Freight Cars Back on Track in the Shoals

Freight car production has finally begun in earnest at a sprawling Shoals plant where production was sidetracked for nearly five years, as FreightCar America has moved into the nearly mile-long building.

National of Alabama, a subsidiary of Canadian National Steel Car, built the plant, which was ready for business just on the eve of the recession in 2008. Production stopped almost before it began.

Retirement Systems of Alabama had helped foot the bill for the project by funding incentives. And suddenly, RSA owned a rail car plant — one that wasn’t making more than a token car or two.

Back in 2010, RSA’s David Bronner told Business Alabama that their goal was to find any company in any industry that needed the enormous capacity to build something big and heavy, and employ Alabama workers to do the job.

Then last year, RSA leased the plant to Navistar, which planned to build its new LoadStar multi-purpose trucks there, with production beginning this year. But it’s been a transition year for Navistar, says communications manager Lauren McFarland and the new garbage-refuse style truck is on hold for the moment. And Navistar’s 180 employees at the Shoals plant have provided fabrication, welding and other services for other manufacturers.

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Photo courtesy of Navistar

This summer, however, the train is back on the track.

FreightCar America Inc. is now subleasing a quarter of the plant from Navistar, putting the plant back to work as originally planned. Navistar provides a captive supplier for FreightCar,  McFarland says, providing services on the line.

Teams from both companies celebrated the first car off the line in July.

FreightCar America plans to invest about $23 million to ready the plant for operations, with the first cars slated for completion later this year, said FCA’s CEO Ed Whalen. The plant will have the capacity to turn out 7, 000 cars per year when fully operational, Whalen said.

The company’s website lists 20 categories of salaried positions and 10 categories of production team positions open for applications now.

Text by Nedra Bloom

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