Unions sue to stop railroad construction

400-SUNRAIL-CONSTRUCTIONThe Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the Florida AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit yesterday to overturn a Florida Department of Transportation decision to award a bid for work on SunRail, the commuter line in central Florida, to a contractor they believe is unqualified for the project.

The unions claim FDOT’s decision is a violation of an agreement they had with the state to use only federally certified signalman for work on the line. They allege the safety of the rail couldn’t be guaranteed under the winner of the bid, RailWorks, a subcontractor for Arthur Western.

“We’re not interested in damages; we’re interested in specific performance of this contract,” union attorney Sid Matthews said. “Because the risk is so high that if you build a substandard track that we have no confidence in, there’s a higher chance that we’re going to have more trouble down the road.”

The unions say the bid process was a “sham”, but filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court without filing a formal bid protest. Matthews said a bid protest with FDOT wasn’t likely to succeed, and taking the matter to the courts is the fastest way to get relief. They claim only one bidder, United Signal, had the qualified workers to receive the bid.

“Why should we go through with a Mickey Mouse bid protest?” Matthews said. “When is a deal a deal in the state of Florida?”

FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad signed a letter in July 2011 agreeing to use a federally certified rail carrier as a contractor for signal construction on SunRail. RailWorks, however, was already conducting maintenance work on the SunRail corridor, but it’s existing work was carved out of the agreement.

The agreement stems from a deal made with lawmakers in 2009 for federally certified workers to perform the SunRail construction.

FDOT contends it never received a responsive bid for the project and still intends to award it to a contractor with workers with federally approved training.

“The (department) went through the procurement process – there were no responsive proposers for the signal maintenance contract. FDOT intends to execute a contract with a rail carrier under federal laws for the signal maintenance work,” FDOT spokesman Dick Kane wrote in an email.

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