Tracking more trouble for Grabauskas
MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas has certainly had better weeks and the immediate future doesn't look like it's going to give him any relief. With heat over the looming fare increase and a scathing letter from three MBTA board members seeking his removal because of rider saftey concerns, Grabauskas now has to deal with the growing problem of crumbling railroad ties on the commuter rail lines and a manufacturer balking at stepping up to the plate.
At a press conference touting the T's new alliance with Google to track service and routes, Grabauskas finally got cornered for comment on a story that details how the debt-ridden T may be forced to spend up to $100 million to replace cracking, crumbling, and defective concrete ties on the Old Colony Commuter Rail line south of Boston. The story, which Grabauskas has steadfastly avoided talking about, is in the Summer issue of CommonWealth, released earlier this week.
While so far inspectors have identified nearly 5,000 defective concrete ties and shored some sections up with the old wooden kind, there are potentially 150,000 made by Rocla Concrete Ties at its Delaware plant in the mid-1990s. The ties were made using an apparently faulty mix of concrete, making them vulnerable to the changing Northeast climate that has forced other lines, including Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad, to replace nearly 400,000 defective ties on their rails from the company's same plant purchased around the same time.
Grabauskas, who took no issue with the scale and scope of the problem outlined by CommonWealth, continued to decline comment, but he did reveal that his inability to talk is tied to negotiations with Rocla to back up its 25-year warranty on the 800-pound ties, which are begining to deteriorate after less than a decade of use. Officials told CommonWealth that Rocla, which came to confidential agreements with Amtrak and LIRR even though both systems still had to spend in excess of $125 million each to correct the problem, has threatened the T that it will declare bankruptcy should it be forced to replace the defective ties. Grabauskas said the MBTA's general counsel has advised him not to talk about the issue or Rocla's stance because of the delicate negotiations that are ongoing. He also said CommonWealth's request for documents relating to the purchase and problems with the concrete ties was denied because of the lawyers' advice it would violate the confidential discussions. (T officials sent CommonWealth a letter saying the cost of complying with the document request would be more than $1,500. CommonWealth has appealed that with the Secretary of State's office.)
Grabaukas did say the potential safety problems over the breaking ties are "an exaggeration." While the CommonWealth story cited potential problems with derailments because of defective concrete ties, Grabauskas said the T has constant inspections and vigilance in identifying breaking ties and repairing stretches to allow trains to keep running."If there was any issue over passenger safety, we wouldn't let the trains run," he said.
Photo of Old Colony Line tracks by Meaghan Moore.