After a couple of down years, General Electric’s locomotive plant in Fort Worth is back to cranking out lots of shiny new railroad equipment.
The enormous plant near Texas Motor Speedway in far north Fort Worth recently received an order for 200 locomotives from Canadian National Railway. That’s enough to keep workers at the facility, officially known as GE Manufacturing Solutions, busy for the next three years.
“We are bullish on the North American economy and on our ability to compete and win new business with our superior service model,” Luc Jobin, Canadian National president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
The locomotives will be built starting in 2018. Canadian National’s order is the largest among North America’s class 1 railways since 2014, several officials said.
“In the years ahead, these GE Transportation locomotives and their digital technology will support and enhance our operational efficiency,” Jobin said.
The Tier 4 and Tier 3 (Tier 4 certified) Evolution Series locomotives are diesel-powered. They are known for their optimal power distribution, train handling, brake control and fuel efficiency.
“CN’s steadfast commitment to serving the expanding needs of its customers across Canada and the United States is helping to turn around the North American locomotive market,” said Rafael Santana, chief executive officer of GE Transportation. “We are proud to partner with CN on this agreement to meet the needs of their future growth, and optimize and further digitize their freight rail operations.”
The announcement of the huge order comes about a month after GE chief executive John Flannery announced the company likely would sell or spin off its locomotive operations as part of a realignment of corporate priorities that includes selling $20 billion in assets.
The Fort Worth plant opened in 2013, with the promise of luring about 700 jobs to Texas. But in recent years, the plant has had to lay off some workers as orders from railroads — many of which have experienced lean times in part because of reduced oil and coal shipments — slowed to a crawl.
GE also has a 125-year-old locomotive plant in Erie, Pa.
Some freight railroad observers in North Texas last month expressed concern for the future of the Fort Worth plant, saying they feared it could be downsized as part of a sale or GE corporate spinoff.
But that was before Canadian National’s order of 200 locomotives was publicized.
GE’s locomotive division also builds locomotives for Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway as well as Union Pacific Railroad, CSX and railroads in several foreign countries.
At its peak, the Fort Worth plant can crank out an average of one locomotive a day.
Observers say the factory has some of the most modern equipment and efficient manufacturing methods in the world.
“I have every hope they will be here for 100 years,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. His organization and its subdivision, the Regional Transportation Council, agreed in 2012 to contribute about $15 million to GE’s construction costs to help build a 3-mile-long test track for locomotives coming off the assembly line.
Getting GE to build in North Texas took a cooperative effort among state and local governments. In addition to the RTC’s $15 million contribution, the Texas governor’s office kicked in $4.2 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which was created in 2003 to lure jobs to the state.
In Fort Worth, city officials approved an 85 percent abatement of city taxes to the property, which was expected to be worth $5.4 million over 10 years.
A $744,845 grant from the Texas Workforce Commission was awarded to cover training costs for new GE hires, who attended courses at North Central Texas College in Gainesville and the Tarrant County College South Campus in Fort Worth.
Overall, the cost of building the plant, which was fashioned from an existing speculative property, was about $100 million, not including the test track.
The facility, housed in two enormous but otherwise nondescript buildings near Texas 114 and Farm Road 156, was heralded as a harbinger of a new wave of manufacturing jobs coming to the region.
The Fort Worth plant employed about 700 people at its peak in 2015-16. Earlier this year about 250 employees were laid off and other employees saw their work week reduced to 32 hours as GE struggled with reduced orders from the major freight railroads.
In addition to building locomotives in Fort Worth, GE makes mining equipment.
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.