Ranting About Boeing

So I need to state before you get any further, that this is going to be a bit of a rant, but I’m extremely frustrated with Boeing right now and this is my platform to vent.

But seriously Boeing, how can you act like the way that you are acting right now and think that it’s acceptable behaviour? With the recent announcement of the machinists voting to pass their new contract by 51% states that something isn’t right. So basically what has happened is Boeing said, either you vote in favour of what we are proposing or we’ll be moving to another state to begin production of our next aircraft, the 777X. Feel free to vote no, but when the production of the current 777 aircraft’s have been completed, you’ll be out of a job.  Oh by the way, we don’t exactly have a firm timeline of the current 777 production schedule either.  That’s roughly translated into, we’re going to make sure that we do everything in our power to close up shop as quickly as we can.

The Seattle Times is reporting that the vote passed by only 600 votes, 51 percent to 49 percent. In earlier versions of the contract, Boeing tried sweetening the deal by adding bonus’ and other elements to the contract.  However, most of these sweets wouldn’t be rewarded for 5 to 7 years, so roughly 2019-2021. Sweet deal? More like a sour deal because when these discussions were happening, Boeing was stating that there was work on the books for approximately ten years on the new 737 MAX and 777X.

So if the machinists accepted the contract the first time around, they would have received their “bonuses” about the same time they would be entering into contract negotiations again because at the time this was all being discussed, work was projected to be good for ten years. The machinists said no, so Boeing sweetened the deal again.  However, this is when they also added the catch that they are starting to look into other locations throughout the country to build a new plant and start aircraft productions elsewhere.

Fast forward to this last week when the machinists accepted their contract, because it was either that or they were out jobs. That’s really the gist of it all and that’s extremely unprofessional and selfish of Boeing.  I know that there are many other large corporations that are playing the same games, but I firmly believe this one tops the cake right now. Hey machinists, do what we say, not what we do. All while Boeing’s CEO, Mr. W. James McNerney, Jr., will be making close to $20 million once all is said and done.

Lets look at things a little deeper and we’ll find one of the reasons that Boeing is doing what they are doing.  It’s called the 787-8 aircraft.  This aircraft was going to be the next aircraft of aircraft’s.  It was going to make companies like Airbus cry because it was stated to be so awesome.  Well, things didn’t exactly go as planned and time and time again the aircraft was further delayed for delivery.  Then, when the aircraft finally does actually get off the ground, countless other problems follow it. The project has lost billions of dollars and instead of really owning up to many of the issues, Boeing releases the newest member of the family, the 787-9.  Hey… look over here, shiny new aircraft with very few problems.  Don’t mind that aircraft over there, it’s just a big pile of never ending issues. Boeing continues to lose money on the 787-8 because they are still so far behind on the deliveries that selected airlines have just given up and cancelled their orders.

So in reality, what I believe is really happening here is that Boeing needed to find a cash cow because they have lost so much money on the 787 that they wanted to recover it somewhere. Instead of the upper levels of Boeing taking a little less in their paychecks, they are using their own version of the trickle down effect. We’ll count the money that we are losing and then those loses will trickle all the way down to the bottom.

In the end, it’s a game of smoke and mirrors and sadly the machinists are the ones getting the short end of the stick. I just hope that from here forward, Boeing is able to get their act together and move forward.  While the 787 program is a bit of a mess, let’s hope that future programs such as the 737 MAX and 777X work so that ten years from now, we aren’t in the same place again feeling a little day sha voo.



Efforts to extend Amtrak service beyond Oklahoma City towards Kansas City

Efforts to bring Heartland Flyer rail service through Wichita gain speed

Amtrak's Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma.

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma.

By Bill Wilson, The Wichita Eagle

Wichita’s pursuit of the Heartland Flyer passenger rail system has gained momentum, with state support, City Council support and a possible train station in downtown Wichita.

With an initial planning study for expanded rail service in hand, the Kansas Department of Transportation has joined the city’s ongoing pursuit of the Amtrak passenger route that runs from Dallas to Oklahoma City, with expansion possibilities from Fort Worth to Kansas City.

Officials from KDOT, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration have told the architect of the city’s passenger rail effort, council member Pete Meitzner, that his first goal has been met.

“We’re at a point where they have confirmed independently that the (initial planning) study done a year ago is a good first step that gets us in the game,” Meitzner said.

“We were afraid we weren’t in the classroom as a state, but we’ve got a chair now.”

The Wichita City Council has signed on to efforts launched nine months ago by Meitzner to pursue the rail service, making funding more passenger rail studies a lobbying priority for the upcoming legislative session.

The effort is supported by Wichita commercial developer Gary Oborny, who has a letter of intent to buy the city’s downtown rail hub, Union Station, and convert it into key hospitality, office and retail space.

Oborny said a rail terminal is in his plans for the building. If he lands Union Station from its owner, Cox Communications, Oborny said, he’ll save space for the Flyer.

The reason? Bringing people to Wichita, he said.

Amtrak's Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma

“The key isn’t just passenger rail,” Oborny said. “That’s a nice component, but the whole rail story is really about access to Wichita. If we want to drive commerce in our city, our gates and doors have to be open 24/7 every way we can think of.”

That commerce effort, launched by the Wichita Metro Chamber, where Oborny sits on the board, can be enhanced by rail passengers stopping in downtown Wichita.

“That’s why this effort is crucial,” he said. “The one thing we have to do right now is make sure we’re on the field and ready to play.”

Meitzner’s effort has landed critical allies in KDOT Secretary Mike King, a Hesston native, and his governmental affairs chief, Lindsay Douglas. King is continuing talks with Oklahoma officials who are more interested — today — in a more northeast route for the Heartland Flyer toward Tulsa that could be a roadblock to the Wichita effort, Douglas said.

“They have indicated to us at this point in time they’re interested in funding additional work,” she said. “They are interested in offering new service, but the towns north of Oklahoma City along the Heartland line are interested in service there, too. So there might be a sort of competing interest there.”

Douglas said the next step to move the Kansas Heartland line along is an environmental study, costing $3 million from Kansas and $2.3 million from Oklahoma, less with federal assistance.

And there are plans for a regional passenger rail workshop with the Federal Railroad Administration, a significant outreach to the feds showing that Kansas and Oklahoma are serious enough about passenger rail to need federal funds, Douglas said.

But, the immediate key toward the Heartland Flyer’s future in Wichita may lie in Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal, which will be released on Jan. 16, and in the willingness of the federal government to provide grant funding, Douglas said, for future studies and for a project with an uncertain price tag. The latest project estimates, from 2011, are a little more than $87 million to run from Newton into Texas, although that number is fluid as the project develops and as time passes, officials said.

“Right now, there are a lot of demands on funds at the state level,” Douglas said. “Depending on the governor’s budget that comes out on the 16th, we’re all trying to figure out where our resources are and prioritize our investments. There are opportunities for federal funds, and we’re making sure that if federal funds become available, we can apply and be competitive.

“If funding becomes available, we’re in a good position to apply with the service development plan done.”

It’s all because Meitzner keeps pushing the passenger rail issue, Douglas said.

“It’s really opened from my standpoint our eyes to Wichita as a willing partner in this initiative,” she said. “They’ve really opened our eyes to different economic development opportunities there and what having that line through Wichita would do for the area. It’s been a good thing, working through these discussions.”

Light rail plan for Los Angeles International Airport advances

Airport agency and Metro, formerly with competing visions, get together on four possible light rail station sites at LAX.

Plans to build a light rail connection to Los Angeles International Airport advanced Monday with the unveiling of four potential station sites that would link to a people mover serving passenger terminals.

After years of pursuing separate transportation plans for LAX, Los Angeles World Airports and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority now are working together to develop options for a rail stop that could tie the Green Line and the planned Crenshaw Line to the nation’s third-busiest airport.

“Our work over the past six months has brought us light-years from where we were before,” said Paul Taylor, Metro’s deputy chief executive, who noted that environmental clearances must be completed and funding secured before construction of an LAX station could begin.

The most expensive options are two underground station designs inside the central terminal area, west of Sepulveda Boulevard.

Another proposal calls for a station to be incorporated into a planned transportation center adjacent to Parking Lot C, near the northeast edge of the airport. The facility would serve light rail trains, buses, taxis, ride-share vans and charter vehicles.

The fourth possibility is to put a station about a mile east of LAX at Aviation and Century boulevards at Manchester Square, where a consolidated car rental facility and additional airport parking are planned.

Wherever the station is located, it is expected to connect to an automated people mover that would ferry passengers to and from airline terminals.

Travelers using rail transit can get near the airport area on the Green Line. But they must get off some distance away at Aviation and Imperial Highway and board a shuttle bus to LAX.

Metro’s share of the project cost ranges from $1 billion to $1.5 billion, depending on the option chosen, Taylor said. Airport officials do not yet have estimates of their share of the costs. If funding is secured, an LAX light rail station could be completed by 2020.

Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro board member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has pushed for the Crenshaw Line, praised the effort and warned against repeating the mistake of stopping rail service short of the airport.

“It’s vital we move swiftly,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The Crenshaw Line is scheduled to open in 2019, and we need to be well on our way to ensure the airport connection is not further delayed.”

By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times; December 18, 2012

Talgo: Getting the Public On Board

By Leah Harnack, Mass Transit 

Talgo’s recently completed trainsets in Milwaukee could mean updates for Amtrak Hiawatha riders or they may be mothballed, depending on Wisconsin state government decisions.

Talgo Inc. has manufactured two intercity trainsets for Wisconsin at its plant in Milwaukee and caught in the middle of political crossfire, those trains may end up providing service elsewhere in the country.

On May 20, Talgo held an open house from noon to 3:00 for the public to, “be among the first to see the improvements awaiting riders on Amtrak’s Hiawatha line.”

Among a variety of technological advances, the trains feature lightweight construction, natural tilting and low center of gravity for a smooth ride, outlets between seats, Wi-Fi, closed-circuit TV and a variety of seating configurations for riders.

Political Firestorm

In 2009 the Wisconsin Department of Transportation purchased two trainsets with an option for two additional trains.

Lawmakers in Madison recently voted to mothball the trains, close the Talgo plant and continue to use the old Amtrak trains. They cite the much more expensive maintenance costs of the new trains as too big a burden on the state.

The vote means losing the $72 million already spent on buying the trains and a potential violation of the state’s contract with Talgo.

Talgo President and CEO Antonio Perez had been recently quoted saying, “I’m very disappointed with the way the facts were accounted for, how they were related and how the decision was made on very wrong assumptions of comparing very modern trains with other trains that need to be replaced.”

A Chance to See the New Trains

The Open House was a chance for the public to see what today’s trains look like. And before the event even opened there was a line of people waiting to get a sneak peak.

There was a diverse crowd of people, including hardcore rail fans, families with kids, friends and families of employees, business members of the community, people from the local area and those that just wanted to see what the high-tech trains look like.

Milwaukee Alderman for the district, Willie C. Wade, was present and said there has been a great partnership between the city and Talgo until the state government changed. “It’s a great facility and workforce and we will get this back on track,” he stressed. “It’s a high-class, quality product.

“The state’s goal is for the people not to see this product … this kind of advanced technolgy.”

And that’s just what this open house was doing. Perez said, “We want the people to see the train sets and we want them to compare these trains to the old Hiawatha trains.” He said when people see these advanced, modern trains, “The people see the trainsets and want to see them in operating service.”

Bob Schayer from the Chicago area came up for the open house because he occasionally rides the Hiawatha line. “I’m interested in the Chicago-to-Milwaukee line and have ridden that.
“I try to avoid O’Hare like the plague,” he said, noting that he rides the line to the airport in Milwaukee.

On one of the train cars, Talgo Commissioning Technician Bill Schmuhl was providing technical information for visitors. When asked by a visitor as to why the trains might not be used he responded, “The ridership is increasing each year [between Milwaukee and Chicago], so we don’t understand. We just build them.”

There were recent concerns in the news lately about the cars not meeting changes to federal ADA requirements and he explained that the new lifts from Ricon Corp., will be delivered within a year and the cars will be retrofitted to meet all standards.

Kim Poklar from Milwaukee had seen the open house invite on Talgo’s Facebook page and she and her husband John came to the event. “We wanted to see what they’re about to mothball,” he said. Kim said, “I love trains and this needs to be running in Milwaukee.”

And some were more straight forward about their feelings. “It’s dumb,” said Nancy Correll of Milwaukee. “We bring them here to build rail and then change our mind? It makes us look like idiots.”

People could tour through two of the train cars, take a peek in the factory, enjoy refreshments and learn more about Talgo and rail history of the area, and could learn how to contact the state government to voice their opinions on the operation of these cars in Wisconsin.

Talgo Vice President Public Affairs & Business Development Nora Friend said, “We want the government of Wisconsin to honor their contractual agreement and put these trains in revenue service.”

Judith Fischer works in the front office at Talgo and her boyfriend also works at Talgo as a fluids manager. “These guys have worked really hard and we want these trains to go into service. It would be a shame to park them and we don’t want to lose jobs.” She added, “That’s what it’s all about: jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Talgo is located in a neighborhood that is looking to be redeveloped, called the Century City Project. It includes 86 acres, 58 for a business park, 17 for retail or commercial uses and the remainder for single and multi-family residences. The long-term estimates for job creation are between 700 and 1,000 jobs.

Perez said Talgo employs about 140 people currently in the United States. In Spain they employ about 1,300 and have 50 percent of the market share of very high-speed trains there.

Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Richard Harnish was also at the event with his two young kids. “I want my boys to see high-speed trains here in the United States,” he stressed.

While there’s talk Talgo could be leaving Milwaukee as soon as June, there is no final word yet and Friend stressed, “We’re not giving up.”

BART plans to order test batch of new cars in May

BART plans to buy a slick new ride – 260 new rail cars – for about $1 billion in May. The cars will sport a sleek modern look, cleaner seats, digital information displays, even air conditioning that works on hot days. And if transit officials are pleased, and can come up with another $2 billion or so, they’ll buy another 515 cars.

After years of planning and scrounging for funding, BART is ready to lurch forward with the start of its plans to replace its 669-car fleet of rail cars, most of which are about to turn 40. The rail fleet is the oldest in the nation.

“Even on the most optimistic schedule, by the time we are able to replace all of our cars, many of them will be 50 years old,” said Paul Oversier, BART’s assistant general manager for operations.

Oversier expects the BART board to award a contract in May, and the contractor will produce 10 pilot cars for testing, with the first delivered at the start of 2015. The cars will be tested for eight months before the manufacturer is allowed to start full production. The first cars are expected to arrive in September 2016 with the last of the batch arriving by the end of 2018. All 775 cars would be delivered by 2023.

The new cars will still feature the traditional brushed aluminum exterior but it will be broken up with color, including signs to indicate which line the train serves. Each car will have three doors to speed boarding, but will still have 60 seats, all made of an easier-to-clean material. Seats will be reconfigured with standard seating in rows at each end of the car, and seats situated more informally around standing areas and places for wheelchairs, bikes and luggage in the center.

BART began the replacement effort in earnest in the past year, soliciting passenger suggestions through workshops, surveys and online. About 10,000 people have offered advice. The agency hired BMW Group Designworks to help design the cars, and solicited offers from companies interested in building them.

Five firms – none from the United States – expressed interest, and BART has narrowed the field to three: Alstom, of France; Bombardier, of Canada; and Hyundai Rotem, of South Korea. BART is in negotiations, trying to bargain the best deal on a variety of factors with price the most important.

Based on initial bids, the cost to build each new rail car will be about $3 million for the first batch of 260 but the overall price will drop to about $2.5 million if all 775 are manufactured. Other costs, including design, project management, cost escalation and reserves, account for the rest of the $1 billion.

“If we, as a region, are able to fund the entire project, we will get a lot more for our money,” Oversier said.

BART will pay for the initial 260 cars with $870 million in regional funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the rest from its own budget. The overall plan is for the commission to cover about $2.4 billion with BART paying about $800 million. Neither agency has firm plans for finding those funds, but it’s likely voters would be asked to approve a tax to help foot the bill.

While the cars will be built by a foreign company, BART will follow federal Buy America requirements, which require at least 60 percent of the components in each car to be made in the United States and all assembly to take place domestically. In addition, the transit agency got state legislation passed to allow it to give extra consideration to bidders who exceed the minimum.

But federal law prohibits BART from giving special consideration to companies that promise to manufacture the cars in the Bay Area or California, much to the chagrin of some MTC members, who were given a presentation Wednesday.

“This is Bay Area taxpayers’ money,” said commissioner Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor, who suggested using the former Nummi plant in Fremont. “It’s really important that these rail cars be built in the Bay Area.”

Oversier said BART is “committed to using the bully pulpit as much as possible to get the jobs in the Bay Area.”

E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, 12jan12.