Ford takes Detroit rail station back to autonomous future

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A drawing of what the main hall will look like after Ford’s revamp in its founding city. (AP)
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Bill Ford at Michigan Central Station. (AP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Ford takes Detroit rail station back to autonomous future

  • The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford envisions the future of the carmaker’s foray into self-driving vehicles.
  • The company has said it aims to have a self-driving vehicle on the market by 2021.

DETROIT, US: Bill Ford looks past the tons of paint, plaster and steel needed to remake Detroit’s blighted Michigan Central train station and sees more than just an iconic building in desperate need of a makeover.

The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford envisions the future of the carmaker’s foray into self-driving vehicles.

Ford Motor Co. is embarking on a four-year renovation of the 105-year-old depot and 17-story office tower just west of downtown. The massive project is expected to increase the automaker’s footprint in the city where the company was founded, provide space for electric and autonomous vehicle testing and research, and spur investment in the surrounding neighborhood.

Ford will be reclaiming a derelict 20th century landmark, but it also will be using some iconic Motor City real estate to embark on a 21st century venture.

“This had to make business sense for us,” Bill Ford told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We couldn’t just do this as a philanthropic endeavor. It really will become a statement for us and a great recruiting tool for the kind of talent we’re going to need to win in the autonomous vehicle war.”

The company has said it aims to have a self-driving vehicle on the market by 2021.

The building’s sale was announced last week. The company will announce details of the renovation and its plans Tuesday.

Bill Ford declined to say how much it cost to buy the 500,000-square-foot (46,450-square-meter) building from Manuel “Matty” Moroun or how much the carmaker expects to spend fixing it up. A 2004 plan to convert the train station into Detroit’s police headquarters was expected to cost more than $100 million.

The money for Ford’s project is coming from a pool set aside in 2016 to update the automaker’s headquarters in nearby Dearborn, though the company will also seek tax breaks and other incentives.

“We had to make sure that this could fit into our existing budget, and thankfully it did,” Bill Ford said.

The train station, which opened in 1913,  was the hub for rail transportation in Detroit for decades. Travelers and visitors marveled at its robust columns that stretched to an ornately tiled ceiling. But as passenger rail travel waned with easier road and air travel, the last train left Michigan Central in 1988.

Scrappers stripped metal from the vacant building and the thousands of broken windows allowed the elements to damage the walls, floors and ceilings, depressing the property’s value.

Along the way, Detroit slid toward fiscal collapse. The population has dropped by more than one million people since the 1950s. Tens of thousands of homes were abandoned even before the city tumbled into and out of bankruptcy several years ago.

The aging, hulking and empty Michigan Central exemplified Detroit’s plight.

“It always really bothered me whenever you’d see a national story about the decay of Detroit, photos of the train station often were used,” Bill Ford said, as he sat in the depot’s cavernous passenger waiting room.

“Then I started to think: ‘What if we could buy it, rehab it and not just make it a beautiful building — which we’re going to do — but make it something more?’” he said. “Make it really part of the reinvention of transportation for the future.”

The rehabbed office tower will have room for about 5,000 workers, at least half of whom will be Ford’s. Restaurants, coffee shops, taverns and retail will fill the depot.

“My vision is this becomes a gathering spot for people who want to meet family or friends and grab a cup of coffee or quick lunch or dinner and then go off and do something else in Detroit,” Ford added. “I want them to feel that this is going to be a really wonderful spot to be in, and that they will get excited about coming here.”


American Airlines ‘unaware’ of some Boeing 737 MAX functions until last week

Updated 15 November 2018
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American Airlines ‘unaware’ of some Boeing 737 MAX functions until last week

  • The FAA and Boeing are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets
  • ‘Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing’

WASHINGTON: American Airlines Group Inc. said on Wednesday it was “unaware” of some functions of an anti-stall system on Boeing Co’s 737 MAX until last week.
Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued guidance on the system last week after a Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board.
The FAA warned airlines last week that erroneous inputs from the system’s sensors could lead the jet to automatically pitch its nose down even when autopilot is turned off, making it difficult for pilots to control.
The system was designed to prevent the jet from stalling, according to information provided by Boeing to airlines.
“We value our partnership with Boeing, but were unaware of some of the functionality of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) installed on the MAX 8,” an American Airlines spokesman said.
“We must ensure that our pilots are fully trained on procedures and understand key systems on the aircraft they fly.”
Indonesian investigators said on Monday the situation the crew of a doomed Lion Air jet was believed to have faced was not contained in the aircraft’s flight manual. US pilot unions were also not aware of potential risks, pilot unions said.
The FAA and Boeing are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets in the wake of the Lion Air crash, the regulator said on Tuesday.
The American Airlines spokesman said his airline was continuing to work with Boeing and the FAA and would keep pilots informed of any updates.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the manufacturer could not discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation but it had provided two updates for operators around the world that re-emphasize existing procedures to deal with situations relating to MCAS.
“We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX,” she said. “Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing.”