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Quality Control Issues Plague Silver Line

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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According to the Washington Metro inspector general, new quality control concerns have been identified with the second phase work on Washington D.C. Metro’s Silver Line project.

If not corrected, Inspector General Geoffrey A. Cherrington claims that the issues “will create extraordinary cost, maintenance and operational issues early once WMATA [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] takes ownership and control of this project.”

Silver Line 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 last August to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

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

According to the Washington Metro inspector general, new quality control concerns have been identified with the second phase work on Washington D.C. Metro’s Silver Line project.

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.

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.

Months later, 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.

Most recently in July, officials reported that the entire rail line is more than $260 million over budget and all three phases are roughly 13 months behind schedule.

What’s Happening Now

The Washington Post reports that a sampling of sealant applied to defective concrete panels in an attempt to prevent water from seeping in, is failing in some cases and leaving panels vulnerable to cracking. The sealant is reported to have already been applied to hundreds of defective concrete panels.

Cherrington advised Metro that unless the panels are replaced or the contractor develops a new solution, the work shouldn’t be accepted.

In addition to sealant issues, inspection teams also found problems with the rail yard, which is being built concurrently with the rail line. Cherrington added that drainage issues and track shifting could also become present due to too small pieces of rock found in the ballast for track beds.

“Capital Rail Constructors (CRC) has just received WMATA’s OIG’s alert and we are in the process of reviewing and assessing the information,” said Keith Couch, project director for CRC.

“At this time, we continue to proceed with the previously accepted solution and are applying sealant to the panels. CRC’s priority is to work closely with MWAA and WMATA to agree on viable solutions that bring the Phase 2 of the Silver Line to a successful completion. We are confident that we can arrive at a solution that satisfies WMATA’s expectations for safety, quality, performance and long-term maintenance for project.”

Although presented with these issues, project officials predict that the budget for the second phase of the project won’t go over. However, officials also note that they haven’t tallied the costs for the months of additional delays and order changes that have accumulated since construction began. It is reported that these costs could easily eat into the project’s $550 million contingency fund.

Phase 2 is 11.5 miles long, includes six stations and encompasses a $2.8 billion budget. Originally slated to begin carrying passengers by January 2020, the project now expects to be up and running by mid- to late 2020.


Tagged categories: Coating inspection; concrete; Concrete coatings and treatments; Concrete defects; Concrete resurfacing systems; Inspection; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Paint defects; Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Protective Coatings; Quality control; Rail; Railcars; Sealant; Waterproofing

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/17/2019, 8:10 AM)

And the article didn't even mention the contractor used the wrong size aggregate for the ballast under the tracks. Why isn't the contractor required to replace all the defective items at their own cost? Silane sealant on reactive-aggregate concrete panels isn't going to be nearly as durable as properly formulated concrete panels.

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