The US High Speed Rail Association held the first day of its High Speed Rail Conference: "Brining High Speed Rail to America" in San Francisco Wednesday, May 23. The day before the conference, there were transportation tours available. Tours included the Siemens manufacturing plant, the Transbay Center construction site and BART’s Command and Control Center.
Experienced high-speed rail experts met with business and political leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities of bringing high-speed rail to the United States. The conference was held at Autodesk, a leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software.
On the Siemens tour, attendees learned about its current operation and future potential. Siemens employs 336,000 people globally, 60,000 in the United States, and 4,779 in California, with 1,180 of those being employed in rail.
They have been building rail cars here since the 80s and they procured a 20-acre lot that is currently empty, but ready to build facilities to produce high-speed trains. Armin Kick, director - High Speed Rail Development, Siemens Industry Inc. Mobility, said, “We’re serious if anyone needs some high-speed rail.” That would also mean approximately 200 additional jobs at the plant.
In the past four years they have invested $50 million into their plant to expand and improve. They installed solar panels that produce 2 megawatts of power, which provides about 85 percent of its power. The rooftop system also provides shading for the employee’s cars.
Welding is a key skill so there is a welding school facility for employee training. The engineers have figured out how to build the light rail vehicles with 30 percent fewer welds with no increased safety risk and that means lighter vehicles.
Siemens has more than 1,000 vehicles in 17 United States and Canadian locations and there were a variety of cars being assembled on the tour, including Edmonton, Houston, San Diego and Minneapolis.
What was surprising to those on the tour, was that everything is built by hand. Because it is such a small market, robotics wouldn’t be cost-effective. The tour went through the approximately 10 stages to making a light rail vehicle. And in the parts warehouse, Stephen Robillard, a vice president in Siemens Mobility Division stressed, “If it doesn’t work here, it won’t work anywhere else; you need the parts to keep things moving.”
It takes 16 to 18 weeks to make a car and they make about 90 LRVs each year. And one fact that stuck with us was that it takes more than 26 miles of wiring for each vehicle. When looking at a high-speed train, that jumps to more than 100 miles.
Siemens sponsored two reports, one for The United States Conference of Mayors: “The Economic Impact of High Speed Rail on U.S. Cities.” Siemens also sponsored a report for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association: “The Economic Impacts of High Speed Rail in Transforming the Midwest.” Both look at the economic impact of the development and implementation of high-speed rail.
Another tour offered was of the construction site for the Transbay Transit Center, a $4 billion project that will replace the current Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets in San Francisco. The project, dubbed the “Grand Central Station of the west,” brings together 11 different public transit systems and will also create a 40-acre pedestrian-friendly community of 2,600 new housing units, one-third being affordable. It’s also the first high-speed rail project to break ground in the United States.
Executive Director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan mentioned that in addition to all of those benefits, they’ve also been working the local schools teaching youngsters about engineering and architecture and they’ve also teamed up with the First Lady on the hiring of veterans being a focus of theirs.