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United Streetcar - September 2005

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United Streetcar

Rail Transit Online, September 2005

An Oregon defense contractor is planning to become a manufacturer of modern streetcars, an industry that died in the U.S. more than 50 years ago.  Oregon Iron Works, which is based in the Portland suburb of Clackamas, wants to build cars similar to the Czech-made Astra vehicles now operating in Portland and Tacoma.  The company has already established a partnership with the Inekon Group in the Czech Republic, which manufactures the Astra.  The project was inserted in the new $286.4-billion, six-year federal transportation bill by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR.  The company is eligible for a $4-million grant distributed at the rate of $1 million annually from 2006 to 2009 that will be administered by TriMet.  “We don't know when the money will be released, but we can build the prototype in 12 months, and we believe it will require about 25 jobs,” Iron Works Vice President Chandra Brown told The Oregonian.  “We see this as seed money for a new industry headquartered in Oregon.  Our goal is to prove we can do it.  We want to sell streetcars all over the United States.”  The first unit will be assembled in the company’s existing facilities but Brown said a new plant would be erected if enough orders were received. 

The company builds precision equipment for the government, much of it classified.  One of its current projects is a stealth boat for the navy.  Brown said she and two other women got the idea after seeing the Portland streetcar system and discovering there is no domestic streetcar manufacturer.  “So I said, well, I work at Oregon Ironworks, we could build a streetcar and it just started that simply, with three women, a bunch of coffee, and the idea was born,” she told Oregon Public Broadcasting.  “I don't want to underestimate how difficult it is, but we at Oregon Ironworks specialize in very complicated, highly technical work.  So we actually feel very comfortable and capable.”  The U.S. prototype will be built under license from Inekon and will be given to the Portland streetcar.  There have been repeated attempts by defense contractors to enter the rail transit business but none has been successful in the long term.  The now defunct Rohr Corp. built the first batch of subway cars for BART and WMATA and Boeing manufactured the rubber-tired Morgantown people mover, subway cars for Chicago and LRVs for San Francisco and Boston.  More recently, AAI Corp. assembled cars for WMATA and LRVs for Baltimore.   


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