Metro’s next series of rail cars will be built at a $70 million plant in Maryland that will employ nearly 500 people and supply rail cars for the Washington-area system and transit agencies across the country.
The lucrative contract worth about $2.2 billion came with the requirement that Hitachi Rail assemble the cars at a plant in the Mid-Atlantic region. The announcement advances Metro’s lengthy journey to go from bidding to planning for its next rail car, a process that included Congress inserting itself into negotiations over cybersecurity fears and concerns about what would be built domestically.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the plant is a welcome economic boost.
“With this new facility, Hitachi will be creating hundreds of critical manufacturing jobs in our state with the capability to serve the wider North American market,” Hogan said in a statement provided by Hitachi Rail. “We are excited to work with the company on this transformative project and look forward to its continued success in Maryland.”
Hitachi Rail, a division of Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. and which has a U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh, holds contracts to build a new rail system in Honolulu and rail cars for Miami’s transit system and Baltimore’s subway.
Metro is the subject of a federal safety investigation into a wheel defect found in its latest model, the Kawasaki Rail-built 7000 series. Metrorail’s regulatory agency, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, ordered all 748 cars — about 60 percent of Metro’s fleet — out of service on Oct. 17, creating a train shortage that has coincided with more office workers resuming their commutes.
Metro’s limited supply of available cars has meant waits as long as 20 minutes on some lines. The transit system is relying on older cars to meet demand, including those in its 2000 and 3000 series that date to the 1980s, which are near the end of their 40-year life cycles.
All 350 of the 2000- and 3000-series cars are slated to be replaced by the custom-built 8000-series cars.
Designed to match the all-silver 7000 series, the latest model will have similar bench seating and wide aisles, as well as upgrades that include real-time digital maps, onboard WiFi, power outlets, high-definition security cameras, heated floors, increased ventilation and improved braking.
Each car will be able to seat about 68 passengers. Hitachi Rail said the cars are quieter and more energy efficient than Metro’s previous models.
“It’s important that this investment in rail cars will enable us to replace our legacy equipment, while accruing economic benefits to the region through jobs, use of local suppliers, and work for small and minority-owned businesses,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement.
The transit agency required bidders for the 8000-series contract to assemble the cars regionally — a provision it used to defend itself in July 2020, when a trade group representing American steelworkers and U.S. manufacturers accused Metro of sidestepping “Buy America” rules attached to federal funding.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing had called on Metro to follow federal requirements that mandate 70 percent of the cost of components that go into rail cars come from the United States and that final assembly occur domestically. Metro receives more than $450 million in federal money annually for capital expenses, which can include new rail car purchases.
Metro countered at the time that it was not planning to use federal money for the 8000 series but, instead, would look to annual dedicated funding from Maryland, Virginia and the District. Federal funds would be earmarked for other needs, Metro said.
There are no U.S.-based rail car manufacturers. Industry experts have said the Buy America clause would prove costly, because many parts would have to be manufactured domestically for the first time.
Metro said its contract goes beyond the federal law by requiring assembly in the Mid-Atlantic region, a provision welcomed by Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), whose western Maryland district includes the location of the new plant.
“This new factory in Hagerstown will deliver good-paying jobs to the community and strengthen our public transportation options across the entire Metro system,” Trone said in a statement. “I welcome Hitachi Rail to our district and look forward to the economic opportunities this facility will bring to Washington County.”
Hitachi Rail’s plant will be located on 41 acres near the Hopewell Valley Industrial Park about 90 minutes from Metro’s Greenbelt rail yard, where the new cars will be delivered. Company officials said they plan to build the 307,000-square-foot factory — about five football fields long — to serve as a new manufacturing hub in the United States. The plant will be able to produce about 20 cars a month when fully staffed, with testing on-site on an 800-yard track to be built on the grounds.
The factory will have the ability to build rail cars, trams, high-speed trains and other rail vehicles.
Hitachi Rail said in a statement the Hagerstown region — at the junction of Interstates 70 and 81 — provided an advantage because it’s a distribution hub with connections to the northeastern United States. Company officials did not say whether sites closer to Metro’s service area were considered.
Hitachi Rail plans to start grading the site in the fall. Construction could be completed by next winter, and operations could begin in late 2023 or early 2024. The factory will employ about 460 people and generate work for another 840 contractors, consultants and other support workers, according to the company.
Hitachi officials said the factory is projected to provide regional suppliers with more than $40 million in business during the duration of Metro’s contract, one-quarter of which would go to small employers.
“From here, our 460 strong American workforce will build a fleet of modern metro trains and have the capability to build trains for towns and cities across North America,” Andrew Barr, Hitachi Rail Group’s chief executive, said in a statement.
In the meantime, ridership on Metro’s older trains — the only part of its fleet currently available — has continued to rise since the omicron variant has subsided.
Metro ridership rose above 200,000 daily trips at least two times last week for the first time in months, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said. The growth, she said, was driven by returning commuters, cherry blossoms approaching peak bloom and events — including sports games — that have swelled in attendance as pandemic-related restrictions lift and virus hospitalizations decline.
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