Readers Write: No mystery why MTA projects cost so much


New York City Councilmembers Helen Rosenthal, Ydaniis Rogriguez and others now want the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to set up another commission to look into why capital projects cost so much.

This would be a waste of time and money. The issue has been previously periodically studied for decades.

Besides the MTA, both the city and state comptrollers, NYC Office of Management and Budget, NYC Independent Budget Commission and others have conducted either studies or audits on this issue.

Locally, MTA union work rules sometimes prevent contracting out work to the private sector.

Third party contractors require MTA New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road and other operating agency Force Account (their own employees) to provide both supervision and protection when private contractors work on or adjacent to active right of way track.

Are excessive numbers of MTA supervisory or force account employees assigned adding to costs?

On the federal level, there are Federal Transit Administration “Buy America” requirements. They continue to play a role in the ability of the MTA to both speed up capital projects and contain cost growth.

Second is the Davis Bacon requirement of paying prevailing wages.

Third, is the “Arts in Transit 1 percent expenditure requirement.

Fourth is U.S. Cargo preference requirement for private companies to use only American vessels when shipping product from abroad to USA.

Is the Federal Transit Administration in a position to waive any of these requirements for transit projects?

Anyone in the transit industry knows that compliance with federal Buy America rules and regulations frequently adds both time and cost to a project.

Second Avenue subway may have been a good example of how federal requirements added to costs resulting in a final price tag of $4.6 billion.

You can count on one hand the number of Buy America waivers issued by U.S. DOT FTA to transit agencies in recent years. T

his impacts the MTA’s ability get the best bang for the buck when spending over $6.3 billion in direct federal formula grant funds, potentially an additional $1.5 billion more in competitive discretionary, New Starts and Hurricane Sandy relief/resiliency dollars under the MTA $32 billion 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Program.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office)


CSX Upheaval Risks Throwing It Off Track


Three top executives don’t leave a company when everything is going swimmingly.CSX Corp., the railroad that replaced its CEO with storied cost-cutter Hunter Harrison amid pressure from an activist investor, announced more management upheaval on Wednesday. The $47 billion company’s chief operating officer, chief marketing officer and general counsel are all stepping down. I find it hard to believe this reshuffle was planned far in advance because the changes forced CSX to delay an investor conference that had been scheduled for next week. The meeting now won’t happen until February, Harrison told Bloomberg News. I hope analysts’ and shareholders’ flights to Palm Beach, Florida, are refundable.

It’s not clear what prompted the executives to leave, but their exit strikes me as a loss for CSX — not least because two of the three departing executives are women whose jobs will now be filled by men. There’s something to be said for keeping a little institutional knowledge around, particularly in light of the cascade of customer complaints sparked by Harrison’s aggressive push to implement his strategy for making the railroad run more efficiently. The disruption from delayed shipments and service shortfalls was significant enough that the Surface Transportation Board held a hearing over the degradation in CSX’s customer experience earlier this month.
While CEO Harrison tried to pass off the issue of service disruption as “overplayed” in July, it was significant enough that CSX had to walk back its forecast for the year.

New CEOs bring in their own teams all the time, but public commentary would seem to point to these departing executives at least being willing to try things Harrison’s way. Outgoing chief operating officer Cindy Sanborn and chief marketing officer Fredrik Eliasson, for example, gave glowing remarks about Harrison’s strategy to Bloomberg News in June. Harrison signed only a four-year contract with CSX and the septuagenarian has been dogged by questions about his health. He has a short period to set CSX on a sustainable path to increasing profitability, and someone else will have to take over the controls whenever he retires.It now appears that person is going to be just-hired chief operating officer James Foote, one of Harrison’s lieutenants while he was at Canadian National Railway Co. I’m sure someone with Foote’s decades of experience is perfectly qualified, but he hasn’t spent a day working at CSX in at least the past decade and Harrison has already essentially crowned him the heir apparent. In an interview with Bloomberg News, he said Foote’s appointment is part of a long-term succession plan. Why him and not the “rock stars” Harrison has said he’s unearthed at CSX during his tenure?
When a High Score Isn’t Good
CSX’s operating ratio was the worst among the top North American railroads in 2016. It can obviously improve but how much is a matter of debate.

Harrison has laid some of the blame for CSX’s service setbacks on employees who were resistant to change and the low morale created by a plan to cut 1,000 management jobs that was announced before his official hiring. That’s always been a bit of a rich criticism considering he’s targeting 4,500 job cuts this year (including the above slashing) and has done away with some safety-based procedures such as nap breaks. I can’t imagine this latest slap-down of internal talent will do much to improve morale, either.Shareholders aren’t always concerned about employees’ feelings, but they do pay attention when flagging morale translates into service issues that erode profits. And this latest bit of upheaval at CSX raises questions about whether or not those setbacks have really faded into the past.

How We Can Get The Railroads To Want More Passenger Service


By Noel T. Braymer

They just don’t make rights of ways like they use to. Back around 1860 the population of the country was 32 million people. Today the population of this country is over 325 million people and growing. Just the population of California is already almost 40 million. 150 years ago there was much more wide open space which made buying land and building railroads a fairly simple thing to do compared to today. Today building new or widening existing roads is increasingly expensive and harder to build. When new roads are built traffic congestion doesn’t go down. Critics love to complain about the “high cost” of building high speed rail in California. But building rail isn’t that expensive. Much of the cost is due to the need to build grade separations to avoid crossing the many roads in the San Joaquin Valley.There have been some impressive rail…

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By M.E. Singer

The recent revelation in Railway Age, “Amtrak Thinning Non-Agreement Ranks” (27 Oct) gives credence to the postulation how Amtrak thinks and operates–that when in doubt,it chooses to re-organize by disgorging management.

How many times has Amtrak endured the pain, time, and expense of re-organizing and downsizing since 2005, under Downes, Warrington, and Boardman? What did Amtrak achieve in the end, other than its infamous tagline of a “glide-path towards financial self-sufficiency,” the over built/under performing Acela (“Cochon” in French), and the mail/express business line diverting limited resources to serve Janesville and Louisville? No wonder in “Reorganizing? Think Again”  (Harvard Business Review, October, 2011), it was stated how re-organizing “are surface-level, counterfeit solutions, and they do more harm than good. And yet when it comes to reorganization, they’re the norm. According to one McKinsey study, the success rate for organizational redesign efforts is less than 25%…

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