With the help of Japan’s Kawasaki Motors and a dedicated manufacturing team in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Washington, DC metro rail system is getting a much-needed upgrade. The city’s system is the second-busiest metro rail network in the US, after New York City. Washington’s six lines and 91 stations see ridership of well over 700,000 passengers per day, and exceeding 850,000 passengers at times during the region’s busy tourism season. All of this activity happens on a fleet of over 1,100 railcars, the majority of which entered service between 1976 and 1988, and which many Washington-area commuters are eager to see replaced by more modern trains.
With the first full redesign of the cars since the system opened, the first new train in the so-called 7000-series hit the rails of the Blue Line on April 14, traveling through Washington and some of its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. Designed by Kawasaki Motors in Japan and assembled in Nebraska, the new railcars are the first in the Washington system to have been designed and produced by an Asian company. The 1000-series cars, which will be the first to be decommissioned once the new fleet is fully deployed, were made by an American company in the 1970s, while the 2000-6000 series were all made by various European manufacturers based in France, Italy, and Spain. Kawasaki has also produced railcars for both Boston and New York City’s transit systems. The current order for new cars represents a commitment of well over $1 billion from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and could increase if more cars are added to the order.
The Kawasaki facility in Lincoln, first established in 1974, has grown to employ over 1,000 people from the local community. Kawasaki claims to have been the first foreign vehicle manufacturer to move production to the US, in an effort to build its products closer to the consumers. Now several Japanese and Korean auto-makers have facilities across the US, producing cars for the domestic market and to export to other regions.
Rep. Brad Ashford (NE-02), whose district is near Kawasaki’s Lincoln plant, was invited to a reception at the Japanese Embassy on April 14 to deliver a toast regarding the delivery of the new subway cars. He later told Asia Matters for America, “This $2 billion investment speaks to the hard work of 500 Nebraskans employed at the Kawasaki plant in Lincoln, NE. We look forward to similar investments in the future, furthering economic growth in Nebraska while providing Washington, DC’s subway riders with the latest in technology and safety.” The manufacturing plant in Lincoln falls within Nebraska’s 1st congressional district, which enjoys a large number of jobs supported by exports to Japan.