AAI group favored for trolley fleet job San Francisco car contract worth $207 million


San Francisco transportation officials have recommended hiring a partnership of Hunt Valley's AAI Corp. to build 250 electric trolley buses for about $207 million.

The city's transportation commission will consider the recommendation Tuesday, then send it to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, which will have the final say.

A win for the AAI partnership would be the biggest achievement of its fledgling trolley enterprise and should mean new jobs at the Hunt Valley plant, spokeswoman Karolyn Wolf said.

"It's an exciting contract; it really puts us on the map of the transportation industry," Wolf said.

The staff of the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) gave the AAI partnership the edge over a competing bid from the Breda Co. of Italy.

"They [the AAI group] achieved the highest score" in a review by a technical committee, Muni Communications Director Sharyn Saslafsky said yesterday.

The staff has been reviewing proposals since October. The project would complete the retooling of the city's fleet of electric trolley buses, which make up about a fourth of the 1,000 vehicles operated daily by Muni, Saslafsky said.

That fleet, which includes the city's famous rail trolley cars, and serves about 700,000 passengers a day.

The high profile of the San Francisco contract would mean a major coup for AAI's Electric Transit Inc. (ETI), which is the only company in the country that produces electric trolley buses.

ETI is a partnership with SKODA of the Czech Republic.

The venture is in the midst of a $43 million contract to build 57 such buses for Dayton, Ohio.

SKODA manufactures the frames and propulsion systems in the Czech Republic and ships them through the port of Baltimore to Hunt Valley.

There, AAI puts the skin on the vehicles, paints them and installs the on-board subsystems -- wiring, controls and such.

Vehicles for the San Francisco fleet would get final assembly and testing in California, where ETI will open an office if it now gets final approval for the contract, Wolf said.

The company plans to officially announce the recommendation this morning, she said.

AAI is a subsidiary of United Industrial Corp. of New York. Its shares dropped 25 cents yesterday to close at $7.125.

AAI currently employs about 1,000 workers at its Hunt Valley facility.

Employees there perform such defense work as constructing unmanned aerial vehicles, designing combat rifles and creating automated weather stations for airports.

Having enjoyed a peak employment of about 3,500 in the late 1980s, the company is counting on transportation to boost its fortunes as defense work diminishes. The transportation division also builds light rail cars for the Maryland Mass Transit Administration.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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