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Part 1 : Contractor Case Studies: Colo Railroad Builders, Kiewit Corp., Michael Baker Corp. and RailWorks Inc.
— by Robert J. Derocher
Editor's note: Freight and passenger railroads continue to contract out for a broad range of infrastructure development needs. It's part and parcel, really, on the maintenance-of-way planning front.
This month, Progressive Railroading presents a collection of case studies covering the work of four contractors or contractor-led ventures: Colo Railroad Builders, Kiewit Corp., Michael Baker Corp. and RailWorks Inc. The projects detailed represent studies in contrast, ranging from a large-scale rail replacement to a light-rail line design-build venture to a historic station restoration to an intermodal terminal that featured a multi-faceted infrastructure development component.
One thing all four stories have in common: They reflect the vitality evident in the railroad construction and maintenance segment.
In challenging economic times, Terry Benton thinks railroads are re-thinking rail maintenance. That's one reason Benton, president of Colo Railroad Builders' Production Division, believes his firm's "cut-and-slide" rail replacement project this year for the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad (DM&E) is so important.
"We're out there contacting our customer base and making them aware of this process," he says. "I think more people are looking closely at [the DM&E] project ... so it's nice to have a good project like this."
Good and big, actually. The $3 million, 20-mile project in Illinois represents Colo's largest rail replacement job this year.
"This type of project is an efficient way to a convert jointed rail to continuous welded rail (CWR), at a price that is a third to a quarter of the price of new CWR," says Colo Chief Executive Officer Roy Dano. "Over the past few years, we've managed the installation of thousands of welds and hundreds of miles of track."
Colo's work for the DM&E began in June near Elgin, Ill., on a single track that is part of the Canadian Pacific-owned railroad's mainline route into and out of Chicago. Through mid-November, the cut-and-slide replacement involved cutting out rail joints on 39-foot rails, sliding newly re-purposed rail into place and then welding the rails together to eliminate the joints and create CWR. Although Colo installed about 40,000 lineal feet of new CWR, most of the rail was previously used, but in good condition, Benton says.
For Colo, one of the job's most challenging aspects has been limited work windows — six- to eight-hour slots each day — which leaves little time for error, supply problems or weather-related delays, Benton says. Two 16-man crews, each working on a different rail, perform the joint removals and welds, using a flash-butt welding technique that produces a strong and smooth joint.
Given the tight construction window, railroad-contractor communication is key.
"The railroad has been very cooperative on track windows, but every once in a while, they've had to run special trains," Benton says. "I think they've been very happy with the work."
Speaking of the work: Cut-and-slide projects usually involve hard physical labor, Dano says; contractors often need to supplement core crews with extra personnel to meet productivity and quality guidelines. Colo also must manage subcontractor crews who operate the welding equipment. The average cost per weld on cut-and-slide projects is about $300, with about 300 welds required per mile of rail.
"We have had to tightly manage subcontractors and equipment maintenance to ensure job productivity and quality on the project," Dano says.
Although weather conditions will determine if the entire project is completed late this year or early next, Benton and Dano believe it already has paid dividends. Colo's getting more inquiries from railroads about the cut-and-slide approach.
"It's become more common over the last few years," Benton says. "I think it's an option that the railroads are looking at as a way of saving money."
Contaminated ballast. Skyrocketing steel prices. Working on a Class I mainline. There were plenty of issues that could have caused Utah Transit Authority's (UTA) Mid-Jordan light-rail project to stall or exceed its budget. But thanks to Kiewit/Herzog/Parsons, a Joint Venture — which received the design-build contract for the project — the rail line is expected to be complete in January 2011 on time and within budget.
"We had some people here with 20, 25 years of experience or more — some seasoned professionals," says Kiewit's Joe Cook, who serves as project sponsor. "They helped steer the job away from the pitfalls. It's run smoother than just about any other job I've been on."
It was the team's ability to avoid those major pitfalls, deal with issues that arose and keep the project on schedule, Cook says, that contributed to UTA's decision to select the team for a companion rail project.
The Kiewit-led venture was awarded the Mid-Jordan contract in September 2007; construction commenced in 2008. The construction contract amount: $205 million, according to UTA. The project is part of UTA's long-range program to add commuter- and light-rail lines throughout Salt Lake City's fast-growing suburbs.
The 10.6-mile, double-tracked Mid-Jordan corridor will link the cities of Murray, Midvale, West Jordan and South Jordan with an existing TRAX light-rail line to and from Salt Lake City.
One of the first keys to the project's success: a five-month pre-construction window that enabled the owner and contractor to tailor the project as needed, Cook says. A range of potential issues —such as property acquisition, bridge construction and coordination with other agencies —were substantially worked out ahead of time, which helped keep the cost of contractor-requested changes below 1 percent of the project's budget.
"That's unheard of," Cook says. "We had an upfront opportunity to dissect the job, and that was really important."
That's not to say the project didn't provide the team with a few hurdles to clear. Shortly after the contract was awarded, steel prices shot up, prompting the contractor team and UTA to develop an incentive plan for limiting metal usage. The plan helped keep costs under control, Cook says.
Later, the team discovered that ballast was contaminated with lead and arsenic, a process that had occurred over several years when the rail line served as a corridor to haul ore. Because the track contained lead levels that were above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safe-working levels, the joint venture worked with UTA to map out the alignment to determine the exact location and contaminant levels in order to develop a material handling plan. A "hot squad" then was assembled to remove the localized areas of contamination.
The project also required careful coordination with Union Pacific Railroad, with the team building temporary track for UP's mainline while a tunnel for the transit project was built, Cook says. Additionally, UP's Midvale Yard was modified to accommodate the transit line.
Work at UTA's Lovendahl Yard also required almost-monthly coordination of signaling and electricity to accommodate the yard's expansion.
At peak, more than 130 joint venture team members were on the site, along with more than 120 subcontractors, Cook says, adding that revenue service is on track to begin by August 2011.
In the meantime, the Kiewit-Herzog-Parsons team has broken ground on the Draper Line, which will run between Sandy and Draper; it will add another 3.8 miles of double-tracked light rail to the TRAX system, east and south of the Mid-Jordan Line, by 2013. The estimated Draper Line construction contract value is $87 million, according to UTA.
If the Mid-Jordan experience is any indication, the Draper Line project team is well prepared on the hurdle-clearing front.
"Through the experience of our project team and the open policy of the UTA, [Mid-Jordan] was very successful, and we're looking forward to continuing that with Draper," Cook says.
The $35.7 million restoration of Amtrak's Wilmington Station means plenty to the job's construction manager, Michael Baker Corp. The first Amtrak project to receive federal stimulus funding also represents Baker's first partnership with the national passenger railroad.
"It's a new and important client for us," says Marty Portik, Baker's resident engineer and project manager. "This has been a unique project."
It's also presented an opportunity to demonstrate Baker's ability to successfully manage a complex renovation of a busy century-old transit station in Wilmington, Del., that was completed on time and within budget, despite several challenges that threatened to set the timetable back.
"We combined two projects into one and took the timeframe from 1,153 days to 658 days," Portik says. "It required some creative scheduling."
Designed by renowned architect Frank Furness and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the station is Amtrak's 11th busiest. But over the years, the Victorian-styled facility that also serves as a commuter-rail stop for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority had fallen into disrepair.
Two years ago, Amtrak joined forces with the Delaware Department of Transportation to fund the rehabilitation effort — aided, big-time, by a $20 million boost courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Delaware DOT is kicking in $12 million; Amtrak, $3.7 million.
Originally, the restoration plan called for a two-phase exterior/interior approach. The stimulus funds enabled the phases to be combined, Portik says.
Work began in April 2009 and required the use of 10 modular units to serve as the temporary station to accommodate passengers for the 140 weekday trains that serve the station. Work crews knocked out certain walls and repaired others. They pulled up flooring and replaced with it marble and terrazzo surfaces. Teams also reconfigured the interior to accommodate additional retail space.
Other work included installing new restroom fixtures, lighting and ticketing areas in the station's main concourse. An original brass-railed grand staircase also was restored and new marble flooring was installed in the waiting rooms, Portik says. On the technology front, new public address and CCTV systems, and electronic signage were installed. The station also features Wi-Fi capability.
Exterior work included repair and restoration of the original brick and terra cotta, rail upgrades and repairs, and track platform additions. The unusual design —three tracks operating directly over the main station — added to the project's complexity, Portik says. Moreover, several steel columns that supported platform canopies were rotting, the project team learned.
Replacing the columns and installing electronic signage added nearly $5 million to the original budget, but the work was completed without adding time to the construction schedule, Portik says.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the job —aside from keeping the project within its tight timeframe — was installing a sophisticated waterproofing system underneath the station's tracks to prevent water from leaking into the facility's main concourse, Portik says. The work had to be completed without interfering with Amtrak's and SEPTA's train schedules.
Baker coordinated the removal of rail from each of the three tracks, followed by the installation of the waterproofing system, and new rail and fixation plates.
"We never impacted more than one track at a time ... and the trains kept running," Portik says. "We had to change our work schedules, as necessary. There were just some things that had to be done at night."
As of press time, the station opening was set for Dec. 5. Completion of the entire project is expected by February 2011. Meanwhile, the firm's work appears to have paid a dividend. In March, Amtrak awarded Baker similar construction oversight contract for two new rail yards in Seattle.
"Our success here was a good part of how we got that project," Portik says. "Now, we have a rail and transit group as part of our company, which we didn't have before."
Sometimes, the biggest and best projects can be right in your own backyard. Just ask Bill Dorris of RailWorks Track Services, whose Minooka, Ill., office is a five-minute drive from CenterPoint Intermodal Center, which includes Union Pacific Railroad's sprawling 785-acre Joliet Intermodal Terminal — a new yard featuring nearly $10 million worth of RailWorks' track, turnout and grade-crossing panel construction.
"It was just a big, open field when we started," says Dorris, vice president and Chicago-area manager who oversaw the construction effort for RailWorks Track Services. "It was a perfect job for us. It involved just about every aspect of the work we do — and it was right here."
Less than four months after RailWorks — the project's track construction firm — wrapped up work at the facility, the terminal was running at 90 percent capacity, Dorris says.
"We were building a showcase project, the second-largest intermodal facility for the largest Class I railroad in the country," he adds. "We needed to shine on this — and we did."
Designed to handle an annual capacity of 500,000 trailers or containers, the facility features:
For RailWorks, the job required installing 242,000 feet (or about 45 miles) of continuous-welded rail, 130,000 ties (70,000 steel and 60,000 wood) and 380 feet of grade crossing panels, says Eric Goetschel, project manager. Work also included building 59 wood- and steel-tie turnouts with welded joints, and two double-point derails.
Construction began in August 2008 with an ambitious two-year plan, as UP pushed to complete the project to handle the demand of heavy Chicago-area intermodal traffic. To stay on schedule, RailWorks crews — which peaked at about 50 in number — worked on track installation through the "brutal" winter of 2009-2010, Dorris says.
Weather issues aside, the installation of the rail, turnouts and crossing panels was pretty straightforward; the team encountered few problems, Goetschel says. Getting the supplies to the site, however, proved to be more of a challenge. RailWorks installed about 3,000 feet of temporary track that ran from the UP mainline to the construction site, enabling supplies to be shipped to the site by rail — and the railroad's mainline traffic to run without interruption.
Careful planning before and contractor coordination during construction helped keep supplies on hand and the tight two-year timetable on track. "It was just incredible how it went," Dorris says. "It was a great team effort."
With the economy improving and the facility already running at close to capacity since opening Aug. 1, Dorris also hopes that RailWorks can get the team back together for more work at the UP terminal.
"They're already talking about expanding," he says. "We would be happy to help."
Robert J. Derocher is a Loudonville, N.Y.-based free-lance writer.