Vic Simons visited sunny Sacramento for a behind-the-scenes look at Siemens’ North American rolling stock manufacturing headquarters.
Siemens’ involvement in North American light rail development began in the late 1970s with the receipt of orders from the Canadian cities of Calgary and Edmonton, both in Alberta, and followed shortly afterwards by an order from San Diego. The firm provided propulsion systems for the vehicles that were built by Duewag – which Siemens acquired in 1999 – a variant of the U2 high-floor articulated cars that had been in operation in Frankfurt-Am-Main since the late 1960s. Though the vehicles looked similar to their German counterparts, there were modifications to the power collection equipment and further adaptations to cope with the harsh Canadian winters.
The U2 proved very successful in North America; so successful in fact that Siemens opened its first permanent factory in the US in 1983 in mid-town Sacramento. The popularity of the various evolutions of its light rail product continued with orders from Denver, San Diego and Salt Lake City leading to the establishment of a much larger facility in the suburbs of the Californian capital in 1992. These orders were largely for the SD100
(dc motors) and SD160 (ac motors) variants. Continuous growth of the North American business enabled the localisation of bodyshell and bogie fabrication. Today, with traction motors and gearboxes manufactured by the firm at a site in Cleveland, Ohio, and electrical equipment at another site in Atlanta, Georgia, a typical Siemens LRV sourced in the USA exceeds the requirements of the 1990 Buy America legislation. There are now more than 1500 in service across the continent. In addition to body and bogie fabrication, assembly, fit out and painting, the plant has its own 0.4km (0.25-mile) test track to prove the product before delivery. As one of the largest LRV manufacturers in North America, the company has also expanded its Sacramento footprint with the opening of a new facility that caters for vehicle refurbishment and modernisation. Vehicle modernisation projects for systems in Calgary and Sacramento are currently underway – a large aftersales support enterprise is also evident.
A growing operation
When visiting the recently-expanded plant in May 2016, TAUT met with Peter Tuschinski, Siemens’ VP of Strategy and Development who explained that the facility was the company’s main rail manufacturing base in North America and now employs around 850 staff. For light rail applications, he explained that the 70% low-floor three-section bi-directional S70 and the high-floor two-section bidirectional S200 had become the main product lines.
The S70 has proven very popular in North America in its own right with more than 340 vehicles in service in cities such as San Diego, Salt Lake City, Portland, Charlotte, Norfolk and Minneapolis. In Portland, an initial Bombardier order of high-floor vehicles was followed by more than 100 Siemens cars. This includes two batches of the first application of a 70% low-floor vehicle in the US with the SD660, predecessor to the S70, and two batches of single-ended S70s, incorporating a parlour cab at the non-driving end of each vehicle with two vehicles being permanently coupled in a back-to-back configuration. The versatility of the S70 is underscored by its configuration flexibility. Different sizes for the driver’s cab, C-car layouts, overall lengths between 24m and 28m per vehicle and adaptation to climate needs between winterised and high humidity allow a tailored vehicle for each application. The smallest variant to date is a more recently-developed streetcar 24m-long derivative, the S70SC, that can be configured without couplers. Using most of the same components of the standard S70 on a shorter vehicle platform, these cars are in service in Salt Lake City and Atlanta and have established new city services there.
But the Sacramento plant is no longer just a light rail facility. This was evident during TAUT’s visit as completion work was being undertaken on 70 electric locomotives for Amtrak and the first diesel-electric locomotives for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Others were in testing and various states of manufacture. The production lines also included S200 cars – part of a 63-strong order for Calgary for both fleet replacement and to cater for the system’s expansion – alongside S70 cars destined for Charlotte, North Carolina, for its Lynx Blue line extension. Assembly of 175 S200 (designated S200SF) for San Francisco will follow shortly. One of the biggest US LRV contracts ever awarded, the USD648m San Francisco Muni deal was signed in September 2014 with an option added in January 2015, taking the total to 215 LRVs. A further option for 40 cars exists; first deliveries are due in late 2016 to eventually replace San Francisco’s entire Breda fleet.
The S200SF, whilst having high floors, also features movable steps for street-level boarding. This is an important function for San Francisco where many stations at the outer ends of the routes do not have high platforms. The under-construction T line central subway, together with the existing southern section, has 100% high platforms with station entrance ramps.
The Sacramento site comprises a 54 000m2 factory on 24ha (60 acres) of land and has well-documented environmental credentials, with up to 80% of its power requirement coming from a 2MW installation of vast solar arrays that also provide shade for employee parking. The facility is rail connected to the Union Pacific network and completed vehicles are often shipped by rail.
Thanks to Peter Tuschinski and Annie Semple for their assistance in the preparation of this article.