NRC Rail Construction Project of the Year: Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner South

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
image description

The joint venture of Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., and Herzog Contracting Corp. utilize innovation and fluid communication to safely construct a 45-mile commuter rail line.

{besps}May13_nrcproject{/besps} {besps_c}0|1nrcproject.jpg| Bridge construction within the Jordan Narrows area. The UP work train is involved in FrontRunner South project-related work and is traveling to an adjacent project site that required mainline renewal by the railroad. The train is towing UP’s track laying machine and related track materials.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|2nrcproject.jpg| The relocated UP mainline and new FrontRunner South line in the Jordan Narrows area.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|3nrcproject.jpg| The integration team, which includes test engineers, contractors, designers and operations personnel, escorting the first test train set along the alignment. Testing in the first zone began in June 2012. There were five test zones, each near 10 miles in length.{/besps_c} {besps_c}0|4nrcproject.jpg| The joint venture and UP coordinated work along the 40 grade crossing locations to minimize traffic impact and work more efficiently. During one stretch, the team executed roadway and track improvements at 23 locations in 26 weeks.{/besps_c}

The joint venture of Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., and Herzog Contracting Corp. utilize innovation and fluid communication to safely construct a 45-mile commuter rail line.

Juggling the various elements of a 45-mile, $525-million commuter rail project is challenging enough in railroad construction. Add to it the need to closely work with local communities, transit agencies and a freight railroad to make sure safety is observed and communication remains open and it becomes clear why Stacy and Witbeck, Inc./Herzog Contracting Corp., a Joint Venture, was awarded the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association’s 2012 Railroad Construction Project of the Year, which was presented at the association’s annual conference in January 2013.

“The safety record, scope of the project and the cost containment measures utilized in this multiyear project are what made the Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog Contracting Corp. project stand out. With more than million man hours worked in challenging situations without a single lost time accident, the companies have demonstrated that safety was the absolute top priority. The coordination and interface with major project stakeholders, such as Union Pacific, 14 cities, two counties and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) was impressive and displayed a commitment to quality work in a partnership environment,” the NRC said of the project.

The FrontRunner South project is part of Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) FrontLines 2015 program, which is composed of five UTA rail projects that will be in operation by 2015 and will expand the existing rail network by 70 miles. The FrontRunner South project scope of work included 30 bridges, two million cubic yards of earthwork, 50 miles of roadbed preparation and trackwork, 40 joint (with UP) at-grade crossings, signaling work and station construction. The project began construction in August 2008 and began carrying commuters between Salt Lake City and Provo in December 2012.

Challenges known and unknown

The project construction contract utilized a modified design-build process known as Contract Manager/General Contractor (CMGC). According to Clayton Gilliland, project manager with Stacy and Witbeck, the CMGC format helped the joint venture become familiar with the scope of work because the companies were able to work closely with the project designer and provide input throughout most of the design process, which allowed for accurate pricing of materials and work prioritization. The CMGC format also allowed the companies to tackle the known challenges of the project, such as fitting the commuter rail corridor inside Union Pacific’s existing right-of-way.

Gilliland notes that several industries are served off of the UP mainline. If the commuter rail project utilized the same side of the track as the various industries, the services would frequently intersect.

“The alignment itself was an engineering challenge because you’re trying to fit it in between the existing mainline and fit it on the right-of-way. UTA and UP made a decision that we would [build the commuter route] on the east side of the UP for the northern third of the job and on the west side of the UP for the southern two-thirds of the job and that fit better with industries and properties,” said Gilliland.

The joint venture constructed a flyover where the project crosses over the UP from east to west, in south Jordan. This flyover consisted of a 1,000-foot bridge constructed in the middle of a curve to carry the UTA commuter traffic over UP’s freight traffic.

Gilliland also said a five-mile stretch, known as the Jordan Narrows, right in the middle of the project presented another engineering challenge.

“There’s a section where we parallel the Jordan River and it’s very remote, so there’s no access to the work except for a cut out at each end of the five-mile stretch,” said Gilliland.

He says that in addition to the multiple irrigation canal crossings, which could only be worked on during the winter so farmers were not affected during the summer season, the project needed to cross the Jordan River at two locations and a portion of UP’s line needed to be relocated in order to make room for the FrontRunner project.

“Sequencing the work, accessing the work and optimizing the alignment through the Jordan Narrows was a big known engineering challenge,” said Gilliland.

While the known engineering challenges allowed for proper planning of solutions, there were a few situations that cropped up during the course of the project, which required innovative thinking on the part of the joint venture.

An example of this was making sure the FrontRunner South construction fit into the various project stakeholders’ requirements. UP requested the project be constructed 40 feet from its mainline instead of 25 feet, which pushed the project into private property requiring additional property acquisitions that needed to be prioritized to keep work progressing.

Additionally, the project included building several grade separations over UDOT roads. During FrontRunner South construction, Gilliland says UDOT was in the middle of an accelerated bridge construction campaign that severely limited roadway outages and required close to zero impact to the traveling public.

“We had to change our means of bridge construction,” said Gilliland.

The bridge designs were standardized and included precast elements that were a complete assembly, including deck, girders, ballast, retaining walls, walkway and handrail. Not only did this reduce traffic impacts during construction, but helped as a cost containment measure, as well.

“We also would work around the clock on the weekends to drill shafts so we could get out of the way by Monday morning and have the road completely opened,” said Gilliland.

While the project’s various challenges kept all stakeholders on their toes, the common theme with every solution seemed to be rooted to good communication.

Gilliland says Stacy and Witbeck was part of the FrontRunner North construction and the relationship with UP was a continuation for FrontRunner South.

“We had quite a bit of momentum with UP, but they would send a representative into our weekly planning sessions so we would describe to them in detail the work we had planned for the following week. They had representatives on the ground with our crews and during job briefings, where work being done that day would be described, the UP rep. could weigh in,” said Gilliland. “With UDOT, we met with them bi-weekly to talk about upcoming work and we met regardless if there were any issues. We just met to keep the dialogue open and I think that was effective. The rest of the municipalities, we provided them updates, such as stakeholder luncheons, to let them know where the work was and what was coming up.”

Safety factor

As with any project this size, safety is a top priority. The project expended more than two million man hours and averaged more than 325 persons engaged on site every day with zero lost time accidents.

In the NRC Project of the Year application, the joint venture noted several contributing factors to its safety success, including:

Unwavering support of the safety program from UTA and the joint venture’s corporate leadership.

The joint venture felt strongly that self-performed work (60 percent) gave it an extraordinary platform to set the pace for safety performance in a very tangible way and earn the respect of the project’s subcontractors.

Continually working to convince the project’s individual craft employees that the joint venture cared for their individual wellness.

Each day began with a START card, enhancing hazard awareness and each week began with an all hands safety meeting that included a variety of training topics, recognition and awareness. Additionally, every crew was encouraged to “Take 30” minutes every week for safety to review the site conditions, discuss the operational risks and generally recharge the safety focus.

A “PPE Quick Reference Guide” was issued that visually identified the personal protective equipment recommended for all common power tools.

The joint venture held a belief that planned work decreases the risk of incidents.

Another safety element was the “Pinch Point Protection” system the team developed with UP. Gilliland says there were areas along the project that did not have adequate right-of-way to allow normal track clearance between FrontRunner and UP. The “Pinch Point Protection” system was designed to shut down both railroads in the event any equipment encroaches into the adjacent railroad’s operating envelope. According to Gilliland, the system consists of steel posts with an electrical circuit that were installed between FrontRunner and UP tracks every 100 feet. If the post is knocked over by a derailed train, the circuit would be interrupted and it would shutdown both tracks.

Measure of success

In addition to being awarded NRC’s Project of the Year, the project won the Utah AGC “Partnering Project of the Year” in 2011; Keith Tarkalson, general superintendent and construction manager, was awarded Utah AGC “Superintendent of the Year” in 2011 and the project won Stacy and Witbeck’s “Safest Project of the Year” in 2011.

While the recognition is certainly nice, for Gilliland, being able to provide a transportation alternative to the region was also a great accomplishment.

“There is no other paralleling freeway or reasonable paralleling surface street, there is only one other option and that’s I-15. If there is a weather day or a traffic accident, the commute is just impossible,” said Gilliland. “Providing that option and seeing the excitement from everyone on opening day and knowing the commuters are adding two hours of useful time to their day because they’re on the train, not white-knuckled, stressful driving, is what I think is pretty cool.”

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, Bridge/Retaining Walls/Tunnels, Commuter/Regional, ON Track Maintenance