Rail Car Plant Runs Full Circle, Back to Rail Cars

From rail cars to real crisis to truck line and back to rail cars. It’s taken several years, but the massive plant built by National Alabama in the Shoals will finally be used for its originally designed purpose, building rail cars.

Just before the recession hit in 2007, National Alabama — subsidiary of a Canadian rail car maker — built the plant to make rail cars for the U.S. freight market. When the bust came, those who helped finance the plant in support of jobs for the Shoals — chiefly the Retirement Systems of Alabama — were left with a plant instead of their expected return on investment. 

Last year, RSA announced that it had leased the plant at last, not to a rail car maker but to truck maker Navistar, which already has operations in Huntsville. And Navistar announced plans for a new model, the LoadStar — a multi-purpose workhorse that looks sort of like a garbage truck.

But Navistar never really geared up for the LoadStar. Then, in February, Navistar announced that it has subleased part of the plant, hoping to count some of the sublessee’s employees toward the 900 Navistar needs to reap $7.67 million worth of incentive benefits. Navistar has 180 working there now, the Florence Times Daily reports.

Bringing the plant full circle, the company subleasing from Navistar is FreightCar America, which expects to build about 7, 000 freight cars a year with a workforce of 200 by the end of this year and 400 by the end of 2014.

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Nedra Bloom

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