A contractor on the Central Subway project has laid down several miles of the wrong kind of track, according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. (Courtesy SFMTA)

City says Central Subway contractor laid down 3.2 miles of the wrong kind of track, prompting new delay

Construction contractors on the $1.6 billion Central Subway project laid down 3.2 miles of the wrong kind of steel track, The City is alleging in a letter obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

In the April 19 letter, The City ordered contractor Tutor Perini to pull out that track and lay higher-strength steel down in its place.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staff wrote to Tutor Perini alleging the contractor laid down 17,000 linear feet of “standard strength” steel, allegedly violating a contract with The City calling for “high strength” steel. The SFMTA said the higher-strength steel was selected to last longer before maintenance is required.

“This is not a safety issue,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose wrote in a statement. But it may lead to another Central Subway delay.

Years ago, planners imagined Muni trains would roll through the Central Subway just after Christmas this year, on Dec. 26, 2018. But construction delays have seen that launch date slip to the end of next year. At an April 3 press event held 120 feet underground at Stockton Street, inside the future Central Subway Chinatown station, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told reporters, “We’re holding with December 2019” for launch.

However, the allegedly incorrect track could lead to at least a month of delays, according to the agency, though the SFMTA is still negotiating its next steps with Tutor Perini. That lower-strength steel was laid from the opening of the tunnel at Fourth and King streets, near where the Central Subway starts, to just past Market and Stockton streets, according to the SFMTA.

When Supervisor Jane Kim was told of the allegations, she exclaimed “No!”

“I want answers,” she said, “I think it certainly raises a lot of questions about the quality of our contract work.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin has called for a hearing into Central Subway delays, which Kim supports. The subway runs through neighborhoods that both supervisors represent.

The letter written by SFMTA Program Manager of Project Delivery Eric Stassevitch to Tutor Perini Central Subway Program Manager Pat Jennings alleges that Tutor Perini and subcontractor Con-Quest Contractors “have been installing steel rails that are not in compliance with [contract] specifications.” Those specifications call for “high-strength, control cooled or vacuum treated carbon steel tee rail” meeting specific requirements.

Click here to read the SFMTA letter to Tutor Perini.

“The SFMTA rejects the non-conforming standard strength rails,” Stassevitch wrote. He added, the “Contractor shall without delay remove [the Non-Conforming steel rail Work] from the Site and replace it promptly with Work and Materials that conform to the Contract Documents.”

Stassevitch also wrote that Tutor Perini must pay “all claims, costs, losses and damages.”

Gerald Cauthen, a retired supervisor engineer who helped build Green and Woods Muni rail yards and worked with Muni when the agency first launched the metro subway in 1980, told the Examiner the mess-up may have to be paid for by Tutor Perini. However, it is likely they may try to file claims against The City to recoup their costs.

“If The City has the proof on this one, I don’t see how Tutor can do anything but comply with it,” Cauthen said. The City might also use the alleged mistake to negotiate away other claims against the agency, he said.

“They’ve got ’em by the … you know,” Cauthen said.

Cauthen said the higher-strength rail may add “years” to the life of the track before replacement is needed.

“Trains run over the steel and it causes vacuum pockets,” he said. “Those pockets gradually get bigger and you can feel it if you ride that train.”

The SFMTA said it is unknown how much this will cost Tutor Perini or The City. Though the letter states Tutor Perini must “promptly” replace the steel, Rose said “we are working with the contractors” to “evaluate whether or not any of the current track can be used going forward.”

“These types of issues do come up on large projects like these,” Rose said in a statement.

Kim said nearby businesses experienced hardship from nearby construction, and even a month-longer delay could harm them. “They operate on such slight margins,” she said.

John Konstin, owner of John’s Grill at 63 Ellis St., said Central Subway construction caused foot traffic to his business to slow.

“There’s no accountability,” Konstin said. “So many people would have been fired if I were part of this job. It just keeps going on and on and on.”

The date of the letter has been changed to reflect it is April 19, not April 18.Transit

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