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NFTA OKs fixing rail car wheels

The three-year delay in the program to rebuild all 27 Metro Rail cars continues to cause trouble for transit officials who must now ship out deteriorating wheel assemblies for repair far earlier than planned to ensure safety.

Commissioners of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority learned Monday that because of a lengthening history of problems in the $40 million contract to rehabilitate the entire fleet of light rail vehicles, some wheel assemblies -- called trucks -- must now be taken out of service and shipped for early maintenance at AnsaldoBreda Inc. facilities in Dansville.

"The potential exists that if we delay much longer we may have to pull a car out of service specifically because of safety," said NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer. "That's our main concern."

But some NFTA officials are becoming increasingly uneasy with the delays as Commissioners Kevin J. Helfer and James J. Eagan voted against committing about $117,000 to the project, despite optimism among authority staffers that the money can eventually be recouped. Helfer and Eagan, who were outvoted, 8-2, cited the continuing delays stemming from AnsaldoBreda's inability to agree with NFTA officials on contractual specifics after work at a subcontractor plant in Hornell.

But NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said AnsaldoBreda's decision to perform the work itself at the former Foster-Wheeler plant in Dansville is resulting in progress.

"This project has been very challenging," she said. "But I have to say that in the last couple of months, we've seen tremendous progress."

The project was plagued first by the bankruptcy of contractor Super Steel Inc. at its locomotive assembly plant in Glenville in Schenectady County and most recently by the contract difficulties that continued to delay the delivery of finished vehicles from Hornell. But two Metro Rail cars were returned to Buffalo over the winter and are now undergoing testing during night trials on the subway system.

The two cars are expected to return to service in late summer or early fall, clearing the way for the rest of the fleet to be shipped to Dansville.

Acting on the advice of counsel, Minkel urged approval of the wheel-assembly work in order to accelerate the truck rehabilitation program to ensure safety and service continuity.

"We would have to pull some cars," she said, "and that would affect service."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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