Construction crews at Coleman Industrial Construction Inc. thought they had performed admirably under challenging circumstances in a whirlwind 16-day project in April at BNSF Railway Co.'s busiest yard: Argentine Yard in Kansas City, Kan.
BNSF officials thought they had, as well. A month later, they enlisted Coleman to work on a new project, one with an even shorter work window: 36 hours to replace an industrial waste containment and drainage system on the Class I's Argentine mainline.
"Once we got our crews in place, we just went at it like gangbusters," says Coleman Vice President Paul Freeman. "Usually, you have a daily or hourly work schedule for your crews. Our schedule was broken down into 15-minute increments."
Ultimately, prepared planners and determined work crews managed to overcome the obstacles and beat the clock with a successful project that met BNSF's requirements, he says.
The groundwork for the Argentine mainline work was laid several weeks earlier, when Coleman tackled the challenging job in the Argentine Yard on the BNSF FastTrack platform. For that project, crews repaired and/or replaced aging equipment used to drain and contain fuel, chemical and water spills at several fueling platforms in the yard — in other words, the type of work Coleman has been doing for railroads since its 1979 founding.
With just 16 days available to them in April, 12- to 18-member crews worked in 12-hour shifts around the clock, breaking up concrete and removing corroded pipes and impacted soil, and replacing them with new drainage and collection systems, soil, manholes, track pans and grates. Virtually all of the work was performed with a live track hosting regular trains running next to work crews.
As the Argentine "fast track" job wound down, BNSF officials asked Coleman about the possibility of bidding on another project.
"They came to us and said, 'How quick can you rip out that 450 feet of track, put the industrial line in place, replace two manholes, set the track pan drains, and then get the track back in service?'" Freeman recalls. "And the most time they said they would give us was 36 hours."
Undaunted, Coleman's project management and engineering team — led by Jon Porting and Jacob Woolsey — began working with BNSF on a tightly scheduled plan to be carried out the day after the Memorial Day weekend. And much like the FastTrack project, the surrounding mainline tracks also needed to remain open, adding to the difficulty of the project. But that suited Coleman crews just fine.
With up to 40 people working around the clock, crews began the task of removing track, digging up concrete and installing two new manholes, 400 feet of new industrial waste lines — drains and piping that carry water, spilled diesel and chemicals away from the locomotive fueling platforms. The water is carried to holding areas, where it is eventually treated in a waste water treatment plant where the oil is recycled.
Digging was complicated by the closeness of the live tracks, as well as unsuitable subgrade to accommodate the new manholes and industrial waste lines.
"That added a lot of stress, but we had to keep digging and digging and digging to get the proper compacted subgrade," Freeman says, noting that an onsite engineer assured that the work was structurally sound, helping keep the work on track.
Proper planning also meant preparing for the unexpected. It was a contingency that came in handy when a part failed in the middle of the night, prompting crews to locate an on-call supplier after hours who quickly provided the parts needed to continue work. Meanwhile, a lightning storm forced workers off the tracks for a few hours. Crews safely returned to the site, finishing the job properly and on time.
"There was exceptional execution and coordination between BNSF and Coleman Industrial," says Coleman President Stephanie Freeman. "In the end, when we have projects like this that exceed client expectations, it is our people that make the difference. Our people putting in long hours and giving up holidays to build a quality project — and doing it safely even in the face of multiple potential dangers and hurdles — was what made this such a standout project."
Years of experience working with and listening to Class I customers, combined with extensive research, development and testing, have given Herzog Railroad Services Inc. officials a new tool to help railroads with a safer way to load and unload rail trains: the Automated Tie Down Car.
"It's the only one of its kind on the market," says Tim Francis, Herzog Railroad Services' Vice President of Marketing. "We saw an opportunity to increase the safety and efficiency of rail loading and unloading."
Herzog's efforts have reduced the time needed to load or unload rail from several minutes to just seconds per rail, a change the company calls "revolutionary," Francis says. A Class I railroad is currently using the Automated Tie Down Car, and Francis hopes that this railroad's experience will lead to widespread use that can have a positive impact on railroad productivity and safety in the years ahead.
"We've received nothing but positive feedback," Francis adds.
Traditionally, loading and unloading used and new rail has been a labor-intensive process, requiring at least two workers on rail tie down cars.
"The workers have to manually clamp and unclamp each rail section and guide the rails onto or off the rail cars," Francis says.
Adjusting the clamps to securely fit onto the rails also is a time-consuming process, since new and old rails have varying degrees of thickness and strength.
The Automated Tie Down Car provides multiple advantages over that process, Francis says, including:
"The advantages all add up to quick and cost-effective support of railroads' efforts to reduce track and time needs, and increase the window of time to run revenue freight, in addition to the overall improvement in safety," Francis says.
"The key to the entire process in developing and producing the Automated Tie Down Car," Francis adds, "is Herzog's determination in working with customers to develop products and services that not only save them time and money, but are safer and more reliable, as well."
To call MTA New York City Transit's (NYCT) East 180th Street Yard in the Bronx a "yard" in traditional railroad terms is a bit misleading if you ask Joe Maikisch, project director for RailWorks Transit's $216 million upgrade of the 90-year-old facility.
"You're working smack in the middle of two active [subway] lines," he says. "It took what was a challenging project to begin with and made it even more challenging."
Two RailWorks Corp. subsidiaries — RailWorks Transit and L.K. Comstock & Co. Inc. — utilized careful planning, creative problem-solving and time-critical execution to meet the challenge of adding and improving track, and upgrading decades-old signaling systems at one of the NYCT system's most complex yard operations. The four-year project was completed this fall on budget, and under an accelerated timeframe, with no in-service delays.
Dating back to the earliest days of the New York City subway system, the East 180th Street Yard sits underneath a six-lane highway and is bordered by the historic Bronx Zoo and densely populated neighborhoods. It is located at the junction of two busy subway lines, and it features seven storage tracks and a five-track shop facility. Tracks separate the yard from the adjacent 19-track Unionport Yard.
Faced with worn, aging rail, and dated electronics and poor track connections that led to increasing congestion and inefficiency within the East 180th Street Yard, NYCT selected RailWorks to serve as main general contractor in November 2007. One charge: Complete the project in four years instead of the original plan of five.
The work, which began in the summer of 2008, included:
To avoid service disruptions, the effort required substantial upfront planning between the RailWorks/Comstock team, NYCT and more than two dozen subcontractors. Much of that planning work began before shovels hit the ground, as the contracting team worked to meet the accelerated timeline.
"We had 15 to 20 meetings [with NYCT] in the first six months," says Comstock's Sal DeMatteo, the general foreman on the project who coordinated the subcontractors' work. "They were very specific on sequencing for outages. Everything had to be planned out and sectionalized very carefully."
One of the novel solutions to avoid service delays, according to Maikisch, was the construction of a temporary track bypass that enabled crews to work on specific mainline and yard sections — and kept trains running at the East 180th Street station and through the yards, first northbound, and then southbound.
"It allowed us to work for extended periods and maintain our schedule," he says.
Planning also was critical in assembling a 200-foot cable bridge over tracks. The bridge was assembled in four 50-foot sections, with a crane used to put the sections into place, DeMatteo says.
"The coordination between signaling and track teams was huge," he adds.
The end result? A modernized, more efficient train yard equipped to handle more trains on the nation's busiest rail transit system.
"It was just an amazing team effort," Maikisch says.
For the R.J. Corman Railroad Group Storm Team, it was familiar territory: low-lying areas of Louisiana and Mississippi hammered by drenching rains that washed out vital track. And just as they did when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the Storm Team responded in force this past August when Hurricane Isaac unleashed its fury on vital Gulf Coast railroad track segments.
Responding to stricken railroads in need of quick and immediate repair, Corman's specially trained crews overcame transportation, geography and time challenges to get Class I and regional railroads up and running in the storm-battered New Orleans Gateway. Planning and experience were once again keys to success for the R.J. Corman tested Storm Team, as team members embraced the challenge of making things right in the beleaguered Gulf Coast.
"This [response] was very challenging," says R.J. Corman Railroad Group L.L.C. Vice President of Finance and Administration Noel Rush, who oversees the Storm Team. "But we have the processes, the resources and the people who have the skills to safely operate the equipment to get the job done."
Corman crews began arriving in the bayous of Louisiana and Mississippi shortly after Isaac plowed into the region, dumping several inches of flooding rains. The Storm Team successfully managed all logistical and operational challenges to serve CSXT, CN, NS and UP, as well as Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE) and the New Orleans and Gulf Coast Railway (NOGC).
Following the Storm Team response effort, R.J. Corman converged the full force of its resources to begin work on more than 20 miles of CSXT track that was wiped out by the repeated force of the storm surge east of New Orleans along a vital east-west corridor. The Storm Team response transitioned into a project led by the R. J. Corman Railroad Construction Company, who took command of the effort and quickly went to work to restore the washout.
"There was track that was washed completely off the existing railroad bed and onto [nearby] berms," says Vice President of Railroad Construction Rick Johnson, who helped lead the response.
Once the damage was assessed, the project quickly swelled to more than 150 men, Rush says, as Corman established a base camp near the Louisiana/Mississippi border to feed and house crews working around-the-clock shifts to clear debris and make way for track reconstruction.
With CSXT service along the corridor at a standstill until the repairs were completed, Corman's Construction Company moved quickly to restore track roadbed and structure, including the installation of 21,000 crossties, concentrating on 15 miles of track that were heavily damaged or wiped out by the storm.
"Time was of the essence," Rush says.
Adding to the challenge for crews was the remote location, Johnson says. With just two land access points along more than 25 miles of track, Corman used helicopters and boats to help move people and equipment into place. Corman ultimately brought in more than 70 pieces of heavy equipment, including specialty items such as high-rail rotary dump trucks, high-rail excavators, crawler carriers, dump trucks, track hoes, tampers and grapple trucks — equipment that played important roles in similar storm responses for hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Gustav, as well as massive flooding in the Midwest and snow and ice storms along the East coast over the past few years.
"It was a comprehensive set of resources," Rush says.
Part of the Storm Team's continued success is its ability to take lessons and best practices learned from previous emergency responses and incorporate them into future responses, Rush says. Corman also regularly reinvests resources to ensure storm-response equipment is up to date and ready for rapid deployment.
Those are prime reasons why the Corman team was able to get the damaged section of track up and running in just 27 days, Rush says.
"It's a continuously improving process at this company," he adds. "We're always looking to refine."
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