Today’s news:

AirTrain may start service by June despite Sept. crash

Despite setbacks after a fatal crash last year, the AirTrain light rail system linking Kennedy Airport to downtown Jamaica and Howard Beach could be in operation by June, Port Authority officials announced last week.

The train, which would ferry air travel passengers to mass transit lines, was scheduled to open to Howard Beach last fall and Jamaica this spring, but a Sept. 27 accident that killed the train operator delayed the debut runs.

Yet Charles McClafferty, chief financial officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced that the system could be ready by summer.

“The AirTrain will open this year,” he told a news conference last Thursday that detailed the PA’s $5 billion budget for 2003.

Testing on the system, which was viewed as a first step to a one-seat ride between Kennedy Airport and Midtown Manhattan, was suspended after the September accident.

The crash occurred during a test run, when the eight 2,000 pound weights on board to simulate a passenger load shifted as the train went around a curve. The weights moved, crushing Kelvin DeBourgh Jr., the 23-year-old driver from Springfield Gardens.

Both the Port Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board have been investigating the crash. The NTSB had said its inquiry could take a year, but a spokeswoman said the report may now be complete by June.

“We’re still waiting for the final investigation,” McClafferty said. “We expect it to happen soon.”

Once the Port Authority resumes work on the system, it will need about 30 days to fully test the AirTrain cars, which are designed to be operated automatically via a computer. PA officials were unavailable to comment on how the test period will affect the proposed June opening.

Progress is continuing on the station construction, with work nearly finished on the Howard Beach and airport terminal stops. The Jamaica station is about half complete, a PA spokesman said.

The $1.9 billion AirTrain light-rail system was designed to connect Kennedy Airport travelers to mass transit lines in Jamaica and Howard Beach. In downtown Jamaica passengers can transfer to all Long Island Rail Road lines, except the Port Washington branch, the E, J, and Z subway lines, and more than a dozen bus lines. Passengers going to Howard Beach will be able to connect with the A subway line.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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