Wednesday , April 26, 2017 - 5:15 AM1 comment
SALT LAKE CITY — The future, says Martin Ritter, is in trains.
And Utah — maybe even Davis County — could be key in his vision.
“Personally I think the potential is huge, and I think that’s based on the growth in the United States,” says Ritter, chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based Stadler U.S., the U.S. subsidiary of Swiss train maker Stadler Rail. With U.S. roadways in many locales increasingly congested, train transport, he continues, is “the most efficient way to move people.”
For now, Stadler is housed at the Utah Transit Authority’s Warm Springs maintenance facility in northern Salt Lake City, manufacturing cars for TEXRail, the commuter rail line taking shape in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. But the company has a $551 million contract with Caltrain to make at least 96 electric, bi-level train cars for the northern California commuter rail system that connects San Jose and San Francisco.
For that project and others that company officials hope to land, the firm needs another, bigger facility.
A 30-acre plot of land in Clearfield that’s currently owned by UTA is a potential location — though not the only one — and many Davis County leaders are thrilled at the prospects. Per the original vision, unveiled in late 2015, the company would hire up to 1,000 workers over several years at its proposed U.S. facility, paying them, on average, 110 percent of the average local wage.
“We would absolutely love for Stadler to locate here. From a job creation standpoint, this is an economic developer’s dream,” said Shawn Beus, manager of the Davis County Economic Development office. “We believe this is their first choice. We hope it is.”
J.J. Allen, the assistant city manager in Clearfield, said Stadler envisions a light manufacturing facility, not a noisy, smoke-belching factory. Much of the train car manufacturing would consist of assembly of parts made elsewhere.
“It fits the Clearfield community,” said Allen. “We’re a manufacturing community.”
Still, there are loose ends.
Significantly, Caltrain announced a delay in the San Jose-San Francisco project last February as it awaits a decision on federal funding to help cover project costs from the new administration of President Donald Trump. Caltrain officials hope for a decision by June 30.
Likewise, the proposed deal for the Clearfield land Stadler would use faces scrutiny from UTA officials, most immediately at a scheduled meeting of the UTA Board of Trustees on Wednesday in Salt Lake City. UTA officials will be considering the possible sale of the land to the city of Clearfield for the Stadler plant, which would site off State Street, near the UTA’s FrontRunner station in the city. Clearfield would then transfer the land to Stadler, though terms of any deal have yet to be pinned down.
Stadler officials, for their part, play it close to the vest.
“Basically, we haven’t made a decision yet,” said Ritter, citing, in part, the delay from California officials in giving the Caltrain project a definite green light.
Davis County, yes, is one potential site for the proposed plant, but it’s not the only location. A site near the Salt Lake City airport is also under consideration as is another West Jordan spot.
That said, Utah seems to rank high. Asked about potential sites outside the state — company reps have scouted 19 locations, including Georgia and Texas — Ritter turns the conversation back to Utah.
“Utah has done a good job of supporting us and incentivizing us to stay. They’ve been good to us,” he said, walking amid the TEXRail cars taking shape at the Salt Lake City facility, meant only to be a temporary location. Case in point — the short-term lease UTA granted Stadler, on short notice, to use the Warm Springs facility to make the diesel-electric TEXRail trains.
‘The perfect spot’
Beyond the lease of the Warm Springs facility, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in late 2015 announced it would grant Stadler up to $10.07 million in tax breaks and other incentives if it locates its permanent plant here. The Caltrain project is expected to employ 300-plus workers, and additional contracts the company would pursue would create more, up to 1,000 jobs in all over 15 years. Such job-creation goals would have to be met for Stadler to receive any tax breaks.
Support in Clearfield isn’t necessarily unanimous, Allen said, but the job-creation figures get officials like Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd pumped. The workers the plant would need would come from Ogden, Layton, Roy and points further south, Shepherd said. The facility, if established in Clearfield, would create business opportunities for other area suppliers.
Beus says the Clearfield site is “the perfect spot” because it’s relatively close to Salt Lake City, accessible to a rail line, key in shipping cars, and near a train station, making it easy for employees from points to the north or south to get to work.
For Ritter and other Stadler officials, the bigger picture is finding a place in the United States to build a plant to make train cars.
Not surprisingly, they’re bullish on the potential in the industry, and having already produced train cars in Europe for New Jersey Transit, Bay Area Rapid Transit in the San Francisco Bay area in California and other U.S. train systems, they want to manufacture them in the United States. Cities here are growing and auto congestion in some metropolitan areas is getting worse, making commuter rail systems an increasingly attractive alternative.
“I think it’s where the focus has to be and will be in the United States,” Ritter said.
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