HIGH POINT, N.C. - Thomas Built Buses will close its Woodstock, Ontario, manufacturing plant later this year as part of a broad cost-cutting strategy by its parent, Freightliner LLC in Portland, Ore. The Woodstock plant has been in operation for 39 years and employs approximately 320 people. It manufactures Thomas’ Type C (conventional) school buses. Production has fallen off to 14 buses per day from 28, officials said. Chris Brandt, a Freightliner spokesman, said the shutdown of the Woodstock plant is permanent. Brandt added that there are no plans for a “large-scale relocation of assembly workers or salaried staff” to Thomas’ main plant in High Point, N.C. Brandt said the High Point manufacturing plant will pick up some of the slack created by the Woodstock plant closure, probably beginning in the first quarter of 2002. Freightliner officials are hoping the restructuring measures, which were announced Oct. 12, will help to return the company to profitability. Under the plan, Freightliner expects to break even by the end of 2002, show a small operating profit in 2003 and reach sustainable profit levels in 2004 and thereafter. Company officials expect the cost-cutting effort will deliver an annual savings at an operating level of $850 million by 2004. Freightliner, a division of DaimlerChrysler, has been deluged in red ink due to a slump in truck sales and its own heavy truck buy-back plan. It hopes to reduce production by 15 percent with its “turnaround plan.” In addition to the planned closing of Thomas’ school bus plant, Freightliner will shutter a truck assembly plant in Kelowna, B.C., in the third quarter of 2002 and plans to close its Portland, Ore., parts manufacturing plant in mid 2002, pending discussions with local unions. Freightliner, which acquired Thomas Built Buses in 1998, also operates the following business units: Freightliner Trucks, Sterling Trucks, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Western Star Trucks, Orion Bus Industries and Freightliner Market Development Corp. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., based in Gaffney, S.C., manufactures the FS-65 chassis, which is the platform for Thomas’ conventional school bus.
OMAHA, Neb. - A school bus carrying 35 members of a high school band and two adults crashed on Oct. 13, killing two students and one adult and injuring more than 30 others. At least seven of the injuries caused by the crash were critical, while 28 others were serious or minor. The bus was returning from a band competition along with a convoy of other school buses when it veered off the road suddenly. It plowed through a guardrail and plunged into a ravine. Police investigators reported that a tour bus may have contributed to the crash by veering into the path of the oncoming school bus. The accident was likely unnoticed by the people aboard the tour bus because it never stopped. According to the Associated Press, the tour bus driver and several other witnesses claim that the tour bus never swerved into the same lane as the school bus. The driver of the school bus was among the critically injured and had not spoken with investigators at press time. The band members attend Seward (Neb.) High School and were returning from a competition at another high school when the accident occurred. After the bus went through the guardrail, it fell about 60 feet, landed in a creek and began filling up with water. The crash claimed the lives of 14-year-olds Benjamin Prescott and Ian Koehler and Tracy Kohlmeier, 40, a mother of one of the band members. Survivors escaped the watery wreckage by climbing through emergency exits. Still, every passenger on the bus was treated at local hospitals for some form of injury. Eyewitness accounts described the accident scene as unreal. Emergency crews were brought to the scene from three nearby suburbs and the city of Omaha to help with the disaster. A large tow truck pulled the bus from the creek and hauled it to the sheriff’s office for inspection by the National Transportation Safety Board. Parents and students gathered together at nearby high schools to mourn in the wake of the accident, and counselors remained at Seward High School for at least a week.