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— By Robert J. Derocher
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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.”
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
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