Cuomo and DeBlasio issue 10-point plan that would change MTA construction rules

Written by Staff and newswire report
MTA reorganization

A plan to overhaul New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority operations and funding mechanism has major implications for rail construction, maintenance and signals companies.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a 10-point plan Tuesday they say will streamline how the nation’s largest transportation agency functions. The first item on the list calls for creating a reorganized structure that would “centralize common functions” among the MTA’s six existing entities: the New York City Transit Authority , the Long Island Rail Road, the Metro-North commuter train system, MTA Bus, the Staten Island Railway, and MTA Capital Construction.

It is the changes to MTA Capital Construction that would likely have the biggest impact on the rail construction and maintenance industry. MTA Capital Construction, formed in 2003, manages the mega-projects in the New York Subway system, including the Second Avenue Subway and the ongoing East Side Access project.

In addition to whatever changes take place at MTA Capital Construction, the 10-point plan also calls for some fundamental changes in how construction projects are managed by the MTA and what sort of work will take place. In particular, the de Blasio/Cuomo plan:

  • commits to moving all major construction projects and planned projects to a  “design build” model in which “the MTA will do preliminary drawings only to the point necessary for bidding the project in a private sector competition based primarily on cost and timing of the project”;
  • creates a committee of “transportation, engineering and government experts” to review the MTA’s Capital Plan;
  • promises that all major construction projects will be vetted by a construction review team headed by the Deans of Cornell School of Engineering and Columbia School of Engineering. It was the leaders of those schools who came up with the plan to make repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel without shutting down “L” train service.
  • asks that same construction review team to examine plans for signal system upgrades and “decide the best system to use, specifically comparing Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) to Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB) technology for safety, timeliness and cost.”

At present, much of the plan is unclear. For example, the engineering deans don’t claim to have expertise in signaling. So it seems a stretch to task them with making choices related to CBTC. Nor does it seem to make sense to compare CBTC, a method of train control, with UWB, a method of sending communications. The plan would also seem to take away New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s ability to manage engineering, contracting and construction. In addition, the funding mechanisms envisioned in the plan, including congestion pricing for motor vehicle tolls and a tax on legalized marijuana, would require approval from legislators.

The mayor and governor announced their plan just hours after MTA board members blasted contractors Bombardier and Siemens for problems with scanner antennas installed on Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains as part of the move to positive train control (PTC.)

The full 10-point plan is available here.

For more on the plan, read the coverage in our sister publication Railway Age.

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