The railroad industry may be in a slump, but orders for new locomotives at the General Electric plant in far north Fort Worth keep chugging along.
The plant near Texas Motor Speedway, known as GE Manufacturing Solutions, has grown steadily since it opened in late 2012 and now employs about 700 people. On Thursday, company officials, workers and invited guests celebrated the completion of the 1,000th locomotive built at the facility.
Even with a dip in demand for rail shipping, particularly in the oil and coal industries, railroads still need to replace their aging fleets with modern, fuel-efficient vehicles like the Evolution Tier 4 locomotives built in Fort Worth, said Richard Simpson, vice president and global supply chain leader for GE Transportation.
“There are tens of thousands of locomotives out there and, as those locomotives age, without regard to the gross domestic product, people are going to buy locomotives,” Simpson said before joining several hundred employees for a group picture alongside the 1,000th locomotive produced at the plant.
1,000 Locomotives built since GE opened its Fort Worth plant in late 2012.
‘Dead and drained’
The shiny red and black train engine, locomotive No. 3087, was one of 50 ordered by the Canadian National Railway. It will be delivered to CN, most likely in the Chicago area in the next few days, officials said.
The locomotive has already been tested on a nearby track, and fuel will be removed before it is towed “dead and drained” to its buyer, said Mike Patton, general manager for North America locomotive and mining operations. New vehicles are typically towed to their destination so they arrive with no miles of service used, he said.
Workers finishing their shifts Thursday afternoon at the factory near Texas 114 and Farm Road 156 were encouraged to climb up to the nose of No. 3087 and take selfies.
Among them was Serra Onder, a GE intern and senior studying industrial engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Onder said she was proud to spend her summer learning about the manufacturing process for GE’s first vehicle that meets the toughest federal emissions standards.
The Evolution Tier 4 locomotive has been produced in Fort Worth since 2015.
“I think it’s really remarkable what we’re building here,” she said. “It’s really cool that only GE has it.”
One of the biggest customers for the GE plant is Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway. BNSF has ordered 773 locomotives from GE since 2014, a company official said.
BNSF and GE officials didn’t specify whether all those locomotives came from the Fort Worth plant, or whether some came from a much older GE Transportation facility in Erie, Pa. But they said it’s fair to say most of the new vehicles are Texas-built.
BNSF has about 6,700 locomotives in service, according to a company fact sheet.
“There will always be a need” for replacing aging locomotives, spokesman Joseph Faust said.
And the interest isn’t just in the U.S. GE recently received an order from Grupo Mexico, parent company of Ferromex and other railroad firms in Mexico, for 50 new Evolution locomotives, according to Trains Magazine.
We’ve built the first 1,000. Now, let’s build 2,000, 3,000, 5,000!
Richard Simpson, GE Transportation VP, rallying Fort Worth locomotive plant workers
What GE makes
Workers at the Fort Worth factory build 10 locomotives per week, Simpson said.
The plant has steadily grown and has added about 200 workers, bringing the total to 700 employees, during the past two years.
Most of the workers build locomotives, although some work at a separate building adjacent to the locomotive factory that specializes in building mining equipment.
But while GE expands its Fort Worth operations, some of its facilities in other parts of the United States are shrinking.
In Erie, Pa., GE Transportation operates a century-old locomotive plant. However, last year company officials announced plans to lay off about 1,500 workers, or roughly half the workforce in that area.
Only a small number of employees at the Fort Worth location relocated from Pennsylvania, said Walter Amaya, locomotive plant manager for GE Manufacturing Solutions.
Workers come from a variety of backgrounds, including many who worked other manufacturing jobs in Texas, Amaya said.
“They come from all different industries. Some come from aerospace. Some come from oil and gas,” Amaya said. “We just look for great attitudes and skills, regardless of background.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives