Workers install temporary gaskets during initial track placement work along 4th north of King. The SFMTA alleges contractors laid more than three miles of tracks made of the wrong type of steel. (Courtesy SFMTA)

Emails show SFMTA knew of wrong steel purchase for Central Subway tracks

The City was aware contractors planned to purchase what officials now say was the wrong type of steel for the Central Subway’s tracks as far back as 2015, new documents obtained by the San Francisco Examiner suggest.

The revelation comes after transportation officials called for construction contractors to pull those tracks out and replace them, alleging the contractors purchased and installed the wrong type of steel. Emails obtained by the Examiner, however, show the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency had knowledge that the steel was ordered by contractors three years ago.

City officials have said the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, which stretches from South of Market to Chinatown, could be delayed at least another month because contractor Tutor Perini and its subcontractor, Con-Quest Contractors, inc., laid 3.2 miles worth of “standard” strength steel. The SFMTA said the project instead called for “high” strength steel, according to an email.

Tutor Perini and Con-Quest Contractors Inc. have denied The City’s claims and said it could cost $2.6 million to replace the tracks.

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

The subway was originally slated to debut in December 2018, but that launch had already been delayed to December 2019. The latest month-long delay may push the project into 2020. Though SFMTA has said the project is within budget, an independent audit showed contractors had made 80 claims against The City totalling $29.98 million as of February.

The SFMTA and its contractors are now in talks to decide if the 17,000 linear feet of steel track must be replaced, as the SFMTA ordered in an April 19 letter to Tutor Perini and Con-Quest. Transit officials have alleged the contractor was at fault.

But sources with knowledge of the project on Thursday shared additional emails with the Examiner that allege the SFMTA had documents in its possession for years showing standard strength steel was used on the project.

In an email to the SFMTA dated April 24, Con-Quest Contractors Project Manager Andy Baksheeff said his company is in “full compliance” with contract documents, and that the contract for the Central Subway calls for high-strength steel to be used only in “fixation track” and “special track work,” including track within certain turn radii.

Those conditions occur “nowhere within the track alignment” of the Central Subway, Baksheeff wrote, “thus standard strength rail is to apply as was submitted and approved.”

Additionally, in its rebuttal to the SFMTA’s request, Con-Quest attached a 2015 letter from an SFMTA Central Subway staffer who wrote “it is SFMTA’s intent to issue a joint check direct to each vendor” for materials, including $847,516 to purchase “New Domestic 115# RE Rail, Standard Strength, Blank Ends, 80’ Lengths.”

That letter was written by SFMTA Central Subway program manager Eric Stassevitch, who also wrote the letter to Tutor Perini ordering the removal of standard strength steel, alleging high-strength steel was meant to be used instead.

To read the 2015 email from SFMTA to Tutor Perini, click here.

Baksheeff also wrote that if The City intended for all rail furnished on the project to be high strength then the contract documents “should have clearly stated the words ‘High Strength,’” which Baksheeff wrote would have “eliminated any ambiguity.”

The track currently installed in the Central Subway is “within six percent” of the rail hardness the SFMTA is requesting in the replacement track, he wrote.

Con-Quest offered the SFMTA two scenarios to replace Central Subway’s track: Contractors could replace only the track near Central Subway train stations for $385,200, or replace all of the project’s steel rails for $2.6 million.

The SFMTA denied Con-Quest’s allegations and said an independent auditor had verified high strength steel was required on the project. SFMTA could not furnish reports from those independent auditors before deadline.

“The higher grade steel has always been specified within the contract,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the Examiner. “There has not been a contract modification to change that requirement, so it remains clear that the higher grade rail should have been installed.”Transit

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