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Editorial: Safety first

The tragic crash of the AirTrain that killed the 23-year-old operator during a test run has shaken the community’s trust to the very core. Had the train crashed just a little further down the track, the debris would have rained down on cars traveling on the Van Wyck.

Although we continue to hope that the AirTrain will be the engine that drives the economic revival of downtown Jamaica, we are reminded that the concept behind the AirTrain never made sense. The AirTrain should have been designed to offer a one-seat ride from Midtown Manhattan to Kennedy Airport. Ideally it should also have provided a link to LaGuardia Airport. Just two weeks before the fatal test run, American Airlines said it would consider building a major hub at Kennedy if the AirTrain could be made a one-seat ride.

Reports over the weekend said the train may have been traveling at a top speed of 58 miles an hour rather than the 35 miles an hour at which it should have been tested. The clear intent of this information is to shift attention to the young driver and away from the mechanics of the train.

But it will be hard for the Port Authority and the maker of the train, the Canadian company Bombardier, to justify the use of eight one-ton cement blocks to simulate the weight of passengers. The cement blocks crushed the operator as the train attempted to negotiate a tight bend.

And so we ask the same question that we asked when we first heard of the design for the AirTrain: what were they thinking?

Even if it turns out that the operator was driving the train too fast to manipulate the curve, one has to question why the train was being driven manually rather than by auto pilot as the design intended.sw

Beyond the personal tragedy for the family of the operator, the inevitable delay in the launching of the AirTrain could seriously jeopardize the economic revival of Jamaica. For $1.9 billion, the public had a right to expect something better than it’s getting.

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