33,750-square-foot office building at the site. Ameristar most recently purchased the property for $16 million in 2012, one of three casino companies that initially proposed gaming developments in the City of Homes, but later pulled out of the competition.

“We are very excited to be in discussion with the city of Springfield as we identify and address the necessary steps to advance our goal of building a rail-car manufacturing facility in Springfield,” Changchun President Lu Xiwei said in a prepared statement. “The interest and support displayed by Springfield officials at this early stage encourages our partnership and demonstrates a mutual interest in this effort.”

Changchun executives met Tuesday with Mayor Domenic Sarno and with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, among other officials.

Interest in the site was spurred by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s $1.3 billion program, announced last year, to replace and increase the capacity of its Red Line and Orange Line trains. According to the authority, the project will bring reliable, long-term relief to commuters who travel the Massachusetts Turnpike and rely on the Red and Orange lines to get to work and school.

Last October, the MBTA issued a request for proposals for the procurement to replace the 44-year old Red Line cars and 32-year old Orange Line cars. The project will deliver at least 226 vehicles — 152 Orange Line cars, replacing the entire fleet of 120, and 74 Red Line cars, with an option to increase the fleet to 132.

According to the MBTA, the new cars will provide improved reliability, accessibility, and energy efficiency. New features will include increased capacity and additional seating, wider electrically operated doors, four accessible areas per car, LED lighting, modern HVAC systems, and advanced passenger information and announcement systems.

The MBTA expects to award a contract for the cars by next winter, with the condition that the final assembly of the cars will take place in Massachusetts. Following extensive (and required) pilot train testing, Orange Line car delivery is scheduled to begin by winter 2018-19, and Red Line car delivery by the fall of 2019.

“Prompted by their participation in the request for proposals for the Orange/Red Line car procurement, [Changchun] representatives announced initial proceedings, including their selection of Springfield for its rich manufacturing heritage,” Changchun said in a press release, citing “ongoing conversations of support with state, city, local, and community officials.”

If the company, one of as many as nine vying for the work, gets the MBTA contract, it could employ 150 to 300 workers for at least 10 years. Using Springfield as a base, Changchun could conceivably expand further into the North American market.

The 60-year-old manufacturer has built more than 30,000 railway vehicles, exporting them to countries including North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

In recent years, it has moved into higher-profile markets such as Hong Kong, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Since 1995, Changchun has obtained more than $3 billion in export orders.

— Joseph Bednar

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