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Rail News Home BNSF Railway

December 2006

Rail News: BNSF Railway

Six Contractors, Six Projects

Calling in the reinforcements
McGrath Construction solves drainage dilemma for world’s largest producer of private-label pet food

A busy spring, shifting underground water and poor drainage added up to major rail shipping problems for pet food producer Doane Pet Care’s plant in Joplin, Mo.

The challenge also presented McGrath Construction Corp. with an opportunity to showcase its 140-plus years’ worth of track construction, engineering and design experience.

“They couldn’t maintain the level surface — they had some undulation in the track,” says President Jon McGrath. “This was not out of the ordinary for a plant setting at all.”

The drainage drag
A division of Mars Inc., Doane Pet Care is the world’s largest producer of private-label pet food. One of Doane’s largest manufacturing facilities, the Joplin plant houses 1,100 feet of rail that ultimately connects with a BNSF Railway Co. line.

But the poor track conditions were slowing down operations. And poor drainage alongside the track bed continued to weaken the track, slow down trains and drive up maintenance costs.

“The three things that allow you to maintain a track with the least amount of maintenance are drainage, drainage and drainage,” McGrath says. “In some cases, you just don’t have it. In that case, you have to design around it.”

In spring, McGrath Construction officials met with Doane plant supervisors and engineers to develop a comprehensive design/construction plan.

Developed over the course of four months, the plan not only had to address the problem, it had to be executed with the least possible disruption to the plant’s busy production and shipping routines.

Communicating with (and soliciting input from) Doane’s managers and engineers throughout the planning process made that task easier, requiring the rail line to be taken out of service for only three weeks.

“It’s great to work with smart people,” McGrath says. “It’s refreshing these days to have a customer that will allow the proper solution.”

Stabilizing the subsurface
McGrath assembled a team of a dozen subcontractors and suppliers. The team’s first task: stabilizing the subsurface using Alcoa Geoweb® Load Support System, which is designed to prevent soil movement to accommodate distribution of heavy loads.

Geoweb’s cellular design helps keep the rail’s sub-ballast firmly in place, McGrath says.

Crews then installed steel railroad ties from North American Railway Steel Tie Corp. (NARSTCO) and upgraded the rail with metal flangeways from Crown Rail Co., enabling the rails to carry heavier cars.

Additionally, crews poured concrete to cover the 1,100-foot track section to provide a more solid surface and to enable water to run across the track (rather than soak into the soil) during heavy rain.

The work also included installation of crushed rock ballast, which provides drainage under the track, as well as a water collection system to control water flow from an adjacent building. The project took two-and-one-half months to complete, with crews wrapping it up in early November.

Doane execs are pleased with the results, McGrath says.

“This just makes them more efficient,” he adds.

And efficiency is the name of the product distribution game.

— By Robert J. Derocher

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Working in the wee hours
G.W. Peoples pulls the midnight-to-4 a.m. shift to complete extensive track upgrade for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transporation Authority

Some rail contractors do their best work after dark. For G.W. Peoples Contracting Co., there wasn’t much choice when the firm two years ago took on an extensive trackwork job for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

Among the time and logistics hurdles the specialty rail and heavy construction firm had to clear: The contract called for installing and welding 56 joint plugs on about 20 track miles, with the work to be completed between 12 midnight and 4 a.m.

“It put a little bit of pressure on us,” says Bill Frey, G.W. Peoples’ regional manager. “We had to make sure we were ready to go every day.”

And, with the work “98 percent done” as of mid-November, the preparation has paid off, Frey says.

“We never ran over and we never missed a deadline,” Frey says. “Everybody was happy with the work.”

A minority and woman-owned and operated enterprise with offices in Virginia and Pennsylvania, G.W. Peoples served as a subcontractor to the Farfield Co. on a $64 million project that’s part of SEPTA’s efforts to upgrade track between the Wayne and Carmel stations in the Philadelphia area.

12-hour shifts at peak
Work began in 2004, with Farfield handling all things electrical and G.W. Peoples, the trackwork. Peoples’ contract was worth about $8.2 million, Frey says.

In addition to installing and welding the joint plugs, G.W. Peoples installed specialty rail — work that had to be done on weekends virtually around the clock, when SEPTA suspended service.

The special trackwork installation started in April 2005 and took 14 months to complete. The installation consisted of nine high-speed crossovers, nine turnouts, one moveable point frog, 5,000 feet of new-construction track and 2,500 feet of replacement rail, Frey says.

Work on the nine crossovers was completed simultaneously. That meant longer closure times, but it also enabled the project to be completed more quickly, Frey says.

During the project’s peak, G.W. Peoples was using two crews of 14 to 20 employees working 12-hour weekend shifts, Frey says.

The contractor was one of several working to complete the job, which was vital to the renovation of the SEPTA “El” system.

“There were times when it looked like people were running into each other,” Frey says. “Fortunately, we took care of any potential surprises ahead of time.”

Adding to the work challenges was a busy SEPTA schedule, which required the commuter rail line to be open for events such as a weekend flower show and Philadelphia Eagles football games. Fortunately, only one weekend was lost due to inclement weather, Frey says.

Day or night? no problem
Although G.W. Peoples does most of its work for transit agencies — clients include Amtrak, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority — a brief slowdown in transit work has given the company the opportunity to do more work for freight railroads and industrial clients, such as CSX Transportation, the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad Co. and Pennsylvania Electric Co., Frey says.

“The transit work should pick up again in the coming year,” he adds.

And when the work does ramp up, G.W. Peoples will be ready to handle it: As the SEPTA project proved, the contractor can do the job, day or night, Frey says.

— By Robert J. Derocher

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Collaborating to bring commuter rail to salt lake city
Utah Transit Authority’s ‘FrontRunner’ project brings out ‘the best’ in joint venture partners Herzog Contracting, Stacy and Witbeck

Sometimes, track projects are completed in quiet locales or on segments that have been shut down to accommodate the work. Such accommodations weren’t forthcoming for Herzog Contracting Corp. and joint venture partner Stacy and Witbeck Inc. on the $240 million project to build the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) first commuter-rail line.

“We’re 25 feet from the Union Pacific Railroad,” says Al Landes, Herzog senior vice president. “We’re working right next to a live, operating railroad.”

Despite the challenge of working so close to one of the busiest western corridors of the UP system, the Herzog Contracting/Stacy and Witbeck team’s work on the project — a 44-mile, single-track railroad connecting Salt Lake City and its northern suburbs by 2008 — was ahead of schedule as of mid-November.

Project principals attribute the smooth start to a good working relationship with UP and the Herzog Contracting/Stacy and Witbeck partnership, which officially is known as the “Salt Lake City Commuter Rail Constructors.”

“We don’t look like two separate contractors,” says Stacy and Witbeck’s Kevin McFall, the joint venture’s project manager. “It’s brought the best of both companies into play.”

No ‘change orders’ here
In August 2005, Salt Lake City Commuter Rail Constructors broke ground on the FrontRunner system 18 months after being selected as the construction manager/general contractor.

During the design and construction process, Herzog planners worked closely with their Stacy and Witbeck counterparts, as well as the UTA designers and engineers, to define roles and establish relationships with subcontractors.

“There are no change orders on this project, except for additional scope of work,” Landes says. “[The joint venture approach] is one of the best ways to go out and do this sort of project.”

The partners are practicing what they preach. In June, another Herzog Contracting/Stacy and Witbeck joint venture — the Denver Transit Construction Group — was awarded a $1.2 million pre-construction services contract for a 12-mile light-rail line to connect Denver and Golden, Colo.

In the meantime, the FrontRunner work continues. McFall meets regularly with UP to establish construction schedules, which typically permit crews to work 10 hours a day, six days a week. In addition to accommodating the project’s work schedule, UP will share six miles of the 44-mile track route with the UTA, and also will dispatch the commuter trains. As of press time, as many as 280 employees from various contractors and subcontractors had worked on the project with no lost-time accidents, McFall says.

Work that had been completed as of last month included: the installation of 60,000 feet of skeleton track (332,000 linear feet of rail had been delivered as of mid-November); placement of 100,000 tons of sub-ballast; excavation of 415,000 cubic yards of soil; construction of 10 road crossings and half of a bridge that spans the Ogden River; and the pouring of concrete footings for station platforms.

Challenges ahead
The Herzog Contracting/Stacy and Witbeck team has a few challenges to confront in the months ahead. One of the biggest: constructing more than 3,700 feet of elevated track over an Ogden rail yard, McFall says. Also on tap is completing eight station platforms, finishing the bridge over the Ogden River, constructing six park-and-ride lots, and completing the rest of the track and signaling work.

McFall believes the project ultimately will be known in transit circles as an example of a quality project built on time and within budget. “The reality is that we’re doing something different here, and so far it’s working,” he says.

— By Robert J. Derocher

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A gestalt approach at greenbush
Balfour Beatty brings its ‘A’ game — and a series of ‘A’ teams — to help rejuvenate a long-dormant Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority line

Building or repairing track, installing ties, reconfiguring roadbeds, rethinking and replacing signaling, managing the design/construction process — Balfour Beatty’s doing all that and more in suburban Boston, where experienced teams are putting the Balfour Beatty design/construction/engineering stamp on the Greenbush commuter-rail project for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

Designed to rejuvenate a long-dormant rail line, the $480 million project is representative of how Balfour Beatty is garnering transit and freight rail business in North America, says Jonathan Barnhart, project manager of the Greenbush Project for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Balfour Beatty Rail Inc.

“We’ve got a whole package of services, from civil construction to railwork … to signaling to management,” he says. “We’ve got people who are committed to building a quality product, and we’re excited about what we’re doing.”

The genesis of the Greenbush project dates back to 2003, when another Balfour Beatty subsidiary — Atlanta-based Balfour Beatty Construction Co. Inc. — was selected as part of a joint venture with Jay Cashman Inc., a Quincy, Mass., heavy-construction firm, on the $252 million design-build portion of the Greenbush project.

A summer ‘07 service launch
The firms were hired to build and oversee construction of 18 miles of new single-line rail, along with four one-mile sidings between the MBTA’s Old Colony Line in East Braintree, Mass., and Scituate, Mass. The project also includes constructing 25 grade crossings, and seven commuter rail stations and parking lots that can accommodate a combined 3,000 vehicles.

As of press time, a crew of 54 (plus seven office staffers) were working to finish as much work as they could
before winter set in, Barnhart says.

About 90 percent of the trackwork, which included specialty work from a U.K.-based Balfour Beatty subsidiary, was complete as of mid-November, with completion expected in January, Barnhart says. Balfour Beatty Rail has a $26.3 million contract to lay concrete and wood ties, and install rail through one of its operating companies, Metroplex Corp.

In spring, another Balfour Beatty Rail operating company — Balfour Beatty Rail Systems Inc. — will handle the signal design, including the design of the traffic control system; signalization of 27 grade crossings/gates; and installation of LED station signs that will alert passengers to incoming trains and/or delays.

Although the project remains on track to be complete in time for MBTA’s late-summer 2007 service launch, it hasn’t been challenge-free.

Work was delayed when a leaking underground storage tank belonging to a property owner adjacent to the construction site began leaking fuel last summer and fall, contaminating soil and groundwater.

To mitigate the contamination, Balfour Beatty relocated rail to another worksite location earlier than had been scheduled, Barnhart says.

The Greenbush Project represents one of Balfour Beatty’s largest North American railroad construction projects, and Barnhart believes the company’s success here will lead to continued growth, Barnhart says.

“It’s a good market, and a good opportunity,” he says. “This is a good showcase for us.”

— By Robert J. Derocher

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A corridor of contract work
From new-track construction to turnout assembly and installation, RailWorks completes a year’s worth of projects along CSX Transportation’s Chicago-to-Florida corridor

It’s been a busy year for CSX Transportation and contractor partner, RailWorks Corp., which in late November was wrapping up more than $25 million worth of work along the Class I’s busy Chicago-to-Florida corridor. The work is part of CSXT’s plan to spend as much as $1.4 billion annually in 2006 and 2007 to improve service and reliability — and, accordingly, boost capacity over its 21,000-mile network.

During the past year, RailWorks has added 120,000 feet of new track and 25 turnouts at 13 sidings in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Performed under daily train operating conditions, the work included: roadbed, bridge and new-track construction; track rehabilitation; turnout assembly and installation; and track-laying machinery support.

“RailWorks is particularly well-equipped to complete projects of this magnitude and complexity,” says Brian Bennett, RailWorks vice president of operations, who managed the CSXT projects. “We offer extensive track construction expertise, a large equipment fleet and the ability to rapidly mobilize crews from Atlanta, St. Louis, Frankfort, Indiana, Chicago, and other RailWorks track locations as needed.”

A turnout to remember
Not that the projects haven’t presented challenges. Witness the turnout installations: RailWorks was required to complete the work within six-hour work windows so trains could continue moving on the mainline. Close coordination with CSXT project management and train operations officials enabled the railroad to operate trains while the work progressed, says Bennett, who’s based in Bridgeton, Mo.

Of the 13 projects, one in particular stood out for Bennett. In December 2005, RailWorks crews began extending an existing one-mile siding an additional three miles, as well as assembling and installing two concrete turnouts and two universal crossovers, in the central Georgia town of Lilly.

“It was the first mainline track project where RailWorks — or to my knowledge any other contractor — installed two #20 turnouts simultaneously within one six-hour track outage,” Bennett says. “It also involved a significant mainline-to-siding track shift during a six-hour track curfew.”

Several weeks before the construction was slated to begin, a subcontractor prepared the roadbed while another built a 192-foot retaining wall to support the widened double-track roadbed and ensure proper drainage. Another subcontractor then jacked and bored a 72-inch steel casing-pipe under the railroad for utilities.

A coordinated effort
RailWorks then turned to Harsco Track Technologies’ P811, a multi-tasking track renewal machine that was used to remove wood crossties on the existing siding and replace them with KSA concrete ties in a single continuous pass. Harsco’s track-laying machine completed the rail-laying work; RailWorks crews followed behind, completing the spiking, balancing, surfacing and tamping work, and ensuring the rail was properly placed.

“With close coordination between Harsco, RailWorks and CSXT, this work was successfully completed on schedule in multiple work windows, which minimized any disruption to mainline train service,” Bennett says.

For the near term, freight roads will continue to attempt to boost rail network capacity. And RailWorks execs expect to continue helping them achieve their expansion goals.

“We have been awarded two more [CSXT] projects recently, and even completed one of them ‘fast-track’ in October, which they are very happy with,” Bennett says. “And we’re continuing to pursue other projects as they are solicited for bid.”

—By Robert J. Derocher

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Raising the signaling bar
For MEC Rail, the aim hasn’t been simply to meet Metrolink’s maintenance expectations — the contractor’s mission is to set higher safety and reliability standards

When you’re a railroad contractor working in the second-largest U.S. metropolitan area, people expect you to provide the safest, most reliable signaling possible. The steady stream of signal work MEC Rail has completed for Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s (SCRRA) Metrolink commuter-rail system during the past 13 years suggests the contractor is more than meeting the rail entity’s safety/reliability expectations.

“We started here [in 1993] with seven people; now, we have 58,” says Manny Ramirez, project manager for MEC Rail, the transit subsidiary of Mass. Electric Construction Co. “We’ve proven that you can get a contractor, and if you hire the right people, you can do the job safely and effectively.”

Metrolink officials believe they were the first U.S. commuter-rail system to contract out for signal maintenance. With more than 40 years’ experience in the transit signaling business and several large projects under its belt, MEC Rail was well-equipped for the job, Ramirez says.

MEC Rail’s contract calls for providing continuous maintenance and repair in a five-county area; Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway Co. and Amtrak also share Metrolink track. The systems MEC Rail maintains for SCRRA include: traffic control, highway-rail grade crossing devices, dispatching, communications facilities at stations, underground fiber optics and telephone lines, mobile radios and hand-held communications.

Familiarity & experience
Since 1993, MEC Rail has provided $57 million worth of maintenance services for Metrolink and is under contract for another $27 million through 2008, Ramirez says. The company and Metrolink also have a separate construction contract, which has led to $34 million in work during the past 13 years, with another $7 million to $12 million currently scheduled.

Construction work includes: installation and in-service testing of signal and communications material and equipment; installing signaling, communications and support services; and installing and testing wayside signal systems, highway-rail grade crossing warning devices, passenger facility equipment and wayside hazard equipment. MEC Rail built the signal system, so the contractor knows what it takes to maintain it, Ramirez says.

“The familiarity and experience gained by MEC Rail in installing and maintaining these systems provides an invaluable resource in coordinating the signal installation and maintenance activities on an operating system, and in dealing with their impact on the property,” he says.

Another key to MEC Rail’s Metrolink success is an extensive training program that features a full-time director, Ramirez says. Apprentices receive ongoing training; veteran employees are required to take “refresher” courses on a range of topics — from how to perform maintenance tasks to how to keep current with the latest maintenance techniques and technologies.

A safety commitment
A 35-year freight-rail industry veteran, Ramirez also recognizes that moving passengers by rail requires additional safety-related responsibilities. That’s why MEC Rail employs a full-time safety manager who’s helped the contractor maintain a stellar safety record. Metrolink recently recognized MEC Rail for posting 35,000 consecutive work hours with no recordable injuries.

“We at Metrolink are fortunate to have these safety-committed people dedicated to our MEC Rail contracts and performing their duties on Metrolink property,” says Dan Guerrero, the railroad’s manager of signals and communication.

It’s a commitment MEC Rail workers take pride in.

“The key to everything is the personnel you have on staff,” Ramirez says.

— By Robert J. Derocher

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