Concrete Quality Is Latest Setback for Virginia Rail Line
Phase 2 of the Silver Line in Northern Virginia is about 95% finished, project officials say. But a recent uptick in problems with concrete components, quality and other issues will push the already delayed $2.8-billion addition to Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail system at least six months past its original August 2019 target for substantial completion.
Capital Rail Constructors, a joint venture of Clark Construction and Kiewit Infrastructure, began full-scale construction of the design-build project for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in August 2014, soon after passenger service began on the Silver Line’s initial $2.9 billion, 11.5-mile phase, also funded by the authority.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority takes on management and operation of the Silver Line as each phase finishes.
The intervening years have seen a series of component quality issues, ranging from defective precast girders for the elevated guideway across Dulles International Airport property to the discovery of more than 1,500 defective precast panels installed at several stations.
An employee with the panels’ subcontractor, Universal Concrete, admitted in federal court to falsifying quality reports, and was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a $1.4-million fine.
Universal Concrete still faces state and federal lawsuits.
The latest issue to be made public involves cracks in 22 2-ft by 2-ft concrete pedestals designed to anchor glass windscreens at the Dulles Airport station.
Attributed to concrete shrinkage when first observed in April 2018, the cracks were more fully investigated six months later, when they were found to extend several inches deep into loose concrete at several locations.
In the agency’s monthly report to the Federal Transit Administration, MWAA says repairs revealed an absence of confining reinforcing, which, combined with bearing plate anchors damaged during installation, compromised the pedestals’ lateral-load carrying capacity.
The contractor JV's root cause analysis found that “unclear design details were not interpreted correctly by installers in the field,” explains Keith Couch, its project director. He adds that a redesign solution that makes the pedestals unnecessary to support glass walls is currently under review and that the contractor will pay for the repairs.
Parsons Transportation Group is the contractor's lead design partner for tracks and structures, with Dewberry as primary design subcontractor.
The contractor JV and airports authority are also dealing with excessive camber in hundreds of concrete rail ties.
Authority project executive Charles Stark says the problem, discovered in September 2018, may prove less serious than originally thought. A final fix remains elusive, as the transit authotity has rejected the use of shims and other proposed measures out of long-term maintenance concerns.
Another precast panel problem arose last summer at a new rail yard for Silver Line rolling stock, being constructed under a separate contract by Hensel Phelps.
Stark says testing is underway on measures to limit the hairline cracks, likely the result of improper foundation connections that limit the panels’ ability to respond to thermal changes. Hensel Phelps was not available to comment.
While problems with major infrastructure projects are hardly unusual, Stark is nevertheless critical of the contractor JV's oversight efforts. Quality control, he says, “has been an issue, no doubt about that.”
Couch counters that the contractor has maintained a “robust” quality control program throughout the project. “Problems are being solved, and we’re working with owner to understand and accommodate needs,” Couch says, adding that “owner-driven” issues such as testing and interfacing with the existing Silver Line system have also contributed to project delays.
Still, missing the August deadline will cost Clark and Kiewit $100,000 per day in liquidated damages beginning Oct. 7, the airports agency says. For now, Stark is hopeful that progress in other areas of the project, including safe-braking tests of Metrorail trains on completed track sections, will keep completion of the Silver Line from slipping further.
“Both packages are very close to being finished,” he says. “I’m confident we’ll be moving passengers next summer.”