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DC Silver Line Project Facing Another Delay

Monday, July 1, 2019

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In the latest development in Washington, D.C.’s $6 billion Silver Line project, officials have reported that the entire rail line is more than $260 million over budget and all three phases are about 13 months behind schedule.

Centered around necessary mechanical testing at the rail yard, officials say the line might not be up and running until the fall of 2020.

The Saga

Back in May 2018, the Silver Line project was initially rocked by reports that employees of subcontractor Universal Concrete Products, of Stowe, Pennsylvania, falsified concrete test reports, certifying panels that were not made to specification. Andrew Nolan, who served as QC manager at the firm and allegedly oversaw the cooking of the books, pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

The QC team at UCP allegedly changed values on reports indicating the air and water content of the concrete mixtures, and sourced aggregate from a different quarry than it had originally proposed, potentially leaving the door open to the alkali-silica reaction, in which aggregate reacts with cement paste, often creating cracking and spalling.

Ryan Stavely, CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the latest development in Washington, D.C.’s $6 billion Silver Line project, officials have reported that the entire rail line is more than $260 million over budget and all three phases are about 13 months behind schedule.

The whistleblower lawsuit, filed in 2016 by former UCP quality-control employee Nathan Davidheiser, was joined in 2018 by the federal government and commonwealth of Virginia. In addition to the allegations leveled against Nolan, the suit states that company executives ignored internal complaints about the fraudulent practice and in some cases demoted or even terminated employees who attempted to put a stop to the false reports. At the end of September, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Office of the Inspector General announced it would take over the investigation into quality-control issues.

On top of the lawsuit, in the beginning of October, reports indicated that a garage being built as part of the second phase of the project was sinking.

In January 2019, alleged faulty concrete railroad ties came to light; Capital Rail Constructors, a joint venture composed of Clark Construction and Kiewit Infrastructure, had discovered that roughly 400 railroad ties were up to half an inch higher in the center than on the sides.

And in February, the first tests were slated to take place with a two-car train, which was pushed by an older locomotive, but only made it roughly 1,000 feet before encountering issues with the rail—the whole trip is 11 miles. In addition to this set-back, 300 cracks were also found to have formed in buildings that are meant to be used for railcar maintenance for an extension.

As of late March, of the three concrete issues located between Wiehle-Reton and Ashburn, only one had an approved plan to address more than 1,000 faulty framing panels. Additionally, the 451 heavy concrete rail ties installed where trains may switch from one track to another, have angled the rails outward, posing a significant safety risk.

Most recently, in May, Capital Rail Constructors, the contractor responsible for building the second phase of the endeavor, reported that concrete pedestals supporting a station were cracking.

What Now

Michael Barker, operations manager at Hensel Phelps, the general contractor for the rail yard portion of the project (separate from the contract held for the extension by CRC), told the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that even though the yard is about 90% complete, the testing and commissioning progress is going to eat up a lot of time.

“Most of what we’re testing right now is the mechanical systems, the electrical systems making sure they’re operating correctly, and then the last system to be tested is bringing the train on the yard and moving it around the yard,” he said, according to WTOP.

Barker also said, though, that they might be able to make up some time depending on some change orders and the testing process itself.

Elsewhere in the project, the tracks are also still behind schedule, but now have an estimated completion date of summer 2020.

Metro, though, has said it will only begin operations once both stations and the rail yard are ready, which effectively pushes the opening to the fall.

   

Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; Mass transit; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Public Transit; Rail

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