Jan. 10--Leaders of the company building cars for the Metropolitan Transit Authority's expanding light rail system are increasing their workforce and promising a fast fix to a leak issue that's slowed delivery of the new vehicles.
"If they are having a problem, then to me it is a big problem, even if it is a minor fix," said Andres Arizkorreta, CEO of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, commonly known as CAF. "These are things we must do."
The Spanish company is the parent of CAF U.S.A., which is building 39 railcars to serve riders on Metro's upcoming East and Southeast lines. Metro officials recently expressed concerns that a September deadline was looming and the only CAF car delivered to Houston exceeded weight specifications and failed a key test to detect water leaks.
Arizkorreta flew to Houston on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, he assured Metro officials the water leak would be fixed within 10 days by installing a gasket
Remedying the leak, which was minor, is necessary before the car can enter service by undergoing weeks of on-track testing, interim Metro CEO Tom Lambert said.
"The best thing we can do now is get this one at the test track," Lambert said. "The sooner we do that, the sooner we can build the others."
Additional cars might come at a brisker pace. Manufacture of the cars will accelerate as CAF U.S.A. expands its Elmira, N.Y., plant, Arizkorreta assured Metro.
Officials said they were pleased with the quick corrections.
"I am convinced this is moving in the right direction," Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said.
About 100 workers will be hired specifically to handle Houston railcar building, roughly doubling the staff now handling the order. CAF agreed in writing Thursday to give Metro a revised delivery schedule by Feb. 15.
Designers can't, however, fix an issue causing the cars to weigh about 6,000 pounds more than expected, Lambert said. Any renegotiation of that problem was not included in Thursday's deal. The extra weight may make the cars more expensive to operate.
Metro officials, meanwhile, will work on a plan to roll out service on the two upcoming lines. Crews are expected to finish work in late 2104 on the East Line between downtown and Altic Street, and the Southeast Line between downtown and the Palm Center Transit Center. The two lines will increase Metro's light rail system from about 13 miles to about 21.
The system has 37 railcars now and uses most of them to operate the Red Line between Fannin South and the Northline Commons Transit Center. Without additional cars, riders must wait longer to catch trains spread across the larger system.
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