AAI factory bending swords into dollars Transition: Amid the diminished demand for defense products, AAI Corp. is making light rail cars that will carry people between Glen Burnie and Hunt Valley.


In a factory off York Road where workers once made trailers used to load nuclear bombs into the bellies of B-52 bombers, employees of AAI Corp. are now welding metal into the shape of rail cars that will eventually carry passengers from Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley.

The defense contractor's new effort at turning swords into plowshares will result in the production of the first light rail car made in the United States in more than a decade.

This week the company completed the initial rail car shell as part of a $53.7 million order from the Maryland Department of Transportation for 36 rail cars.

Car number 5036A, with its shiny coat of white paint, still needs a lot of work. It lacks wheels, passenger seats and the engine to propel it along the tracks.

But it is a symbol of the company's transition from a producer of tools of war to a supplier of products for the commercial market.

Car 5036A will leave Cockeysville via truck for Elmira, N.Y., where it will be equipped with seats, wiring and air conditioning. That work is being done by ADtranz ABB Daimler Benz N.A. Inc. which was awarded the state contract in September.

The car then will return to Cockeysville to be fitted with the axles and wheels before being turned over to the state.

Dianna D. Rosborough, deputy administrator for the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, said the cars will go into service beginning next year as the MTA extends its light rail line to Baltimore Washington International Airport, Hunt Valley and Penn Station.

The current trains traveling Maryland's light rail system were made in Sweden. AAI supplied the axles and wheels.

AAI was one of the fastest growing companies in Maryland during the Reagan administration's defense build-up. From 1979 to 1987, its work force expanded from 1,500 to 3,500. But AAI suffered greatly from Pentagon budget cuts and employment has dropped to about 1,000. Richard R. Erkeneff, AAI chief executive, is looking to the transportation field to reverse this trend again, boost sales and stabilize employment.

"We want to be recognized around the world as a supplier of components and parts for rail car and buses," Erkeneff said.

The company appears on its way to achieving that goal. In 1994, AAI and its partner, SKODA of the Czech Republic, were selected to supply the city of Dayton, Ohio, with up to 91 electric trolley buses. The contract is worth about $43 million.

It also has teamed with Siemens Duewag Corp. of Sacramento, Calif., the U.S. division of a German transportation company, and won a $205 million contract to build 72 light rail cars for Los Angeles.

Erkeneff said AAI's transportation division will have sales of between $7 million and $8 million this year. That is expected to jump to about $15 million next year and account for about 10 percent of AAI's total sales.

He sees transportation accounting for 20 percent to 25 percent of total sales within three years. "This was almost zero three years ago," he said.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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