Monday, October 26, 2009

Governor pushes for action on Connecticut rail yard

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Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that she would push ahead with plans to borrow $100 million so that the state can build a key part of the New Haven rail yard, the Hartford Courant reports. One of Connecticut's biggest contractors recently offered to build a 293,000-square-foot maintenance center for rail cars that was only about half as expensive as transportation officials and a consultant had projected.

To secure that price, Rell will recommend that the State Bond Commission approve $100 million in borrowing. That will enable the state Department of Transportation to sign a contract for the $124.8-million price that O & G Industries of Torrington offered in its bid.

The rail yard is part of the massive Metro-North upgrade project that Rell proposed in 2005, and the "change-out shop"-where mechanics will swap out malfunctioning components for new ones-is the centerpiece of that operation.

"To keep to our timetable, it is critical that we move forward with work on the 'change-out' shop as soon as possible. Doing so will also have the added-and always-welcome-benefit of creating new jobs," Rell said. "Keeping this project on budget is every bit as important as keeping it on time."

Rell has promised to improve reliability of Metro-North's busy New Haven to Grand Central line by replacing most of its deteriorating fleet of 30- to 37-year-old passenger cars. The state plans to spend the next three years phasing them out in favor of ultra-modern M-8 models to be built by Kawasaki. The M-8 design is substantially different - and more complex - than the existing cars, and the DOT and Metro-North plan to completely redo the New Haven rail yard to maintain them.

The new cars will be modular; the plan is to minimize down time by having components replaced-rather than repaired-at the change-out shop. So instead of a car being sidelined for days or weeks, mechanics should be able to pull off defective parts, install new ones and quickly send the cars back into service.

DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said the agency is still discussing whether to accelerate the rail yard construction schedule to take advantage of the weak market. The state previously authorized $300 million for various elements of the project.

The DOT is considering stepping up the schedule to build a wheel-milling building and a diesel storage yard while contractors are still hungry for work.

The DOT and state lawmakers attribute O & G's surprisingly low bid to deep unemployment in the construction field. Five other contractors also offered prices far below the $250 million that Rell proposed in her most recent capital budget. Legislators have said it's essential for the DOT to carefully monitor actual construction of the change-out shop to prevent costly last-minute design changes.

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