Concerns that Caltrain’s landmark electrification project will be delayed intensified last week after it was announced construction has hit yet another roadblock.
“I have extreme concerns about this project,” said Caltrain Board Member Dev Davis, also a San Jose councilwoman, at a meeting April 7. “I don’t see any way [the electrification project] is going to be complete according to its current schedule.”
If the $1.9 billion project is delayed, then additional funds will likely be required.
During the meeting, Caltrain board members learned Balfour Beatty, the contractor responsible for electrifying the rail corridor, will be pausing construction of the foundations for the overhead power lines for the rest of May.
“I’m very concerned to hear Balfour is planning to pause the foundation work yet again until the end of May so we lose yet another month,” Davis said.
According to John Funghi, chief officer of Caltrain’s Modernization Program, the foundation work is being paused this time because Balfour Beatty is running out of rebar cages needed for the job. That’s because Balfour Beatty failed to order more of them on time, Funghi added.
“The cause of the foundation work stoppage is the late ordering of the rebar cages by Balfour and the late design issue resolution by Balfour,” Funghi said, adding his team urged Balfour Beatty to reconsider the pause and explore other options of continuing the foundation work.
To stay on schedule and complete the remaining 1,380 foundations by the end of the year, an average of 174 foundations must be completed a month. Davis claimed fewer than 50 foundations have been completed a month on average since the work began.
But Funghi has argued monthly averages don’t provide the full picture as some months 50 foundations may be installed while other months are scheduled to see as many as 300 foundations installed.
During the meeting, Funghi suggested the work will still be completed on time, arguing past performance is not indicative of future performance.
“Past production for the foundation rate per month doesn’t necessarily translate to the ability to complete the future foundations,” he said.
Davis isn’t buying that argument.
“John you have said that for the last three months at least, including two of the months where we had zero foundations,” she said. “I’m sorry but I cannot believe it any longer.
“We have to get [Balfour] to stick to a schedule and there have to be real consequences for them not sticking to the schedule,” she added.
Board Member Dave Pine, also a San Mateo County supervisor, echoed the sentiment.
“We’ve had struggles with Balfour on these foundations from the very beginning and their credibility on promising things at least with respect to these foundations is very, very low,” he said, and described the May delay as a “serious setback.” “It’s indisputable that Balfour has never been able to deliver on its promises.”
Multiple people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and also criticized Balfour Beatty for providing what they described as a series of excuses for why monthly foundation goals haven’t been met.
A representative for Balfour Beatty after the meeting declined to comment on the situation.
Despite the discouraging news, Caltrain staff after the meeting again expressed optimism moving forward, noting that Balfour Beatty has provided an “achievable” schedule for completing the foundation work on time.
“Balfour needs to complete 1,380 foundation installations by the end of this year to meet our milestone. Balfour has laid out an achievable schedule to meet that goal that Caltrain has approved, and we will hold them accountable to that schedule,” according to the statement.
Caltrain officials will discuss in greater detail the timeline for the foundation work and budget for the project at the next board meeting.
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