June 24, 2012

Full steam ahead for Bombardier Transportation

By DAN HEATH, Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Bombardier Transportation in the City of Plattsburgh is really rolling along.

The company has landed two major contracts since the start of the year. They are for 300 subway cars for New York City Transit and up to 775 metro cars for Bay Area Rapid Transit if all options are picked up. The contracts are worth $599 million and up to $1.5 billion, respectively.

If all options are picked up, that is expected to provide work at the  plant through 2023. 

The company also has current contracts with a number of transit authorities. Those include a 706-car contract with the Chicago Transit Authority, a 100-vehicle contract with New Jersey Transit, a 14-car contract with options for 50 more with Central Florida Sunrail and 54 vehicles with Maryland MTA.

“We have a good relationship with all the (transit) authorities. We are selling this place (Plattsburgh) first,” said Alain Aumais, general manager of the Plattsburgh plant.

The plant opened in 1995. Capacity was more than doubled in 1997 to allow the company to supply 1,030 R142 rapid-transit cars for New York City Transit and Acela locomotives and cars for Amtrak.

Bombardier landed a contract for 1,127 cars for the Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad in 1999. The company also built a test track on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base that year.

The test track was expanded to more than 5,000 feet in length in 2001.

Bombardier received a contract for 329 MultiLevel stainless-steel commuter cars for NJTRANSIT in 2003. The company delivered the1,030th railcar to New York City Transit that year, one of the largest rapid-transit manufacturing projects ever completed in North America.

The contract for the initial 406 cars with the Chicago Transit Authority was secured in 2006. The company completed the 3,000th car manufactured and assembled in Plattsburgh earlier this year, which was part of the Chicago order.

The Plattsburgh facility was renovated to allow construction of stainless-steel shells in 2010, work that was previously done in La Pocatiere, Quebec. 

“We are very proud to have that capacity here,” Aumais said.

Bombardier Transportation Business Development and Sales Executive Tom Purmort said the shell manufacturing area was created from former railcar assembly space. It helps the company comply with Buy-U.S. provisions in transit-authority contracts.

Presently, stainles-steel shells for the Chicago Transit Authority contract are being manufactured in Plattsburgh. Strips of stainless steel are welded together to form the side and roof panels of the cars.

Quality Assurance Supervisor Jon Magoon said the welding equipment and samples are tested regularly to ensure welds are performed properly.

He demonstrated a peel test, where equipment applies force until the weld between two strips is pulled apart. The test is performed every time one of the welding machines is started, as well as when an electrode is changed or a new procedure is started.

Magoon said the tests show the welds are much stronger than what is required under the contract. The welds are required to hold at up to 1,700 pounds per square inch of pressure, but this one actually held to 4,248 pounds.

“We like to see these results be very consistent. If not, we want to find out why,” Aumais said.

Crews later lowered a flexible roof panel onto the roof frame. Bombardier Quality Assurance Director Dennis Arsenault said each rib of the roof panel would be spot welded to the frame at multiple points.

Once the shells are created, they move from work station to work station as parts and components are installed.

The railcars are water tested in an enclosed spray tank. They are also tested at the test-track, which is located about a mile away.

Bombardier is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. It started in 1942 as a recreational-vehicle manufacturer, with a focus on snowmobiles.

It diversified into the railcar business in the late 1970s and landed its first U.S. railcar contract in 1982.

It sold the recreational vehicle part of the business in 2003.

The transportation division has more than 100,000 vehicles in operation and offers products and/or services in 60 countries worldwide.

The company has aerospace and transportation divisions, and has about 69,800 employees worldwide.

The company had revenues of $18.3 billion in fiscal 2011.

Bombardier Transportation is headquartered in Berlin, Germany. Bombardier Transportation North America is based in St. Bruno, Quebec, about one hour north of Plattsburgh. The company has about 2,800 employees in Canada, 900 in Mexico and about 850 in the United States, inlcuidng 300 in Plattsburgh.

The company plans to open a new design and prototyping center near there in October. It is intended to allow for a greater collaboration among customers, suppliers and partners in the design of each vehicle and other research and development.

Aumais said the company sees an increased market for mass-transit systems as metropolitan areas become more populated and congested.

“We want to be part of that and we are,” he said.

The company was earmarked for $2.5 million from Empire State Development that would be used to partly fund a future expansion of the Plattsburgh facilities. Aumais said the company could invest about $25 million as part of the project.

He said discussions continue with Empire State Development officials on the proposal, which would see expansion to the north and west.

Email Dan Heath