After three years of delays, Metro Rail officials now say a new production plan should accelerate by eight months their project to rebuild the Buffalo subway fleet – and at no additional cost.
An urgent meeting convened Wednesday between the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and officials of Italian rail equipment giant AnsaldoBreda addressed the latest delays with a plan to return all 27 Metro Rail cars to Buffalo by the end of 2015, according to NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer.
Though critics of the problem-plagued rebuilding program have suggested the NFTA should call in a $24 million performance bond posted by AnsladoBreda to ensure a timely project, Hartmayer said the plan negotiated Wednesday will avoid further delays and put the production schedule back on track.
“We have a plan here,” he said. “The bond is a measure of last resort and we are far from that.”
The meeting took place at NFTA headquarters Wednesday after The Buffalo News inquired about continuing delays in the program that is now centered in Dansville – the third facility devoted to the project.
Hornell Mayor Shawn D. Hogan, who has lambasted AnsaldoBreda and the NFTA for the delays that resulted in layoffs at a subcontractor’s plant in his city, had strongly suggested that the authority at least call in the performance bond and possibly replace the firm with a new prime contractor.
Hogan even predicted in March of 2011 that the NFTA would not receive delivery of another rebuilt car for two years – far beyond the original schedule – after AnsaldoBreda stripped Gray Manufacturing Industries of Hornell of much of its duties in connection with the project. Last week he noted his prediction came true while at least a dozen former workers at Gray Manufacturing remained on layoff.
But Hartmayer countered Wednesday that calling in the bond or finding another contractor would only delay the project more while increasing costs now pegged at more than $40 million. He added that it is not unusual for such sophisticated rebuild projects to encounter significant delays.
“If Mayor Hogan wants to derive satisfaction in being right about his prediction, so be it,” Hartmayer said. “Our focus is on the future, not the past.”
The authority spokesman said the Wednesday meeting revealed that delays resulted from one of AnsaldoBreda’s main parts suppliers going out of business. He said the company also has encountered problems in retaining workers at its former Foster-Wheeler plant in Dansville because of the temporary nature of the contract. In some cases, he said, workers left AnsaldoBreda for more permanent opportunities.
“All that has compounded the problem,” he said.
Hartmayer said the project now will be expedited by sending an extra car to Dansville in the near future to enter the rebuild assembly line. The end result, he said, will be the return of Car 126 this spring, with Cars 110, 111 and 113 slated to return to Buffalo by the end of the year. They then face 600 hours of testing in the subway and additional trials before they can be assigned to revenue service.
The new schedule means the entire project will be completed by the end of 2015, he added, instead of the most recent time table of August 2016.
Because the newly refurbished cars cannot operate with the NFTA’s older models – built by Tokyu Car Co. in Japan in the early 1980s – the new schedule also will allow more operating flexibility for the authority when the cars are returned. .
Wednesday’s meeting involved NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel; Antonio Torcia, AnsaldoBreda project manager; and Mauro Melani, AnsaldoBreda general manager.
“Today’s meeting was very positive,” Minkel said Wednesday. “Collectively, we identified a strategy that will address the current lag in production and reduce the overall time frame of the total project.”