Outside, three flags snap in the breeze: the Stars and Stripes of the United States, the five-starred red flag of Communist China, and a white banner representing CRRC Sifang America Inc. or, colloquially, the Chicago Transit Authority’s L car plant in Hegewisch.
Inside, almost lost within a vast, new industrial space, two familiar-looking stainless steel train car bodies are propped six feet in the air, dangling coils of cable, surrounded by a bright yellow platform, the first of the 7000 series: 7001 and 7002.
At the latter, workers in hard hats gather around an electric coupler that doesn’t quite fit, doing what they call a “soft install”: tentatively attaching something and making sure it clears all the obstacles it must avoid on the CTA’s 224 miles of often-cramped track.
CRRC Sifang — the initials stand for China Railways Rolling Stock Corporation — won a $1.3 billion contract in 2016 to produce 846 new rail cars for the CTA; that’s about half the current fleet. That same year, it broke ground on this $100 million, 380,000-square-foot facility to do it.
”Part of the deal was they would build the factory here and build the trains here and all the good stuff that goes along with it, all the jobs,” said David Smolensky, a publicist for the factory.
That’s 100 jobs now — three-fourths of them from IBEW Local 134 and Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 — and 170 by sometime next year. If you’re wondering why a U.S. company didn’t get the work, that’s easy: There are no U.S.-owned companies building passenger railway cars.
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