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High Speed Expansion for High-Speed Rail Builder

Although only 10,000 people live in Rochelle, Ill., the city appears to be on the fast track of being one of the major players in plans for a U.S. high-speed rail system.

Flanked by Japanese, federal, state and local leaders, Nippon Sharyo officials broke ground April 30 on a $54 million shop at its current Rochelle location in order to manufacture parts going into the assembly of trains it puts together in the U.S.

“High speed rail is coming to America and some of that equipment will be built right here in Rochelle,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “What a great thing for our state and what a great opportunity to put our friends and neighbors to work.”

Nippon Sharyo’s expansion will add 327,000 square feet of space to it’s current 481,000 square feet facility. About 80 more permanent jobs will be added to the current 250 the company has in Rochellle.

Under the Federal Transit Administration’s “Buy America” requirement, 60 percent of rolling stock has to be of U.S. origin and final assembly must take place in the U.S.

Nippon Sharyo was awarded a contract to provide 130 railcars to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which requires the expansion of the company in the U.S. in order to meet the “Buy America” requirement.

Metra is also purchasing 160 new rail cars from the company with $585 million provided to the agency from a state capital projects program.

“You know, we have threats from other governors and other communities and so forth that want to have the success we have had in Rochelle, Illinois,” Mayor Chet Olson said. “But it’s not just about Rochelle, it’s about the region and it’s about the state of Illinois combined with all that and support of the federal government, this is the reason we’re having the success we’re having here today.”

LaHood has been a very vocal supporter of President Barack Obama’s plan to bring high-speed rail service to the country, which was spearheaded right after he took office in order to upgrade the country’s rail system and create jobs in a flagging economy brought on by the Great Recession.

LaHood said $8 billion has been invested in the high-speed rail system so far, creating job opportunities in communities like Rochelle where they never existed before.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn echoed the importance of rail investment by Obama in order to provide 21st Century rail cars that will manufactured and assembled in the state.

“I think it’s a very, very special day for all of us,” Quinn said.

Masaharu Yoshida, consul general of Japan at Chicago, said a saying is that success is built on ability, boldness and courage, and the expansion of Nippon Sharyo and the work government leaders have done made the expansion possible. He said it took remarkable action by the company to go from an expansion nine months ago to another expansion again in April.

“It’s most impressive and most likely sets a new record for Japanese direct investment in America.”

The new facility is expected to start production by spring 2014.