It’s the end of the line for Rochelle rail car maker Nippon Sharyo. It appears the company is shuttering its Illinois plant.
In 2012, the announcement that the Japanese rail car manufacturer had selected Rochelle for its massive factory came with much fanfare. Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki and then-governor Pat Quinn helped cut the ribbon at a celebration while Taiko Japanese drums thundered in the cavernous building.
The end has been much quieter. A Cincinnati auction house specializing in industrial sales is auctioning the 57-acre facility and its millions of dollars of highly-specialized equipment. The colorful brochure touts the site as “plug and play” manufacturing in a business-friendly community. Tours by appointment are underway and the company wants to have the bids in by the end of September and a final sale by Feb. 1, 2019.
In a statement, Nippon Sharyo officials said they had been reducing their workforce at the Rochelle plant because of a decreased workload in its North American operations. They called the closure “the final step in that process," and continued, “While this is not the outcome we would have wanted, and are disappointed for our staff and the community, we are heartened that most of our former employees have been able to find employment elsewhere.”
The beginning of the end for the Rochelle facility can be traced to a $352 million contract to build more than a hundred double-decker passenger cars for high speed rail expansion in Illinois and California. In Illinois, some of those rail cars were planned for future Amtrak routes. But technical complications, safety failures, and delays plagued the project. California eventually went with a single-level design manufactured by a Siemens plant in California. Layoffs ensued in Rochelle.
According to the International Railway Journal, no production has taken place at the Rochelle plant since last November.
There are still many unanswered questions about how the closure will affect the local economy, as well as whether the state gets anything back on its $10 million investment in infrastructure, tax credits, and job training.
WNIJ reporters Jenna Dooley, Susan Stephens, and Guy Stephens contributed to this report.