There’s only one name in railroad cars that metro systems from New York to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. demand, and that’s Kawasaki. Lorie Greenspan tells the story of how 100 years of locomotive development are helping the company move the masses in the states.
Kawasaki Rail Car (KRC) is traveling at great speeds, both through the invention and production of rail cars.
The company, a division of the Japanese manufacturing giant, since it opened in 1988, has built a reputation for delivering superior products, reliably and cost effectively. Building the industry’s finest high-speed trains, Kawasaki, since manufacturing its first locomotive in Japan in 1912, has garnered clients throughout the globe. But it is local transit systems, in particular the New York City Metro Transit Authority (MTA) that demands Kawasaki’s singular brand of expertise.
Kawasaki Rail Car is celebrating 25 years of operation at its U.S. corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in Yonkers, N.Y., where the company’s U.S. rail transit business began, with the inaugural order of 95 subway cars for the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) system between New York and New Jersey.
The Yonkers plant is equipped for complete fabrication, assembly, rehabilitation and function testing of all types of passenger rail cars.
Seeing that there was plenty of movement in the industry, in 2001, KRC hit another milestone, opening a state-of-the-art rail car shell manufacturing facility in Lincoln, Neb. – the first in the U.S. capable of building different types of rail cars.
Expansion to Lincoln allowed the company to increase production and respond immediately to customer needs. And this has given KRC a unique position in the industry, with the ability to design, build and deliver 100-percent, American-made rail cars to a mass transportation system that help to keeps America moving.
The Mass in Transportation
Since its inception in the states, KRC and its Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing (KMM) facility in Lincoln, has kept the motion in locomotion, And in doing so, has consistently engineered the next generation of vehicles in answer to the demand for better fuel efficiencies and better economies of scale.
Its roster has included:
- In light rail vehicles (LRV) for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).
- Broad Street subway cars for Philadelphia.
- R-62 Subway cars for the New York City Transit (NYCT).
- PA-4 subway cars for the Port Authority Trans – Hudson (PATH) system of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and rehabilitation of PATH cars.
- R-68A subway cars for the NYCT.
- R-127 and R-134 work cars for the NYCT.
- R-110A new technology prototype subway cars for the NYCT.
- Bi-level commuter coaches for Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).
- R-142A subway cars for the NYCT.
- R-143 subway cars for the NYCT.
In addition, the company has been awarded the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) contract to build 340 new PA-5 series subway cars that will serve the New York and New Jersey mass transit riding public for decades to come.
Such recognition punctuates the company’s achievements in the rail car industry, which include the pioneering of the famed Shinkansen “Bullet” trains that set worldwide speed records.
All of this production has ramped up in the last decade; the company began assembly of rail cars in Lincoln in 2001, and in 2002 it began rail car-shell welding. By April 2003 it had obtained the rigorous ISO 14001:1996 certification for the manufacture of rail cars and in November had received ISO 9001:2000 certification.
Maurice Andriana, senior manager of marketing at KRC in Yonkers, said developments in the design and manufacture of rail cars have included the use of stainless steel, which adds to the cars’ life expectancy. In older rail cars, a mix of carbon and steel forced them to rust and age far earlier.
“And graffiti in the late 70s and early 80s was running rampant, and if you cleaned it off, there would be no paint or coating left,” he said. “If the newer cars get hit with graffiti, the paint doesn’t adhere because of the paint coating’s anticorrosion qualities,” giving the newer cars a 40 year life expectancy as opposed to 20.
In other areas, Kawasaki excels over its competition, especially in its unique Kawasaki Production System (KPS), known as a flexible technique that uses efficient workflow and worker involvement to produce a better quality product.
Through methods such as this Kawasaki can build and deliver the latest in car design and technologies. For example, the company’s SWIMO represents the next generation of light rail vehicle (LRV). Powered in part by the company’s proprietary GIGACELL, an innovative large capacity nickel metal hydride battery, this LRV can go more than six miles without connection to overhead catenaries. The GIGACELL battery is comprised of several compact cells that are small enough to fit under the seating, which continually capture the kinetic energy created by the braking action.
This same energy is stored and reused, which means the entire system can operate on less energy and fewer substations and the LRV is unaffected by voltage drops between stations.
According to the company, “This makes it easier and more efficient to plan new routes and connections, while minimizing the impact on the environment and aesthetics of urban areas.”
The SWIMO design is available in three- and four-car configurations. Its unique, low-profile people-friendly design allows easy boarding even without a platform.
Building on Experience
On average, the company delivers 4,500 vehicles to the industry, including a current contract for the Washington D.C., metro system for 428 vehicles by 2014.
While railcars are not products developed solely according to what the professionals at KRC want to market to the public (the company is governed by a certain authority’s specifications, such as New York City, and by and American railroad specifications) KRC nonetheless provides an innovative standard that is hard to match.
“All our contracts are received through public bids – some are structured as best value and not necessarily best price,” he explains, adding that KRC distinguishes its operation “through superior quality and best value performance.”
With sales at $16 billion, worldwide, and 33,000 employees the company has indeed come far since its first locomotive.
“We have in excess of 10 years of building experience in the United States” Andriana says, noting that other rail car builders traditionally have built outside of the U.S. and then imported.
“Kawasaki was the first,” he stressed. “We made a commitment a long time ago to have a presence in the U.S. and invest in the U.S.”