NRC hits new highs in San Deigo

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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2011 Safe Contractor of the Year Award winners

The 2012 National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Annual Conference in California is another record-breaking success.

A record number of contractors, railroaders and suppliers escaped the winter chill and gathered in San Diego, Calif., for the 2012 National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Annual Conference. The January 4-8 meeting provided enlightening presentations, excellent networking opportunities and the exhibition, which filled two halls, plus an additional room, offered a chance to see and speak with NRC members about their products and services.

Speakers discussed contracting opportunities for Class 1s, shortlines and transit systems. Finance and politics as related to the railroad industry in general and contractors in particular were also discussed and NRC experienced the biennial changing of the guard with Jim Perkins handing over the NRC Chairmanship to Terry Benton.

“With record attendance of over 950 people, a record number of exhibitors displaying their wares in a packed exhibit hall and a conference agenda full of the latest rail industry updates from a prestigious group of top rail executives, the NRC management and Board of Directors were thrilled with how the conference went,” said Chuck Baker, NRC president. “Speaker highlights included two Congressmen (John Duncan of Tennessee and Duncan Hunter of California), top engineering executives from Class 1s (UP, BNSF, NS, CSX, CN and CP), shortline holding companies and regional railroads (RailAmerica, G&W, OmniTRAX and FEC) and rail transit agencies (New York MTA, Los Angeles MTA, LA Metrolink, BART, Denver and San Diego MTS). The Hotel del Coronado was spectacular and provided a great backdrop for networking, the weather cooperated and the extracurricular events were enjoyable as always. We’re looking forward to the next NRC Conference in Miami, January 9-12, 2013,” said Baker.

After an opening reception and welcome in the exhibit hall, the general session kicked off with two presentations on freight railroad contracting from Bill Van Trump of Union Pacific and Bob Stevens of Florida East Coast Railway. Van Trump outlined UP’s capital expenditure plans for 2012 and mentioned that business has been good and capital spending is going up.

Stevens was the first of the shortline presenters, who continue to deal with a large funding hole with the expiration of the shortline tax credit at the end of 2011. However, Stevens did report that intermodal is the FEC’s primary focus and that several contracting opportunities exist among five key categories including C&S, maintenance-of-way and bridges, design and construction, facility maintenance and environmental compliance and management.

The NRC Safety Committee offered a preview of the latest Safety DVDs, “Safety on a Tie Gang” and “Safety on a Rail Gang.” The NRC Safety Committee has produced 12 safety DVDs for railroad contractors and are free to NRC members. The next two subjects to be produced into safety DVDs include fall protection and flash-butt welding.

Robert Bergen from New York City Transit was next on the schedule. New York’s MTA is in the third year of a five-year capital program. Bergen highlighted opportunities on the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Railroad, as well as major projects including the 7 Line Extension and the 2nd Avenue Subway work.

Representative Duncan Hunter of California and a member of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee then addressed the conference. Rep. Hunter stressed that transportation is a bi-partisan issue and said a revenue stream that does not involve raising the gas tax or charging by weight needs to be found in order for a transportation bill to be passed successfully.

Genesee & Wyoming’s Gerry Gates followed Rep. Hunter. Gates pointed out that GWI does not have a large engineering team and relies heavily on contractors. GWI will focus on bridge work, specifically upgrading to 286k, and will also step up its vegetation control program, while continuing to renew its core infrastructure including ties, rail and ballast.

Keith Hartwell, president of Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, LLC, gave a summation of possible action that may occur in Washington, D.C. over the next year. Hartwell touched upon SAFTEA-LU, the shortline tax credit, the TIGER program and PTC before encouraging NRC members to attend Railroad Day on the Hill in March. He encouraged the industry to speak loud enough and to be persistent and consistent in its message to elected officials. 

Tim Drake of Norfolk Southern wrapped up the first day of the conference with a look at NS’ 2012 capital program. Opportunities in 2012 include ballast unloading, thermite welding, rail testing, grinding, vegetation control, as well as bridge construction and repairs. NS is also working on six major intermodal facilities, many of which are tied to the Crescent Corridor. Drake also touched upon the North Carolina Passenger Capacity Improvement Projects for which NS will be responsible for all track and signal work.
The next morning, Paul Jablonski with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System began the general session. Jablonski noted that while San Diego’s system is not old, it is the oldest modern light-rail system in the country and is need of rehabilitation. He gave a brief overview of the agency’s $552 million trolley renewal project and $2 billion MidCoast Trolley Extension.

Sam Sexhus of BNSF was up next and gave a recap of the railroad’s hectic 2011 and the work done to repair its system from damage inflicted by floodwaters. Sexhus also highlighted several major expansion projects including Abo Canyon, bridge approaches in Burlington, Iowa, the Missouri River Bridge in Plattsmouth, Neb., a bridge replacement in Galveston, Texas, the intermodal facility in Kansas City, Mo., and the Tower 55 project in Forth Worth, Texas.

Ken Koff from OmniTRAX continued the freight presentations with a rundown of OmniTRAX’s 2012 capital spend program. Crossties will be a primary focus this year with individual tie projects varying between 500 to 65,000 crossties. Koff also mentioned bridge repair and upgrades, which will continue to be a significant part of the capital program.

Next, David Armstrong of Commercial Insurance Brokers announced the winners of the 2011 NRC/RT&S/Commercial Insurance Safe Contractor of the Year Awards (see page 34). A total of 45 contracting companies prepared entries for this year’s contest. 

The presentations continued with Gord Pozzobon from Canadian Pacific who told attendees “rail is king with CP.” While rail will be a focus of CP’s capital spend in 2012, the railroad will also advance several strategic infrastructure upgrades and will centered on three key themes: eliminating points of constraint, continuing the railroad’s Long Train Strategy and expanding for growth.
Carter Mau ended the second day of presentations with a look at the capital program for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. Mau said BART is doing well and ridership is up. BART also has several active capital projects including an earthquake safety program, the eBART program, Warm Springs Extension and several other improvement projects.

The final day of presentations began with CSX’s Dale Ophardt, who outlined the annual engineering tasks performed on CSX tracks and detailed major projects including the Mobile River Bridge replacement, PTC progress and the National Gateway.

Denver Regional Transportation District’s Jim Starling outlined RTD’s FasTracks Plan, which includes 122 miles of new light rail and commuter rail and a major redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station. Starling also touched upon Denver RTD’s success with securing federal grants, which he attributed to making sure federally funded projects are completed on time and on budget.
Bill Bronte with the California Department of Transportation gave a brief report of projects going on in the state but stressed that state and federal funding remain key issues.

Scott Linn, RailAmerica’s vice president – engineering, recapped 2011, a year he called brutal due to extreme weather and reviewed the various projects and maintenance needs RailAmerica has for its 2012 capital spending.

This will be the final year of a three-year, $37.2 million, jointly-funded program between Union Pacific and the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad for recapitalization work on the MNAR. RailAmerica will also focus on several New England Central projects including crossing improvements, the Alburg Trestle Project Phase III, continuing the ARRA high-speed rail project and advancing approximately 50 FRA 130 funded projects across its system, as well as working on a siding at Cedar Creek on the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad.

RailAmerica also presented four inaugural “Best in Class” awards. Top Service Provider and Top Supplier awards were given in four categories. The 2011 “Best in Class” Supplier – Over $2.5 million award was presented to Steel Dynamics, Inc., and L.B. Foster Co.; the 2011 “Best in Class” Service Provider – Over $2.5 million was awarded to Osmose Railroad Services, Inc.; the 2011 “Best in Class” Supplier – Under $2.5 million was awarded to Unitrac Railroad Materials, Inc.; and the 2011 “Best in Class” Service Provider – Under $2.5 million was awarded to Herzog Technologies, Inc.

Raymond Lambert, president of Unitrac said, “Being the recipient of a prestigious award from a distinguished organization such as RailAmerica, substantiates Unitrac’s pledge to be the best supplier in the rail industry.”

Linn’s presentation was followed by another inaugural awards ceremony, this time to recognize the 2011 Railroad Construction Project of the Year, the 2011 Field Employee of the Year and induct two industry legends into the NRC Hall of Fame.

Anthony MacIsaac of Railroad Construction Company was selected as the Field Employee of the Year. NRC wrote, “Tony exhibits a strong dedication to safety and customer service through his successes in project management and his time spent teaching the next generation of rail engineers. He not only holds the respect of his peers, but also of Railroad Construction Company’s customers. It is people like him, with their hands-on experience and industry knowledge, which make NRC member companies strong.”

The Rail Construction Project of the Year award went to Stacy and Witbeck/Kiewit Infrastructure West’s Utah Transit Authority West Valley TRAX Light Rail project. NRC wrote, “The scope, ability to partner and manage work flow between a multitude of parties and innovative problem solving is what made the Stacy and Witbeck/Kiewit Western project stand out. There were numerous challenges and judging from the response of the end user, Stacy and Witbeck/Kiewit Infrastructure West Joint Venture exceeded expectations in all areas. Their use of new technology saved their customer both time and money, and the project’s safety program was particularly impressive.”

Bill Herzog, Founder and Owner, Herzog Contracting Corp., and Thomas Philip Stout, executive, Atlas Railroad Construction and Marta Track Constructors, made up the first class of the NRC Hall of Fame. According to the NRC, its board decided to institute a new NRC Hall of Fame to honor the legends of the industry, those who have driven progress in rail construction and maintenance and those who have helped make the NRC strong as an association.

Krishniah Murthy with Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority detailed several expansion projects taking place on the nation’s second largest transportation system, including the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Expo Line Phase II, Crenshaw/LAX Transit County Corridor, Regional Connector and Westside Subway Extension.

Canadian National’s Jim McLeod gave the final Class 1 presentation of the meeting. CN’s basic capital program for 2012 will see an increase of more than five percent over 2011 with a focus on rail, ties, OTM and bridges. Special capital also exists for major projects include speed/capacity initiatives, extended siding program, Wainwright double track and signals, the Chicago area EJ&E Integration, Kirk Yard Reconstruction and Calgary Logistics Park.

AAR’s Jeff Moller then gave a rundown of the New Orleans Rail Gateway Project followed by independent Wall Street analyst, Tony Hatch, who pointed out the current issues affecting the rail renaissance and areas for future industry growth.

Nicholas LaRocco with Parsons and Darrell Maxey with SCRRA gave the final presentation on PTC implementation in the L.A. Basin. The L.B. Foster Football Party was followed by a finale reception held on the beach.

The next NRC event will be the Ninth Annual Railroad Contracting Equipment Auction on Thursday, April 26, 2012, in La Porte, Ind.  Blackmon Auctions will run the proceedings, which will take place at the RailWorks/E&L Paving facility at 9 a.m.

The next NRC Conference and Exhibition will be January 9-12, 2013, in Miami, Fla.

Categories: Class 1, Commuter/Regional, Intercity, OFF Track Maintenance, ON Track Maintenance, Safety/Training, Shortline/Regional, Track Machinery