The Bee: In Europe? No, our streetcars will now be built right here

by Merry Mackinnon, The Bee, May 6, 2009

When an Oregon business, located in Clackamas, began work on its first streetcar recently, it became the only manufacturer of modern streetcars in the United States. Oregon Iron Works, Inc., which was founded in 1944, has 400 employees, and fabricates barges, dams and bridges — and now streetcars.

With the increased cost of gasoline, Oregon Iron Works Vice President Chandra Brown anticipated a business opportunity in streetcar manufacturing. The prototype streetcar for Portland is the first in what she hopes will be a long assembly line of streetcars to come.

“Our plan is to become a leading U.S. maker of modern streetcars,” Brown says.

Brown, who lives in Woodstock, has worked for 13 years at Oregon Iron Works, and is now President of United Streetcar, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Workers have almost finished constructing that first American-made modern streetcar. It will join Portland’s fleet of streetcars, which were imported from the Czech Republic, sometime this summer.

“So we will have that ‘Made In America’ streetcar running around the streets of Portland,” Brown says.

In addition, the $127 million cost to install Portland’s Streetcar Loop connecting downtown with Central Eastside includes Oregon Lottery funds to pay for seven new streetcars. Those streetcars are required, under the funding bill, to be manufactured at an Oregon-based and Oregon-owned company.

The business that will manufacture those streetcars is Oregon Iron Works.

Work will begin on the minimum order of six streetcars for the City of Portland as soon as United Streetcar gets the contract, Brown adds. That was slated to occur around May 1st.

Currently, United Streetcar has also bid to manufacture seven streetcars for the City of Tucson in Arizona. United Streetcar expects to hear the results of that bidding before the end of the year.

“My question is, when will we have a streetcar running through Woodstock and Sellwood?” Brown says. Indeed, the new Sellwood Bridge will allocate some extra space in case a future streetcar is routed across it.

Regardless of whether streetcars zigzag through her Woodstock neighborhood, as they once did during the first half of the 20th Century, Brown is convinced that the future is bright for American-made streetcars.

And local streetcar advocates seem to agree: According to Portland Streetcar Loop Project Advisory Committee Meeting minutes, 20 to 50 streetcars could conceivably be produced annually by Oregon Iron Works, creating 300 additional jobs for Clackamas County and Oregon.

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