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The Philadelphia Chapter of the

National Railway Historical Society

Established in 1936


Railfan Pictures of the Week - 01/11/2009

Rotem-USA Assembly Plant Weccacoe and Wolf Streets Philadelphia PA December 16 2008


Back in 2004, United Transit Systems, a consortium of Sojitz Corp of America and Hyundai-Rotem, looked to enter the American railcar market, such that it was. They wanted to build a facility in Philadelphia to assemble passenger railcars from parts manufactured worldwide, and chose the Philadelphia Naval Business Center as the location. State and local politicians, financial institutions and labor unions all worked together to make it happen. Rotem-USA, as they would come to be called, leased space in the former Philadelphia Navy Yard and in October of 2004 received their first order: a contract with North Carolina's Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) to build up to 32 diesel multiple unit cars (DMU's) for its proposed Raleigh to Durham service. The contract was worth $49 million and propulsion systems for the cars would be supplied by Colorado Railcar (which ceased operations at the end of 2008). In October 2005 a hopeful TTA displayed a mockup of the proposed DMU in Durham NC.

2005 comes to a close and no cars had been produced in Philadelphia yet, no factory either.

In February 2006 Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink) and South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-Rail) jointly placed an order with Rotem-USA. Metrolink would get 54 coaches and 33 cab cars with an option for 20 more cars while Tri-Rail would receive 14 coaches and 10 cab cars. With the option exercised, the contract value would total $306 million. In March 2006 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) approved the purchase of 104 Silverliner V's for $244 million with an option for 16 more. In April 2006 Governor Ed Rendell and other dignitaries gathered down at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as Rotem-USA announced it would move its headquarters and create, between the offices and the railcar assembly plant, over 200 new jobs for the area. They expected to start production of the TTA cars by the third quarter of 2006, but in August 2006 Triangle Transit Authority pulled the plug on its Raleigh-Durham project because it could not meet newly enacted, more stringent cost-benefit analysis requirements and ridership standards, both required to receive Federal Transit Administration funding.

2007 dawns and still no new cars. No activity to speak of at the Navy Yard.

In April of 2007, SEPTA exercised the option on the 16 additional cars, adding $30 million to the contract. Four of the cars would be funded through the Delaware Transportation Corporation for service on the R2 Wilmington-Newark Line. A full size partially assembled Silverliner V mockup would be shipped from South Korea in the spring of 2008.The initial pilot cars would also be assembled in South Korea, scheduled to arrive in December 2008.

Which was good because Rotem-USA still did not have a plant to assemble them here.

It turns out Rotem-USA decided that the original building in the Navy Yard was not satisfactory for their purposes, especially the lack of space for an electrified test track. So they began to investigate other sites in the Philadelphia area. For a time, the former US Steel Fairless Works was high on their list and they were ready to sign a deal in the summer of 2008 when, at the last minute, it fell apart. Now a former warehouse and manufacturing site in South Philadelphia became the top choice and a 20 year lease was announced in October 2007. In fact, the space at Weccacoe was large enough that Rotem decided against building another facility in Southern California, and would build all cars for North America at the new site, increasing the number of new jobs to over 300.

In February 2008 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) signed a deal with Rotem-USA to buy 75 bi-level commuter coaches with delivery beginning at the end of 2010 and extending into 2012. Meanwhile due to steel shortages and supplier bankruptcy, the SEPTA pilot cars were behind schedule and would not be delivered until April 2009, pushing back delivery of the first production Silverliner V until late 2009 with the final car expected by October 2010. The mockup arrives in July 2008 and is put on display in October 2008.

By the end of 2008, Rotem-USA finally has a facility, or at least a facility in progress.

The preparation of the existing building required opening up both ends to provide access for the heavy equipment used for the interior work on the manufacturing floor.
Inspections pits were excavated and rails were being laid.
The plant is adjacent to the CSX trackage that was all but abandoned after they shifted the intermodal from the former Snyder Avenue Yard to the Conrail Greenwich Yard. It connects to both the Delaware Avenue Branch near Moore Street and Greenwich Yard near Front and Pattison Streets.
The view at the other end looking north from Oregon Avenue. There is already a siding onto the property, but all of the track around the area is in bad shape due to disuse and will need a bit of work, including catenary for a test track, before they start putting brand new cars on it. In fact, the last move might have been after the derailment on Delaware Avenue back in 2007.

All pictures December 16 2008 Copyright © 2009 John P. Almeida

Photographs for personal use only. All rights reserved by original owner of image. Reproduction or redistribution in any form without express written permission is prohibited.

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Last Updated January 11, 2009

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Website copyright © 2007 John P. Almeida