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Texts, Lies and Concrete

Lies about product quality and doctored test data turned a $4M contract into a mega lawsuit.

The Silver Line is a $5.8 billion high-speed rail project running from Northern Virginia through Washington D.C. and eventually into Maryland. 

The first phase of the line opened in 2014, with the second phase currently 13 months behind schedule and in the midst of a scandal involving more than 1,500 defective concrete panels set for passenger stations. As reported by The Washington Post, the panels in question were made by Universal Concrete Products of Stowe, Pennsylvania as part of a $4 million contract. 

A whistleblower suite filed in 2016, and just made public last week, alleges that Universal knew the precast concrete panels were defective and prone to cracking and water erosion.

According to court filings, when Nathan Davidheiser, the quality control lab technician who filed the lawsuit, brought information about these defects to the attention of his supervisors, he was told to ignore them. And later, he would be told to falsify test data to hide the problems. 

­Davidheiser filed his complaint under the federal False Claims Act, which allows whistleblowers to obtain a portion of any money the government recovers on behalf of defrauded taxpayers. 

The suit alleges that on several occasions Davidheiser witnessed Nolan manipulating water-to-cement ratio data. If these ratios are too high, the structure can become weakened and crack – posing a significant safety risk to Silver Line riders. Lawsuit material also includes text message threads where Nolan instructs Davidheiser to change the data and lie about testing. According to the lawsuit, Davidheiser resigned from the company in 2016, after his concerns were ignored. 

Capital Rail Constructors, the lead contractor for the project, feels the flaws only impact 20 percent of the 1,569 panels Universal provided. They’ve hired a separate contractor to treat all the remaining panels with a special sealant for added protection. 

The lawsuit comes to light as the current phase of the project, which includes connections to Washington Dulles International Airport, is under pressure to open by 2020. And making things more difficult for Universal Concrete is that the state of Virginia and the federal government have announced plans to join the suit.

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