By DAN HEATH
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Two New York City officials got a first-hand glimpse of the manufacture of railcars that are so important to Greater Metropolitan Area and its suburbs.
Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota and New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast toured the Bombardier Transportation manufacturing plant in the City of Plattsburgh Tuesday afternoon.
The plant has supplied the MTA with thousands of railcars since it opened in 1995.
“It’s great to be here. There is a very long, long relationship between the MTA and Bombardier,” Lhota said.
He said the first cars made in Plattsburgh were for the MTA. It is an example an upstate-downstate relationship that has worked well, Lhota said.
“I look forward to maintaining that relationship.”
NEW YORK JOBS
The authority’s job seeking funding in Albany is easier if it can say it supports jobs in New York state, Lhota said. More than 400 employees work at the plant in Plattsburgh.
“I take great pride in anything I can do to create jobs in New York state,” Lhota said.
Prendergast said Bombardier has demonstrated the ability to create a world-class manufacturing facility in a relatively short period of time. He said it is part of a move to foster railcar manufacturing in the United States.
“They’ve shown they can bring it back here,” he said.
The company celebrated production of its 3,000th railcar in 2012. Lhota said about 2,000 of those cars have gone to the MTA.
He said he noticed the quality-control procedures that are in place in Plattsburgh. That is key for an authority like the MTA, he said, which has many lines that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The relationship between the MTA and Bombardier in Plattsburgh will be bolstered by an order for 300 railcars, valued at nearly $600 million, signed earlier this year. That was followed by an order for up to 775 metro cars, valued at $1.5 billion, for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit.
Shortly after it secured the two contracts, Bombardier announced plans for a $25 million, 80,000-square-foot expansion of its main plant and test-track facilities. That move was aided by a $2.5 million investment from Empire State Development, one of the priority projects in the first year of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council’s five-year strategic plan.
Plattsburgh Plant Manager Alain Aumais said they have already built a mezzanine in the main plant and are adding tracks at the test site. Those tracks will allow cars built for the Chicago Transit Authority to be loaded on trucks at the track rather than having to bring them back to the main plant before they are shipped.
The original test-track building is also to be expanded, so technicians can work on more cars at once.
Aumais said the work will proceed in phases and is expected to be complete by the end of 2013.
As Lhota toured one of the Chicago units, he noticed an area dedicated for bicycles and said that’s something the MTA should try to do in the future.
The plant is also building railcars for New Jersey Transit.
‘SECOND TO NONE’
At the end of the tour, Lhota took time to thank Sen. Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, City Mayor Donald Kasprzak and North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas for their support.
Little was pleased to be there as Lhota and Prendergast witnessed the work being done in the North
“The products made here are second to none,” she said.
Duprey also welcomed the chance to allow the officials to see the plant in operation.
“We’re so proud of Bombardier and the great workforce we have in the North Country,” she said.
During the tour, Douglas said it’s always beneficial when officials take time to learn more about an operation such as Bombardier and how important it is to a region.
“We’ve been working with Bombardier for several years to have the chiefs of the MTA come up and do a tour like this,” he said.
Kasprzak said he appreciates the executives’ visit to Plattsburgh and the North Country.
“We are very proud to be the recipient of this long-term contract that is such a benefit to our community.
Email Dan Heath