AirTrain crash latest blow for struggling Bombardier

By Philip Newman

Bombardier Inc. Chairman Robert E. Brown announced in Montreal nearly 2,000 layoffs Friday. Within hours and 400 miles to the south, an accident during a test run of the John F. Kennedy Airport AirTrain left a train operator dead.

They were the latest in a series of blows suffered by Bombardier, a leading manufacturer of business and regional jets and the world’s largest producer of passenger railroad equipment.

Authorities said Kelvin DeBourgh Jr., 23, of Jamaica was crushed when some of the eight, one-ton concrete blocks used to simulate the weight of a load of passengers shifted as the Bombardier-made train rounded a curve. The Port Authority said a previous accident on the AirTrain injured three persons.

Bombardier, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and other agencies are investigating the cause of the accident.

Carol Sharpe, a spokeswoman for Bombardier, defended the company’s safety record on such projects, saying, for instance, there had been no major safety problems with airport transit systems like the Skytrain in Vancouver, Canada. It has been operating since 1986.

The 1,980 layoffs Brown announced included 6 percent of the work force, and 20 percent of management and involved employees in Montreal, Toronto, Tucson, Wichita and Britain.

The company said the cutbacks were the result of a slump in demand for regional jets and business jets with a resulting a pre-tax loss of $24.8 million and nearly unchanged revenues of $2.7 billion in the second quarter.

Bombardier has in recent years competed mainly with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer in supplying regional jets, which fly at the same speed and altitude of the biggest jets but generally carry only 35 to 90 passengers and are more economical to operate.

American Airlines just announced it will fly 50-seat Embraer jets on its new LaGuardia-Washington shuttle.

Bombardier technicians worked for weeks to correct problems that caused cracks in locomotives of Amtrak’s high speed Acela Express trains linking New York and Boston and Washington. Trains are back in service after several weeks of disrupted Acela service, which Amtrak has been banking on to save the precariously funded, federal national rail passenger system.

“All repairs have been made on the Acela locomotives,” said Bombardier spokeswoman Sharpe.

Among other problems at Bombardier:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently awarded a multibillion-dollar project for 1,100 new subway cars to the French company Alstom rather than to Bombardier. Alstom is to work with the Japanese company Kawasaki, which has previously produced MTA subway cars.

Bombardier said strikes at the company’s Montreal plants earlier this year were reflected in a 9 percent reduction of net income for the first quarter.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

More from Around New York