The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Phoenix's Light Rail Literally Starts to Crack

Light-rail cracks: Who is at fault?

Casey Newton
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 15, 2008 12:00 AM
With the cause of the light-rail system's cracks identified, attention shifted on Friday to who is responsible for the damage.

A consultant found that the use of plasma torches caused rails to break throughout the Valley's light-rail system, but Metro light rail hasn't determined who authorized their use during construction of the $1.4 billion project.

Repairing and replacing damaged rails from central Phoenix to Mesa will cost up to $1 million, Metro light-rail Chief Executive Rick Simonetta said Friday at a news conference.

Metro light rail will ask the companies responsible for the use of torches to pay for the damage.

The work is not expected to cause the project to go over budget or miss its scheduled Dec. 27 opening, Simonetta said.

Meanwhile, light-rail crews are working to repair and replace 17 damaged areas and may need to replace up to 15 more, said Brian Buchanan, Metro's director of construction.

Contractors improperly used torches to create drainage for the light-rail system, weakening the steel, according to a report from Zeta-Tech Associates. When temperatures dropped this winter, the rails contracted, pulling apart in nine places and leaving gaps of up to 7 inches in the line. The light-rail agency has called a meeting with the firm that designed the system, Parsons Brinckerhoffer Americas, and with the construction administrator, whose job includes quality control. The construction-administration contract belongs to a joint venture between Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan Inc. and PGH Wong Engineering.Metro light rail is in a delicate position as it tries to recoup its losses from those responsible even as those same consultants work to finish construction. Metro officials did not refer to any of its consultants or contractors by name on Friday, acknowledging an effort to settle the issue amicably.

"We want to do that in as peaceful a way as possible," Simonetta said.

He added that the relatively inexpensive cost to fix the system will make it easier to get the money back.

"Assigning that responsibility gets a little easier when it's not a hundred-million-dollar problem," he said.

Metro light rail is reviewing construction documents to determine who told contractors to use the torches, Buchanan said. Metro does not typically monitor construction practices in the field, he said.

Judy Cooper, a spokeswoman for Parsons Brinckerhoffer, declined to comment Friday on the firm's construction methods.

"All questions relating to that project need to go back to the client," Cooper said, referring to Metro light rail.

Post, Buckley and PGH Wong did not respond to requests for comment.

Officials at Metro light rail cast the Zeta-Tech report in a positive light, saying the problem was limited in scope and could be fixed relatively easily.

"The good news is this is not really turning out to be a very time-consuming or very expensive process," Simonetta said of the repair effort.

Still, the damaged rails have brought about unwanted delays as Metro light rail enters its final months of construction on the 20-mile starter line. Metro suspended high-speed testing of trains along Washington Street, where some of the damage was discovered. The testing is scheduled to resume next week.

Officials would not speculate on who was responsible for allowing torches to be used on the project, beyond saying that Metro light rail had been unaware of the practice.

"Somebody probably asked permission to use a plasma cutter, and somebody said that doesn't sound too bad, as long as we follow up and do the right thing," Simonetta said. "We just were not involved in those kinds of decisions."

Metro light rail Chairman Tom Simplot pledged to hold any negligent parties accountable for the rail damage.

"If a mistake was made, those responsible will be paying for that mistake," said Simplot, a Phoenix councilman.

About 96 percent of the project is finished, officials said, with one mile of rail left to lay.

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