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Izquierdo: Urban Train On Track

Work on the $1.9 billion project places overall progress rate at 86%; September 2003 completion date stands


February 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

A year after the Calderon Administration took over the Urban Train rail transit project—the most complex and expensive engineering project in Puerto Rico’s history—Department of Transportation & Public Works Secretary Jose Izquierdo told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that the overall progress of the project stands at 86% and the September 2003 completion date remains in place.

Originally slated for completion in July 2001, the first phase of the project, which encompasses 16 stations on 10.68 miles of track from Bayamon to Santurce, was pushed back to May 2002, then back again to September 2003 because of construction problems encountered by the different contractors.

When completed, the UT’s bill is projected to run at $1.91 billion, a $660 million increase from the original $1.25 billion cost estimate made in 1996. The project’s ultimate cost will depend on the final negotiations with contractors, as there are still millions in outstanding claims pending.

A progress report by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG)—dated September 2001 and released last month—raised concerns over the Urban Train’s (UT) numerous unresolved schedule & technical issues, ranging from construction delays, manpower shortages, to frozen federal funds and contractors’ outstanding claims for delay damages.

The progress report, OIG Summary of Federal Transit Authority’s (FTA) Project Management Oversight Reports (PMO), contains summarized key status information for all major U.S. federally funded transit projects, including the UT, and is based on observations by congressional staff and the OIG’s own audit experience.

Inspector General Kenneth Mead visited the island in July and inspected the project (CB July 19, 2001).

The federal government will chip in some $307 million for the UT project, of which $165 million had been frozen until UT officials showed the FTA that they were resolving the many schedule, technical, and financial issues related to the project.

DTOP meets FTA’s conditions

"We have been working hard all year long to comply," Izquierdo told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS during an exclusive interview. "We complied with 100% of all their requirements, getting the endorsement of the FTA’s Atlanta office for the release of the funds."

The rumor is that the check will be delivered during the OIG’s quarterly meeting with Izquierdo this week, the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP by its Spanish acronym) secretary said.

According to the Izquierdo, the FTA placed three conditions for releasing the frozen funds, which the agency fully met.

"One condition was to resolve the nonconforming reports, submitting a new financial plan as well as an integrated master schedule that included all the project contractors," said Izquierdo.

Originally there were 110 nonconforming reports, and all have been taken care of, stated Izquierdo.

The FTA requested that the DTOP present a new financial plan because the last plan submitted was based on the original $1.6 billion cost estimate, Izquierdo explained, adding that the FTA needed to determine where funds would come from, and the project’s year-to-year cash flow.

"The integrated master schedule is of utmost importance, because there are seven major contractors working on the project, and one of them—Siemens—not only involves the Guaynabo section of the project, but also maintenance, installation of tracks, the project’s electrical system, and its controls," said Izquierdo. "Since Siemens interacts with all the other construction contracts, it is important to have all schedules integrated to avoid delays."

Last year, DTOP provided an integrated master schedule for review, but it did not have Siemens’ concurrence. According to Izquierdo, the new integrated master schedule has Siemens’ blessing. Siemens will also operate the system for the first five years.

Contractors’ outstanding claims

When Izquierdo took over the agency and the project in January 2000, three contracts had been renegotiated by the Rossello administration, and four others were pending.

"Right now we have two contracts to renegotiate, one is with KKZ (Kewitt Kelly Zachary), in charge of the Rio Piedras section, and the other one is with Siemens," said Izquierdo. "The contract with Nesco (in charge of the Hato Rey section) was renegotiated, and we gave them some financial incentives to finish their work. You can bet they are working very hard to get those incentives."

Hato Rey’s guideway section was 50% completed a year ago and now is 99% completed, Izquierdo noted.

KKZ’s claim, responsible for the Rio Piedras section, is for $84 million, while Siemens is for $149.7 million.

KKZ’s contract provided for the use of a dispute resolution board, which was done Oct. 1. The board has not reached a verdict, but one is expected at any moment, Izquierdo noted.

"The contractor [KKZ] is working at full speed, and delivery of the Rio Piedras stations is slated for September of this year," said Izquierdo. "That’s good news for us because with its underground station, that is the most complex part of the project."

As for the negotiations with Siemens, the agency and the contractor could not reach a settlement by the Jan. 30 deadline, so they will go into arbitration, Izquierdo said. They are in the process of selecting a referee and setting the guidelines. If no settlement is reached by this summer, the September 2003 completion date may be jeopardized.

Progress on tracks & stations construction

Siemens started laying 1,640 feet (500 meters) of track beyond the Guaynabo section, between Jardines de Caparra and Torrimar stations in September.

The tracks now reach the Bayamon sports complex, and once tracks have been installed up to the Bayamon station, crews will move towards the Medical Center and Villa Nevarez stations and continue until the entire route to Santurce is completed. Track installation is at 17% right now.

"Siemens started an aggressive track installation program, and we are very happy with their progress," Izquierdo said.

The Domenech, Roosevelt, and Sagrado Corazon stations in the Hato Rey area were not yet under construction last year, while the Hato Rey and Piñero stations were at 15% and 25% respectively, Izquierdo said.

"The Hato Rey and Piñero stations are now at 55% complete and 64% complete, while the Domenech, Roosevelt, and Sagrado Corazon stations are at 53%, 35%, and 45% complete respectively," said Izquierdo, "The Hato Rey area was the last section of the project to start construction."

Problems with rail cars

Izquierdo admitted several problems with the rail cars, of which 11 of 70 cars have been delivered so far. Nose panel and air conditioning problems were detected in Pueblo, Colorado where each car was subjected to a 4,000-mile operational test.

Testing was performed in Colorado because Puerto Rico has insufficient track available for the test, although some calibration tests have been performed in the Guaynabo area.

Several Guaynabo neighborhoods complained about noise during the nightly testing and as a result, some tests could not be performed during the holidays, causing some delays.

According to Izquierdo, a new landscaping proposal, which includes the construction of sound barriers, has been presented to residents so that nightly testing could continue.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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