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Jfk Airtrain Derailment...

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AirTrain Derails At JFK

Driver fatally hurt in test-run crash; debris rains down

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Kelvin DeBourgh & Daughter ((Photo/Matt Campbell))

Sep 28, 2002

Rescue Workers aid trapped man on AirTrain. (Photo by Robert H. Stridiron)

Sep 27, 2002

AirTrain Derailment (Photo by Matt Campbell)

Sep 27, 2002

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By Joshua Robin, Lola Alapo and Bobby Cuza

Staff Writers

September 28, 2002

A derailment during a test run Friday of the much-anticipated AirTrain at Kennedy Airport killed the driver who was the train's only passenger, throwing into doubt the startup of service later this year.

Kelvin DeBourgh Jr., 23, of Jamaica, was pinned up to his waist for more than an hour while firefighters and Port Authority emergency rescuers worked to free him. He was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he died at 3:05 p.m., officials said. Witnesses said it appeared his legs were crushed, but authorities were not prepared to detail his injuries.

DeBourgh -- an employee of Bombardier, one of the lead contractors on the $1.9 billion AirTrain project -- was driving the train on the three-mile leg linking airport terminals with the Howard Beach subway station when it veered abruptly off its steel tracks and plowed into the concrete parapet along the train's elevated guideway, showering tons of debris onto the ground below.

Workers at the scene, on airport grounds near Federal Circle, said the accident may have been caused by the shifting of heavy concrete blocks placed inside the train to simulate a passenger load.

The Port Authority has launched an investigation into the 12:15 p.m. derailment. Testing, which has been underway for nearly a year, has been suspended.

"Our priority is to ensure safety," said Anthony Cracchiolo, director of Port Authority priority capital programs. "And we're immediately entering a thorough investigation."

How long the start date will be postponed was unclear. Port Authority officials said they could not tell whether service would be delayed at all until the investigation is complete.

Phase One of AirTrain, which includes the airport loop and the Howard Beach station, was slated to open sometime in the next three months. The second phase, linking the airport to Jamaica Station, where riders will be able to connect to the Long Island Rail Road as well as the E, J and Z subway lines, was on target for a spring start date.

The three-car train DeBourgh was driving had enough concrete blocks to equal 60 percent of the weight of a fully loaded train, said Derek Winton, general manager of project operations for Bombardier, which built the 32-car AirTrain fleet.

Though it was not clear how fast the train was going, Winton said the trains, which are capable of speeds up to 60 miles an hour, normally travel 25 to 30 mph when driven manually.

When operational, the AirTrain will run on a driverless, automated system, with all movements monitored by a control center.

The derailed train knocked out about 155 feet of the concrete parapet that lines the elevated guideway, sending at least 20 concrete blocks -- each weighing between 10 and 13 tons -- raining onto a construction site below.

One Port Authority police officer at the scene suffered minor injuries.

Had the accident taken place about 500 feet farther north, where the guideway merges with and soars above the Van Wyck Expressway, those blocks would have crashed down onto midday traffic.

"It's unfortunate that this happened, but it's better that it happened now than with a full load of people," said Gregory Q. Murphy, spokesman for Slattery Skanska Inc., a construction firm on the project.

The car DeBourgh was driving and one behind it were severely damaged, according to Cracchiolo. They are estimated to cost $1 million each.

Workers were surprised by the derailment and said there had been no major malfunctions in about a year of testing, although Cracchiolo said there was a minor accident in July when two train cars grazed each other.

"The track has been run on constantly for six months no problem," said one track worker, who has been working on the project since it began in 1998 and asked not to be named.

Officials said there was no evidence that DeBourgh was impaired in any way at the time of the derailment. It was unclear Friday whether any medical tests would be conducted for the presence of alcohol or drugs.


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I heard about this... installing cement blocks instead of passengers is LU-DI-CRIS!!! Poor guy got demolished when he stopped suddenly and they all crushed him :worry2:

I bet this will never take off either. Stupid idea. Plus the Van Wyck Expway looks damn dangerous now too :eek:

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