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Air Brake to close Ontario plant, move 50 jobs to Watertown

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New York Air Brake announced Tuesday it will close its Knorr Brake Ltd. facility in Kingston, Ontario, and move to its Watertown headquarters up to 50 jobs to manufacture locomotive braking products.

The phased transition will start in the fall, and operations are expected to cease at the Kingston plant by early 2014, according to an Air Brake news release. The Kingston plant, which was launched in 1974 as a machine shop, produces locomotive brake systems that are transported to Watertown before they are shipped to customers.

The estimated 50 jobs that will be created will support the production of brake systems at the Watertown plant, 748 Starbuck Ave. The company said the move was inspired by its long-term vision to improve its cost structure and make its headquarters in Watertown the sole location for the design, testing and production of heavy-haul freight products.

President Michael J. Hawthorne said in the release that moving production of locomotive products here is a natural step to consolidate manufacturing under one roof. Though the Kingston plant has contributed to productivity gains, he said, two factors motivated the closure.

“First is the globalization of the company's business, which places greater pressure to reduce costs to a level that allows Air Brake to compete effectively in the worldwide marketplace,” he said in the statement. “Second is the strategic direction it has established across the organization to align its factories with its product lines and services to achieve planned productivity, flexibility and efficiency improvements necessary in Watertown if we are going to be successful long term.”

The news will mean the loss of 86 full-time jobs at the 22,000-square-foot Kingston facility, which employs 59 hourly and 27 salaried employees. The company has enlisted outplacement and governmental agencies to assist those employees as they seek new jobs.

Knorr Brake had announced plans in May for an 8,000-square-foot addition to its facility, a $2.2 million project that's now scrapped. The Kingston Whig-Standard reported that 18 jobs would be created by the end of 2013 from the project, designed to expand the plant's production capacity.

Along with manufacturing brake products, Knorr Brake sells after-market parts to Canadian railways.

Mr. Hawthorne did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

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