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Independent Review of Metro Rail Safety Urged : Transportation: A congressman wants quality of tunnel construction studied.


Saying that federal taxpayers should get what they pay for and that Los Angeles subway passengers' safety must be safeguarded, a key member of the House transportation committee called Wednesday for an independent review of the construction quality of the tunnels.

"When we pay for Metro Rail subway tunnels that are required to have 12-inch-thick concrete, that is exactly what we should receive," said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.). "We need the best experts available to review this situation immediately to ensure that the Red Line does not operate with tunnels which, under stress, pose a safety risk."

Last year, based on Duncan's requests, both the FBI and the federal General Accounting Office opened investigations of Metro Rail contracting and management practices.

On Wednesday, Duncan urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena to initiate an independent review of the concrete tunnels. Duncan said the review could be undertaken by technical staff of the transportation department or the office of the agency's inspector general. Pena was touring flood-damaged areas of the Midwest on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Duncan cited an article in Sunday's Times that reported that numerous areas of the tunnels between Union Station and Pershing Square were built with less concrete than specified in their design. The article also disclosed that officials of the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority have tightened the subway project's concrete inspection procedures because of problems that emerged during construction of the 1.9 miles of tunnel in question.

Local transit officials and executives of the tunnel contractor, Tutor-Saliba Corp., have said they believe that all necessary reinforcing of thin concrete was made before the system opened on Jan. 30, 1992.

Radar testing of the tunnels in August, 1992, identified 40 separate areas spanning 2,082 feet of about 10,000 feet of tunnel between Union Station and Pershing Square that may be just six to eight inches thick. After reviewing two-inch-diameter corings removed from 16 of those 40 areas, transit officials decided last fall to reinforce with steel plates only 90 feet of the tunnel concrete.

Edward McSpedon, president of the MTA's Rail Construction Corp. subsidiary, has said that he puts more stock in the corings than the radar results and that he believes the tunnels are safe and sound. He too called for a federal review on Monday.

Duncan said he is not urging Pena to appoint any specific team of outside investigators. He added, however, that he thinks the department should go further than directing only its on-site consultant for Metro Rail, Hill International, to report regarding the tunnels.

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