Thursday, August 17, 2006

Something Fun!

Thanks to Live From the Thirdrail and Urban Planning Blog you can create your own "I've ridden on these systems" Logo Set. Go to this site to create your own.

Here's mine:

Had there been some more logos, such as Sacramento RT and Tri-Met in Portland, I could have included them as well. But it's fun anyway!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2006 AREMA Annual Conference

It's coming up, this year it will be held between September 17th and 20th in Louisville, Kentucky. This year will also feature the REMSA World Rail Expo, with both indoor and outdoor exhibits. These outdoor exhibits generally mean high attendance for the Conference.

The Exhibit combined with the Technical Presentations are usually enough to convince any boss to pop for travel expenses required to get there. This year's presentations cover topics such as eliminating mud in track, how to deal with 200 MGT's traffic on a flood plane, performance of asphalt underlayment, recycling an open deck half through plate girder span, and the preliminary design of the Silicon Valley Tunnel Segment. Plus, there are at least a couple items that deal with the new generation of employees, from special opportunities to meet them to justifying training them, and that's a very good thing.

A couple of Presentations stood out for me, and will definitely be on my "must see" list. The first one, "Railroad Security Efforts Post Hurricanes Katrina and Rita" by Mr. Gary Gordon, PE and Mr. Curt Secrest of the Transportation Security Administration should provide a positive reaction to recent hurricane damage and give all railroaders some ammunition to use when it comes time to brag on how the industry can respond to emergencies.

The second is a very interesting sounding presentation, "How Agencies Can 'Railroad' a Railroad: A Case Study" by Mr. Gary Lewis of Parsons Water and Infrastructure and Mr. Mark McCune of the Union Pacific Railroad. Common experience is that the UPRR gets its own way when it comes to dealing with any agency. I will be interested in hearing if and how Uncle Pete was out maneuvered by someone. At least, it will shed some insight into one particular agency's thought process.

Figure on somewhere around 1,200 railroad track engineering professionals in attendance. If you have any connection at all, you have probably already made your reservation. If not, you should do it soon.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The 2006 "Rippers" for Worst Agency

Here, the proverbial "tails" to the "heads" of the Best Agencies noted previously. These are the "not-so-coveted" awards, and are, once again, totally arbitrary. Generally, either vague Construction Documents, or even covert attempts to skewer a Supplier or Contractor have resulted in strained relationships, higher costs, and lower quality. The result is the award of a "Worst Agency Ripper".

Unlike the "Best Agencies", where four out of last years five award winners repeated, only three out of the '05 worst maintained their lowly status. However, it was not so much of a case of their improvement as it was the lowering of others.

Rest easily, though. Surely the FTA is on this, and will see fit to shed some light on whatever these people are doing to make life more difficult for suppliers and contractors, and more costly for their patrons.

As before, this list is entirely subjective and is shown in alphabetical order to avoid having to choose the total loser of the group.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART): Even the staff admits that suppliers and contractors add a sizeable dollar amount to their estimates called the "DART Factor". This is in addition to the usual fudge factors that are part of bidding. Sadly, DART does not get a better product for the extra money, although that money will cover the mountain of paperwork that must be done while doing business with them. An anonymous contributer thinks that it even goes beyond that, to the point that DART actually wants to bankrupt contractors!

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA): No perceived change has occurred here, those who know nothing may still be directing those in the know.

North San Diego County Transit District: Just when the Sprinter Project seems to be going better, along comes a new contracting operator, and on-time performance suffers. Read this story, and you will see that officials are good at spinning.

Tren Urbano: It may not be on the mainland, but it is part of the United States. So, what happened in San Juan? Who is responsible? Wasn't there alot of money spent? Answers to the first question will come before answers to the second, for sure. And then, there will be embarrasment concerning the third question. Oh, and will this project prove that the Feds are better at funding than administering?

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA): Just because the facilities are nice doesn't mean things are better. Just because the once critical Blog is no longer current doesn't mean things are better, either.

Last years agencies that climbed out of the morass include the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and St. Louis Metro Transit (Metrolink). This is probably due to the fact that no new projects are underway for either, and both are enjoying increased ridership.

You might be thinking, why did Rip exclude the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)? I know, there's a blog that records some crazy stuff, but in spite of their recent derailment due to wide gage, CTA moves alot of people on an aging system. And, they seem to get along well with suppliers and contractors. That is a plus today.

How about Amtrak? In the midwest, there is an expression that goes, "making a silk purse out of a sow's ear". It is hard to imagine any agency that does more with less, with national political nonsense thrown in besides, than Amtrak.

If you are an employee of one of the losing agencies, you are probably not surprised. All I can say is, better luck in the future.

As with the Best Agency Rippers, comments and observations are welcome.