Long delays in the program to rebuild all 27 vehicles belonging to Metro Rail seem to be resolved – for the moment – as a result of tough negotiating by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority with officials of Italian rail equipment giant AnsaldoBreda Inc. (ABI).
This is a decent outcome given the circumstances.
Recently, the NFTA acknowledged that the program is again significantly behind schedule. The last time a setback was reported was in March 2011, when NFTA officials predicted the next group of rebuilt transit cars would return to Buffalo no later than January 2012. That statement was delivered with believable confidence, even though it turned out not to be the case.
The result would have put the $45 million “mid-life rebuild program” more than three years late and six months behind the latest target date.
But the heart-to-heart NFTA officials had with Italian-based ABI produced results and turned delay into acceleration by eight months and a plan to return all 27 Metro Rail cars to Buffalo by the end of 2015.
This is a dramatic turn that required an urgent meeting between NFTA and ABI officials. It came after The News inquired about continuing delays in the program, currently centered in Dansville, the third facility to work on the project.
Hornell Mayor Shawn D. Hogan, outspoken critic of the deal, was the one to sound the alarm. Even though his town lost much of the work through the process, he remained actively interested. In fact, he began to look like the “soothsayer and the only one who got it right,” as David Gray, president of Gray Manufacturing in Hornell, said.
Gray said his company was adversely affected when ABI took much of the work from his company a couple of years ago. Rebuilding was assigned to ABI’s new facility at the former Foster Wheeler plant in nearby Dansville. Gray Manufacturing and, by extension, Hornell, have been struggling to recover from the lost work.
The latest delay only exacerbated the loss – so much so that Hogan suggested that ABI’s $24 million performance bond – put up to ensure the project would be completed on time – should have been called.
However, doing so would have been complicated and time-consuming, according to an NFTA official. As it turns out, it is not unusual for such sophisticated rebuilding projects to encounter significant delays. The project is being expedited by sending an extra car to Dansville in the near future to enter the rebuild assembly line.
Assurances have been given that this lengthy process will conclude by the end of 2015. If it doesn’t happen, NFTA officials should consider their options.