Fired Quality-Control Engineer Alleges Defective Subway Work


Echoing complaints made by other recently fired inspectors, a former quality-control worker contended Monday that he has catalogued numerous examples of shoddy construction on the Metro Red Line subway project--bad work that he said was covered up by falsified inspection reports.

"Let me assure all of you here . . . that your contract files are littered with falsified, phony inspection reports," quality-control engineer Mike Quint told the directors of the Rail Construction Corp., the construction arm of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

At the same meeting, the Rail Construction Corp. board approved $684,092 to change the interior color scheme of Red Line subway cars to beige and brownish-red from pastel yellow and bright red. The first cars are being test-run under downtown Los Angeles.

Quint's charges were discounted as not provable by Rail Construction Corp. President Edward McSpedon and dismissed as "utter nonsense" and "a dirty . . . bunch of lies" by builder Ron Tutor. Tutor-Saliba Corp./S.J. Groves Joint Venture is the prime contractor on the Union Station-to-Pershing Square tunnel in question.

Tutor, whose Sylmar-based company has teamed with several partners to perform a large share of Red Line construction, recently filed a multimillion-dollar claim against the Rail Construction Corp., accusing the agency of failing to pay for tasks in the contract and for work added after the contract was signed, as well as for delays and accelerated work schedules to make up for the delays.

Officials at Quint's former employer, Parson-Dillingham Deleuw Cather, a joint venture that manages the Red Line construction project for the Rail Construction Corp., could not be reached for comment Monday night. Neither could the district attorney's office investigator who has been checking on Quint's allegations for nearly a year.

Tutor, who said he had neither heard of Quint nor his complaints until Monday, said all work is up to specifications and the tunnels and stations are safe.

"Design is 150% of fail-safe," he said. He added that oversights that occurred--which he said is common on all large, complex construction jobs--have been corrected.

Similar assurances were made by John Adams, Rail Construction Corp. vice president, in a 10-page letter to the district attorney's investigator looking into Quint's accusations. Adams wrote that builders are required to repair "any failure or defect . . . for at least one year" after tunnels and stations are finished.

In the letter, copies of which he gave out at the meeting, Quint alleged that construction errors, oversights and omissions could pose significant safety or operational problems, particularly in the event of an earthquake.

"There are areas in the tunnel liner where the required reinforcing steel . . . is missing (because) the tunnel inspectors and the chief inspector did not bother to look at contract drawings," Quint alleged.

Plastic liners that are supposed to keep water and explosive gases out of the stations and tunnels do not work because they were improperly installed, torn during construction or not tested as required, Quint asserted.

"Some inspectors were intimidated into overlooking or not reporting these items for fear of getting flak from both the contractor and the chief inspector," he wrote to the investigator. "The system was blatantly, repeatedly and knowingly disregarded."

Quint offered no evidence to support his allegations. He said the only way to prove them is to hire an outside testing company to electronically scan suspect station platforms and chisel into tunnel liners.

Documents indicate that officials have taken his charges seriously, although they have not confirmed them.

Quint has alleged that on Aug. 22, 1990, steel reinforcing bars were missing when the concrete was poured to create the Civic Center station platform. Adams, of Rail Construction Corp., acknowledged the existence of that problem, but told investigators that "the contractor slid rebar in from the end of the forms and corrected this situation."

Quint, fired in April, 1990, insists it was not corrected. "The chief inspector says the reinforcing steel is in place and I say it is not," he responded. "The evidence to support my observation is solidly encased in concrete at the Civic Center station."

A similar incident occurred on Oct. 22, 1990, when Quint said he returned from vacation to find the contractor ready to pour concrete to create the roof over the southwest corner of the Civic Center station. Although another quality-control engineer had approved that move on the previous Saturday, Quint said he found that steel reinforcing bars were missing, as were some plastic foam-packed construction joints and embedded conduits. He said he persuaded a superior to stop the work, but only after several truckloads of concrete were wasted.

It is not known if this incident is among those referred to in Tutor's recently filed claim against Rail Construction Corp. Tutor's lawyer, Nomi L. Castle, declined to discuss the claim.

On another occasion, Quint alleged that hours-old concrete was poured into a "structurally integral portion of the tunnel arch support" and that the concrete solidified before it could be vibrated to remove air bubbles--a situation that he said was repeated elsewhere.

Quint said he and another worker told managers about it, but he said his colleague later told him that only half of the weak, porous concrete had been removed. Adams acknowledged the situation but said workers had removed all of the bad concrete they could identify.

Quint further alleged that in March, 1991, workers trying to fix water leaks in the plastic tunnel liners inadvertently drilled a hole through a plastic electrical conduit because it was not installed where drawings said it was supposed to be. Drawings often were ignored in this fashion, Quint contends.

Again, Adams acknowledged existence of the incident in his letter to the district attorney's office, but said it was not serious and not indicative of a larger, more serious problem.

Other allegations by Quint range from the spontaneous use of improper escalator brackets to structural welding deficiencies at Metro Center, a Red Line station that serves as the final stop on the Metro Blue Line.

Rail Construction Corp. board members declined to question Quint after his public presentation, but they did approve the new Red Line color scheme, as well as some modifications that will simplify maintenance of the subway cars' interiors.

Staff members recommended the changes after deciding that the original color scheme, chosen by the rival RTD, would have created too much "visual noise" that would, in turn, result in "higher anxiety levels and reduced tolerance levels in people."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World