Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Japanese Rail Carmaker Looking at Palmdale Plant
PALMDALE – AV Press recently reported: A Japanese company could start building rail cars out of a former bomber factory in the city as soon as August, the city's mayor said Monday. City of Palmdale leaders met Monday with five representatives of Kinkisharyo International, a Massachusetts subsidiary of Japanese firm Kinki Sharyo, to discuss the company's use of Site 9, the former B-1B bomber plant located at 30th Street East and Avenue P. Kinkisharyo is negotiating with Los Angeles World Airports, which owns Site 9, for a lease for one of the massive hangars. Ledford said they gave the company's representatives a feel for the permitting process. City officials also vowed that they would help them with any issues with other jurisdictions. Kinkisharyo has a $890 million contract to build potentially hundreds of light-rail cars for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The immediate work would be to produce two rail cars in what Ledford called a demonstration phase of the contract. Kinkisharyo International was awarded an $890 million contract by MTA last April to produce as many as 235 rail cars, with the first 28 cars to be delivered by 2015. The contract included a commitment to creating U.S. jobs in delivering the vehicles. "It sets the stage for the balance of the program," Ledford said. "This opens the door with MTA for other rail car construction." Initially, the work would provide 50 to 60 jobs. As the program progresses, it could mean as many as 200 to 250 jobs. Dave Walter, Palmdale's director of economic development, said the company has the capability to do more than light rail. The company could play a role in the planned high-speed rail project that would link Southern and Northern California. Having those rail cars produced in California could help lower the cost of that project, Walter said. The next step is for the company to finalize a lease agreement with Los Angeles World Airports. An organization spokesman said those discussions are ongoing. "They are coming," Ledford said. "It's a home run for us. Now we have to perform." Site 9 has a remarkable history. It was used by Rockwell International during the 1980s for the assembly of 100 B-1B bombers. The site saw use as a soundstage for four major movies. For the 1998 release "Hard Rain,'' starring Christian Slater and Morgan Freeman, several sets depicting a small town were built inside one of the massive hangars. The set was flooded for the movie's climax. One assembly building was used in the 2003 Steven Spielberg movie "Terminal,'' starring Tom Hanks. For that film, a 2-story replica of an airport terminal was built, complete with some 40 retail shops and restaurants. The site also was used for "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and for a "Mission Impossible" film. For approximately two years in the early 2000s, the plant was occupied by Swiss-based SR Technics, which arrived in the Antelope Valley with much fanfare in 2000, intending to run an airline maintenance and renovation operation. However, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent nosedive in the aviation industry forced its parent corporation into bankruptcy, taking fledgling SR Technics with it. One of the two hangars at Site 9 already is under lease to NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. NASA uses the site to house a number of science aircraft, including the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy flying telescope, the high-altitude ER-2s and a DC-8 flying laboratory. NASA's 20-year lease for what is now known as the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility was signed in 2007. NASA invested $6.4 million in modifications and upgrades to the facility, in addition to $4 million in refurbishments by Los Angeles World Airports.