Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winds of Change: Engine Rebuilders

Port Townsend, today. Generally speaking, not much happens of any significance here in the Pacific Northwest with respect to the rail industry. But the leaves have been rustling this winter.

For more than 60 years, Continental Engineering & Equipment Company (CEECo) in Tacoma, Washington, had carved a niche for themselves, beginning with engine repair and rebuilding for Electro Motive Division marine engines.

Over time CEECo became a very active facility rebuilding and refurbishing rail cars and locomotives. Every arrival was met with “arm chair speculation” in on-line forums as to what treatment each locomotive was scheduled to receive. And, of course, the ubiquitous rail photographers encircling their facility like a pack of wolves!

Two high profile projects completed at CEECo included the dismantling of six GF6C electric locomotives designed and built for the Tumbler Ridge Subdivision of BC Rail. And, the rebuilding of the narrow gauge White Pass & Yukon locomotives, following a deadly derailment in Alaska.

Photo shows WP&Y 114 being returned to Skagway following extensive wreck repair at CEECo
in 2007.

Click and Pan
This “Bing Bird’s Eye” view of CEECo was apparently taken in early 2009. How many locomotives can you locate? The odd looking structure with the elevated round doors had nothing to do with CEECo’s processes. That is a heat-treating structure, used in the manufacture of oil field equipment, dating back to the halcyon days when the Tide Flats industrial area Tacoma was awash in projects destined for the North Slope oil fields.

As the economy deteriorated, more than 5,000 locomotives were parked on sidetracks with coffee cans on their stacks. An estimated 40,000 rail cars were parked gathering cobwebs. The inevitable trickle down effect hit CEECo in 2009, with it’s president, Dave Swanson, locking the gates in July last year.

End of story? Well, not quite.

In November last year, the City of Tacoma’s Port Commission gave the high green to Progress Rail Services (PRC) to purchase CEECo’s facilities. PRC will lease the 14 acre site from the Port of Tacoma, on the Tacoma Tide Flats, through 2029.

As a subsidiary of Caterpillar, PRC is packing heavy iron in aggressively pursuing two markets: locomotive and rail car servicing. And engineering, track and signaling maintenance of way services.

PRC manufactures you know, the low profile “looks kinda like a yard switcher,” with up to three caged “Cats” on board!

End of story? Well, not quite.

Like the proverbial Phoenix rising from it’s ashes, Dave Swanson (CEECo) has arisen with several of his former employees, as President of Global Locomotive LLC, operating as Global Locomotive Technology Center, near Tenino Washington, adjacent to the old Chehalis Western right of way.

Global will be aggressive in motor updating, promoting the “Controlled Locomotive Engine & Repower System” (CLEAR). CLEAR is offered as a kit or in house solution to upgrade diesels to meet Tier 3 and 4 emission and performance standards.

Apparently the White Pass & Yukon locomotives are back in the area, being Global’s first paying customer to receive the CLEAR treatment. Global has other locations in Australia, New Zealand, China, and India.

Finally, end of story.

With work apparently still flowing into Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (WABTEC), the former Morrison Knudsen (MK) in Boise, Idaho, hopefully this “restructuring” of assets here in the Pacific Northwest will allow all operations to be successful.

Lord knows the jobs are needed, and they will benefit each community. Even the ubiquitous rail photographers will have not one, but three facilities to stalk like a pack of wolves!

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