Summer 2017 Catalyst
In May 12, 2017, one of six new QLINE streetcar vehicles made its first official passenger trip along a brand new rail alignment up and down Woodward Avenue near downtown Detroit. It was the first streetcar passenger trip to occur in Detroit in more than 60 years, and was greeted with great fanfare by thousands of locals and supporters in a weekend-long celebration.
Unlike the 1956 streetcars of Detroit, which operated using an overhead contact system (electrified wire), the modern QLINE vehicles operate using a combination of a battery onboard energy storage system for 60 percent of the route, with a standard overhead contact wire for the remaining 40 percent. The technology is a product of an intensive research and development initiative that began in 2011 when Brookville Equipment Corporation, based in Brookville, Pennsylvania, decided to expand its streetcar offerings from restoring and replicating heritage streetcar vehicles (the company has delivered such fleets to New Orleans, San Francisco and Philadelphia), to producing modern, articulated, off-wire capable modern streetcars with a low-floor center car that allows station-level boarding from a 14-inch high platform.
In 2015, Brookville’s first LibertyTM Streetcars were delivered to Dallas Area Rapid Transit in Dallas, Texas, marking the opening of the first off-wire capable streetcar line in the United States. The QLINE in Detroit is the second system to use these streetcar vehicles; Oklahoma City and Milwaukee will soon follow.
Brookville’s innovative modern streetcar product is the latest evidence of a long history of evolution that has allowed the organization to survive drastic market swings and constant changes in product demands over the last century.
The company was originally founded in 1918 by the local Brookville Ford dealer, L.A. Leathers, who had a simple yet brilliant idea to install flanged rail wheels on standard Ford Model Ts. At the time, it was an opportunity to capitalize on the well-developed railways of rural western Pennsylvania and overcome the yet under-developed roadways of the region. By 1920, Brookville — then known as Brookville Locomotive — was a full scale manufacturer of small switching locomotives, which would become common both nationally and internationally for rail yard switching, industry, mining, logging and agriculture — leading to nearly 50 years of success in the railroad switching locomotive market.
With the birth of interstate systems and the growing popularity of over-the-road trucking, the market for small switching locomotives began to wane in the 1970s. As a result, Brookville shifted its rail product focus to advancing its mining product line. Upon his arrival in 1975, current CEO Mr. Dalph S. McNeil saw an opportunity to leverage advancing technologies and components in locomotives and personnel carriers for underground mining applications. The products were successful, eliminating many hassles caused by classic chain-drive systems through the introduction of more durable, sealed-shaft and planetary drive systems, which were ideal for the stringent underground conditions.
In 1999, Brookville introduced its JackwalkerTM and LiftwalkerTM systems — an undermounted hydraulic jacking configuration that allows mining equipment operators to re-rail equipment without leaving the operator’s compartment — to the mining market. The patented feature further ensured Brookville’s dominance as the supplier of choice for locomotives and personnel carriers in underground coal mines. Around the same time, the company introduced its first hybrid vehicles to the mining market, which could be powered by overhead wire or an independent battery drive system — a unique foreshadowing of the company’s expansion into the transit market and the hybrid streetcars it produces today.
Also in the late 1990s, Brookville got back to its surface rail roots as it moved into its present headquarters and began refurbishing locomotives for freight and passenger applications. In 2007, the company developed a three-engine CoGenerationTM locomotive, which uses three independent power plants and a modern electronic control system to creatively reduce emissions and fuel consumption for locomotive operators. In 2013, Brookville’s locomotive experience culminated with the development of its first aerodynamic EagleTM Commuter Locomotives, which have been shipped to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority Tri-Rail system since 2013 and presently operate along a 71-mile rail corridor that connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Through its work with locomotives for transit agencies and trolley technology for coal miners, Brookville spotted another opportunity.
In 2001, the company contributed to the first U.S.-made streetcars since the 1950s in a partnership with the New Orleans Rapid Transit Authority. Brookville’s efforts included the supply of propulsion systems and trucks for 31 vehicles. This experience led to an additional 18 streetcar upgrades and refurbishments in Philadelphia, and 16 streetcar restorations in San Francisco.
Today, in total, Brookville has delivered a total of 82 streetcar vehicles across the United States and has 30 additional restorations and new vehicle builds on order. Following the delivery of its existing orders, the company will have contributed to or designed and built 112 total streetcar vehicles for American cities.
While the products have evolved and the name of the company has changed several times (Brookville Locomotive, Brookville Mining Equipment Corporation and now Brookville Equipment Corporation), one constant has been the ingenuity, craftsmanship and overall dedication of an incredibly skilled workforce that has led to a strong reputation for world-class quality in every industry Brookville has grown to serve.
The company’s engineering and design staff, welders, electricians, painters and other skilled craftsmen all operate within two facilities located in the small town with a population of 3,900; allowing for a truly collaborative environment that has enabled the company of approximately 275 employees to compete against some of the world’s largest and most prominent manufacturers of rail vehicles. Since its founding, Brookville has shipped more than 4,500 rail units to more than 80 countries and territories, though the company’s main focus is serving customers in the North American market.
In 2018, Brookville will celebrate 100 years of manufacturing rail vehicles with the awareness that another 100 years of challenges and innovations lie ahead. If the past is any indication, it will be the current and future workforce’s dedication to providing unique solutions for its customers that affords Brookville the opportunity to continue its growth and product evolution in its next century of innovation — whether underground at remote mining locations or in the heart of America’s bustling cities.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.