A train derailment in Montana damaged a shipment of jetliner fuselages and other large parts on its way to Boeing factories in Washington state from Spirit Aerosystems, Boeing said.
Boeing said a BNSF Railway Co train loaded with six 737 narrowbody fuselages and assemblies for its 777 and 747 widebody jets derailed in Montana while en route from Wichita last Thursday.
A total of 19 cars in the 90-car train derailed in the incident about 30 km east of Superior, Montana, said Rail Link Montana. The rail company links with BNSF to carry freight from Billings in southern Montana through the state to Spokane, Washington where it links back to BNSF.
Of the derailed cars, three cars carrying 737 plane fuselages went down an embankment and into the Clark Fork River.
Spirit Aerosystems, based in Wichita, Kansas, builds all of Boeing's 737 fuselages and Boeing currently produces 42 finished 737s a month. So the six fuselages involved in the derailment represent 14 per cent of Boeing's monthly production of 737s.
Boeing declined to comment on whether it would seek a second source for the fuselages, as some industry experts have suggested.
The cause of the derailment was not yet known, said Montana Rail Link spokeswoman Lynda Frost, but added that speed was not considered to be an issue. There is a 48 kph speed limit on that section of the track, which is curvy as it tracks the Clark Fork, she said.
The line reopened on Saturday afternoon, Frost said. There were no injuries in the accident.
Boeing's experts are still assessing damages to the six 737 fuselages and said the impacted customers had been notified.
Montana Rail Link called in three contractors to undertake the recovery of the derailed cars, Frost said, but she did not have details of the state of the freight in the derailed cars.
Montana Rail Link, a privately-held company, is investigating the cause of the accident.
Spirit said it was working closely with Boeing following the incident.
"We are confident that, working together, we will overcome whatever challenges may be presented," the company said in a statement.
Spirit shut down temporarily in April 2012 after a tornado severed power lines and damaged buildings in the region. At the time, Boeing said its production system had a cushion to help it handle those disruptions.
The train also was carrying fuselage panels for the 777, and a leading edge flight surface for the 747, the company said.
Boeing said there would be no delay in shipments from supplier Spirit Aerosystems Holdings.
"Alternate rail routes are available for future shipments and we expect to begin loading final assembly per master schedule on Friday," the company said in an internal memo on Monday.
Boeing's production depends on a complex supply chain that deliver many parts just in time for assembly, but the company often has the ability to prevent minor problems in logistics from idling its factories.
The company reported that it delivered 342 jetliners in the first half of the year, including 239 737s, a brisk pace but less than half of its goal of delivering between 715 and 725 jetliners this year.