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December 2008

Part 1 : INTRO: Railroad Contractor Case Studies

Part 2 : PART 1: All Railroad Services Completes Complex 'Slip-Slide' Project for Long Island RailRoad

Part 3 : PART 2: L.A. Colo Comes Through in the Cold for Iowa, Chicago & Eastern

Part 4 : PART 3: Mass. Electric Makes the Grade at 52 Crossings for North Coast Railroad Authority

Part 5 : PART 4: RailWorks Track Systems Does it's Part to Keep Prairie State Energy Campus Project on Track

Rail News: MOW

PART 3: Mass. Electric Makes the Grade at 52 Crossings for North Coast Railroad Authority


Last year, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) solicited bids for a 12-month contract to upgrade, repair and replace warning devices and equipment at 52 grade crossings on a 62-mile section of track across multiple jurisdictions. The goal: to help revive freight-rail service in northwestern California.

The bid solicitation drew scant contractor interest.

“It was a fast-track project that scared off a lot of bidders who said it couldn’t be done,” says Rich Burgos, California Area Project Manager for Mass. Electric Construction Co.

Mass. Electric thought otherwise and pursued the opportunity. The contractor won the $10.8 million, two-phase contract in mid-2007, and completed it on time and on budget. There were hurdles to clear, but Mass. Electric’s quick, efficient work paved the way for NCRA to restore freight service by 2009.

“We were excited to go out there and get the job done,” Burgos says. “We’re used to meeting the challenge of quick turnarounds.”

The Road to Rail Revival

Formed in 1989 by the California Legislature, the NCRA acquired portions of the former Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NPR) in the late 1990s with an eye toward resuming freight traffic that had been largely abandoned after mounting track repair problems and decreasing traffic. In 2003, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district also acquired a piece of NPR and proposed the creation of a 70-mile passenger railroad and parallel bicycle-pedestrian path along the publicly owned right of way.

Work on 27 crossings began in August 2007 after Mass. Electric received a guarantee of quick delivery from B&C Transit Consultants, a signaling equipment vendor, to ensure the project’s tight timetable could be kept. The next challenge: assembling work crews. Four of Mass. Electric’s top supervisors traveled to the job site and met with local union officials to hire about a dozen crew members.

Planning was Key

Mass. Electric then received a second contract to complete work at 25 additional crossings, an effort that required constant coordination with more than 10 municipal and state agencies whose roads and highways crisscross the rail line. Along the way, the contractor worked closely with NCRA project manager Dave Anderson of American Rail Consultants Inc. to address agency concerns.

The work included grade crossing predictor and relay logic upgrades; in some locations, it involved replacing all crossing warning devices, including gates, cantilevers and new control equipment shelters.

The time constraints and varied work prompted Mass. Electric to take different approaches to the job. Instead of completing work at a crossing and moving on to the next one, crews went crossing by crossing in an assembly line fashion, each building on the work of the previous crews’ efforts.

Miserable weather, and excavation and regulatory-related challenges provided a few roadblocks, but nothing Mass. Electric couldn’t work around, given the contractor’s experience with quick turnarounds in mass transit projects. The project was essentially complete by August.

“Because of the timeframe, we really had to do a lot of the planning well ahead of time,” Burgos says.

— By Robert J. Derocher

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