Importance of Effective Input from Operations Staff during Design

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Title: Importance of Effective Input from Operations Staff during Design

Phase(s): Pre-Preliminary Engineering, Preliminary Engineering, Final Design

Category: Scope and Management

Date: March 4, 1997

1. Background

In 1988, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) purchased 81 miles of the CSX Transportation Corporation (CSXT) rail corridor in South Florida. Tri-Rail commenced commuter rail operations in the corridor in 1989, with CSXT and AMTRAK continuing to provide rail service in the rail corridor. An important aspect of the purchase agreement provides CSXT with the right to undertake all improvements in the corridor on a force account basis. Under a separate agreement with FDOT (OMAPA), CSXT also maintains responsibility for dispatching trains in the corridor. FDOT administers the FDOT/CSXT agreements and also the work done by the private contractors in the corridor.

As the majority of the corridor is single track and has antiquated signal equipment, Tri-Rail and FDOT initiated a program to upgrade the signal system and double track the line with the intent of providing more reliable service and the ability to run more frequent service.

The first phase of the Double Track Program is nearing completion and several important lessons have been learned by the project participants during the progress of the work. Significant impacts on operations resulted and numerous changes to the contract occurred. Tri-Rail and FDOT are now advancing designs for subsequent phases and have instituted new procedures to address these concerns.

The design of the project was conducted by a consultant under contract to FDOT. At the time of the design, Tri-Rail had limited engineering expertise in-house and input by operations staff was not seen as a critical part of the design process. In this case, the agency (and owner, FDOT) responsible for effective development of the corridor's physical infrastructure made most of the design decisions, despite the fact that most of the FDOT staff involved did not have significant experience in the design and construction of rail infrastructure. The agency with the right to undertake the work (CSXT) essentially gained little direct benefit from the project and as a result, evaluation of the impacts on commuter rail operations was not a priority. The agency responsible for operations of the commuter rail system (Tri-Rail) did not have the ability to control and provide input to the design process. The net result of the manner in which the design was managed is that the design did not adequately address staging issues that would minimize delays to rail traffic and ultimately required changes to the construction contracts to add operational flexibility.

2. The Lesson

The design of any change to an existing fixed guideway requires that operational considerations rank high when evaluating design concepts. When the project team is comprised of multiple agencies, this is even more critical as the effective input from operations staff must be able to reach responsible team members in other agencies, and carry sufficient weight so that it is not dismissed due to lack of understanding of operations issues. Tri-Rail and FDOT are evaluating these issues on a project by project basis to identify the best agency to handle specific assignments for future projects. 

New starts that involve more than one agency with responsibility for project delivery must develop a coordinated management team that is responsive to the needs of each party. This is particularly true where one agency is responsible for the design and construction while a second agency is the operator. The impacts during construction of a design that does not adequately address constructability and operational issues can lead to project delays and change orders.

3. Applicability

These lessons are applicable to any agency which has to maintain operations while conducting infrastructure upgrading. It is also applicable to those situations where the transit agency does not have complete control over the use of its right-of-way.

4. References

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