It’s becoming almost routine for officials of Metro Rail – yet another delay in the program to rebuild all 27 vehicles roaming the Buffalo subway.
Following the last setback in March 2011, officials of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority confidently predicted the next group of rebuilt transit cars would return to Buffalo rails no later than January 2012.
But now the NFTA acknowledges the program is again significantly behind schedule, with a new batch of Metro Rail cars still undergoing rehabilitation in a Southern Tier shop, more than a year after they were last slated to return to Buffalo.
“We are obviously not pleased with running behind our most recently stated schedule,” said NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer.
Now, Hartmayer said, the $45 million “midlife rebuild program” is more than three years late – and six months behind the latest extended target date.
NFTA officials have summoned executives of the prime contractor on the job – Italian-based AnsaldoBreda Inc. (ABI) – to Buffalo today in hopes of getting some answers. Also at issue will be the possibility of collecting ABI’s $24 million performance bond, which was put up to ensure the project would be done on time.
All of this comes as no surprise to Hornell Mayor Shawn D. Hogan, an outspoken critic of the NFTA and ABI. For several years now, Hogan has blasted the NFTA and ABI for failing to force a timely program and for the delays that resulted in layoffs at a Hornell subcontractor called Gray Manufacturing Inc.
In fact, despite NFTA claims that the next set of transit cars would be returned to Buffalo no later than January 2012, Hogan predicted two years ago it would be at least March 2013 before they would leave AnsaldoBreda’s new facility in Dansville.
Now the NFTA says the best that can be expected is for just one car to be returned to Buffalo in April. Four cars are being rebuilt in Dansville.
Hogan said the NFTA’s acknowledgment of continuing problems and a three-year delay should compel it to call in the $24 million performance bond AnsaldoBreda posted with the authority.
“I just think the citizens of Buffalo deserve delivery on a contract awarded almost seven years ago,” Hogan said. “And it is my business because the lack of performance by ABI is costing my community jobs from which it will never recover.”
Hartmayer said the NFTA hopes to get to the bottom of the problems today.
“We expect the president of ABI to attend, to answer questions as to why we have fallen behind,” Hartmayer said, adding that questions about the delays should be directed to ABI.
Antonio Torcia, AnsaldoBreda’s project manager in Dansville, did not return several calls from The Buffalo News seeking comment.
Hartmayer said the possibility of collecting ABI’s $24 million performance bond to ensure a timely project will be discussed at today’s meeting.
The midlife rebuild program, designed to add at least another 20 years of service to the Metro Rail subway cars built in Japan during the early 1980s, has been plagued by problems from the beginning and is now being done at its third plant.
ABI first subcontracted much of the work to the SuperSteel Inc. locomotive assembly plant in the Schenectady County Town of Glenville back in 2008.
But SuperSteel’s bankruptcy forced AnsaldoBreda to then move the work to Gray Manufacturing in Hornell, a spinoff of transit-car manufacturing facilities taking root there in recent years. But two years ago, ABI left Gray Manufacturing with only disassembly duties for Metro Rail cars, after rebuilding was assigned to its new facility at the former Foster-Wheeler plant in nearby Dansville.
The NFTA said at the time it expected no delays to result. But now it acknowledges that more delays lie ahead.
David Gray, president of Gray Manufacturing, said AnsaldoBreda is now experiencing the complexities of the NFTA assignment. He noted that when the Italian firm stripped Gray Manufacturing of much of its role in the project, it forced his company to seek work from other major transit systems. While he called that a good development for Gray Manufacturing, he noted that the company has never fully recovered the jobs lost from losing most of the NFTA contract.
“We’re still reeling,” he said. “Our employee level now is 12 rather than 24.”
Gray also questioned why the NFTA has not called in the $24 million performance bond AnsaldoBreda posted. He labeled Hogan a “soothsayer and the only one who got it right.”
Hogan, meanwhile, said he remains concerned about how the NFTA has handled the project and the resulting effects on Hornell as well as Buffalo commuters.
“Obviously, ABI has not performed well for the NFTA,” Hogan said. “Why don’t they just call off the contract?”