THERE HAS been much hand-wringing and headbanging over how long it's taking the Hyundai Rotem USA plant in South Philly to produce SEPTA's 120 new Silverliner V railcars, but there's no doubt that the $300 million project is a shot in the arm for the region's recession-ravaged workforce.

After the first three new railcars were manufactured in Korea, the other 117 were delivered here as shells to be outfitted by American suppliers, mainly from the Philly area.

SEPTA GM Joe Casey said that Hyundai Rotem USA did not build a plant in South Philly as "a one-shot deal" and that the plant will continue to order from local companies as they fulfill orders from Boston and Denver.

"We hope they will re-establish building trains here again," he said. "It's easy for us to forget that Baldwin Locomotives, the Budd Co. and the Pennsylvania Railroad once made Philadelphia the railroad-construction capital of the world."

Casey said he hopes Rotem's major investment will bring some of that railroad-based prosperity back at a time when it is sorely needed.

Already, the Silverliner V project has brought jobs and $64 million in contracts with suppliers:

* Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. (MEPPI) in Warrendale, Allegheny County, has a $49.3 million contract to build what President/CEO Brian Heery described as "the big stuff, the power electronics that drive the motors that drive the gear boxes that are attached to the axles."

Heery said that although only 10 of MEPPI's 600 employees are directly working on Silverliner V, the company outsources a lot of the manufacturing to regional suppliers such as Voith Turbo in York ($8 million) and United Transit Corp. Rail & Airsources (UTCRAS) in Morton, Delaware County ($4.9 million).

MEPPI is also involved in Rotem's railcars for Denver, which will be built in South Philly. "The Silverliner VI will be coming someday, and we'd like to be part of that, too," Heery said.

* At UTCRAS in Morton, the $4.9 million Silverliner V contract to manufacture railcar trucks (wheel assemblies with two or more axles) expanded the small company from 25 to 43 employees, said Frank Ursone, executive vice president and general manager.

"Before, we did onesies and twosies, repairing and returning one or two trucks at a time," he said. "Now, we're a complete truck assembly line, which we set up specifically for Silverliner V."

UTCRAS is also working on wheel assemblies for Rotem's Boston railcars and wheel/axle assemblies for Denver.

Ursone said UTCRAS, which has a relationship with SEPTA dating back to building wheel assemblies for the new Market-Frankford El cars, buys parts for the Silverliner V trucks regionally.

"The Silverliner V project has really helped us out a lot," he said. "It keeps the work right here in Philadelphia, which obviously we need. . . . It's great to have a local company hiring local people, you know what I mean?"

* At North American Specialty Glass (NASG) in Trumbauersville, Bucks County, transit project manager Scott Seiler said there would have been layoffs without the $1.2 million Silverliner V contract.

"Our transit business is all based on federal funding," said Seiler, whose company employs about 100. "If next week, the administration decides to put money into highways and take it out of transit budgets, we have to truly worry."

NASG makes laminated safety glass that can withstand impacts at 140 miles per hour, Seiler said, although most trains don't go over 90.

"The glass has got to withstand the impact of a .22 [caliber bullet] being shot at the window," he said. "The windshield has got to withstand the impact of a 30-pound concrete block."

Seiler said he hopes the federal government continues to realize that "transit systems out there are 35 years old or older, and breaking down."

"So over the next 10 years," he said, "there's a lot of potential for us."