Title: Railroad Right-of-Way Issues
Phase(s): Preliminary Engineering
Date: June 23, 1997
The Port Authority of Allegheny County's (PAT) Phase I Airport Busway/Wabash HOV Facility consists of a 7.0 mile exclusive Busway from the Borough of Carnegie to Station Square in the City of Pittsburgh. A 1.1 mile HOV facility through the currently unused Wabash Tunnel and over a new bridge spanning the Monongahela River into downtown Pittsburgh, and six remote park and ride lots, all located within Allegheny County, PA.
The 7.0 mile exclusive Busway portion consists of a two-lane roadway for use by buses. The alignment follows a CONRAIL operational rail corridor and an abandoned railroad corridor owned previously by CONRAIL. Approximately 2.4 miles of the alignment, known as the CONRAIL Shelf, had only a single existing operating track at the start of the project, mainly used for coal. The CONRAIL Shelf at one time had four tracks, with separate paired tracks for freight and passenger service. This segment of the alignment is also entirely grade separated. The final design configuration of the CONRAIL Shelf right-of-way was to consist of two Busway lanes and one track with preparation work done for a second track to be installed after Busway construction.
It was anticipated by CONRAIL at the beginning of the project that the amount of rail traffic over this route would continue to increase and that eventual restoration of a second track by CONRAIL would be needed. In fact, CONRAIL was reviewing this corridor for a possible high clearance corridor through Pennsylvania for delivery of double stack containers from Chicago to Philadelphia. However, PAT understood through discussions with CONRAIL Engineering and Construction personnel that installation of the second track would not occur until after the Busway was completed. PAT's design and construction of the CONRAIL Shelf segment would include relocation of the existing single track CONRAIL line and would also make provisions for CONRAIL's future second track.
The understandings between PAT and CONRAIL regarding design coordination and the schedule for CONRAIL's future second track were not formally established in an agreements type document; however, many efforts were made to establish this. While PAT was working towards having both a sales agreement and a construction agreement in place with CONRAIL during the design of the project, PAT was unable to complete negotiation of the agreements prior to CONRAIL operational personnel making its final decision regarding construction of the second track.
PAT received the Record of Decision from FTA in June 1994, at which time it was permitted by FTA to begin property acquisition activities and proceed with final design. A Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) with FTA was signed in October 1994. By mid 1995 the design of the CONRAIL Shelf reached the 60% complete stage. Also in mid 1995, CONRAIL indicated to PAT that it needed to add the second track before the Busway was completed, that CONRAIL's design of the second track was going forward, and that the second track would be operational by the end of 1996.
During this period, CONRAIL's approval was not forthcoming on several issues, including retaining wall design, slope protection, and track outages to allow for construction.
The installation of the second track and the inability to reach agreement on critical issues resulted in impacts to the design and construction costs and schedules for the CONRAIL Shelf.
PAT had prior experience dealing successfully with CONRAIL on previous Busway projects. There appeared to be no reason to believe that cooperation from CONRAIL would become a problem for the Airport Busway Project.
Apparently, CONRAIL's need to construct the second track prior to completion of the Airport Busway far outweighed CONRAIL's continued cooperation with PAT. Considering that CONRAIL owned the right-of-way at the time the FFGA was signed, and with no written agreement in place and no eminent domain process available to PAT, there was no recourse for PAT except to try to mitigate the situation to the greatest extent possible.
PAT has recognized from the circumstances that occurred with CONRAIL on the Airport Busway Project that any future dealings with railroad properties should include not only early discussions, but also the timely establishment of a written agreement(s) with the railroad prior to the execution of a FFGA. Further and of equal importance, PAT will request that a representative from railroad operations be part of the railroad negotiating team. This would ensure the early recognition of operational problems that will affect schedule and the cost of construction. PAT is proceeding on this basis on the Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway Extension, which recently began preliminary engineering. Railroad right-of-way acquisition, design and construction coordination, and track outage time issues will be addressed early in the project and PAT is planning to have written agreements in place early on in order to avoid the problems encountered on the Airport Busway Project. The railroad entity that PAT will be dealing with is, once again, CONRAIL.
The lesson has general applicability to Grantees working on projects in which a railroad right-of-way is involved or eminent domain is not available. Issues relative to property acquisition and to design and construction coordination and track outage time should be addressed in an agreements type document early in the project schedule, prior to final design.