Prioritising state of good repair over expansion, keeping customers posted, and investing in asset management systems that allow meticulous planning -- the "big three" areas which must be in place to help deliver effective, smooth, and predictable infrastructure projects.
Ahead of our SmartRail Munich event on June 17-19th, Trapeze’s Vice President of Business Development Paul Comfort and Director of Rail Solutions Marcelo Bravo spoke to Dave Songer from SmartRail World about the work they have been involved in, and the importance of planning and preparation.
Between them, both men have more than 45 years’ experience in transport and governmental roles, and have recently completed work on the MTA Baltimore Rail Exchange. Comfort -- a former CEO of MTA in Baltimore -- stated that they were able to improve upon the proposed “months and weekends for nine months” shutdown plan, instead completing it over a three-week period. “We had to repair several of the interlockings in the rail system. We made a decision to just pull the band-aid off and shut down for 21 days, planning out every hour to achieve maximum effectiveness.” The agency provided bus bridges for the spots in between the then-closed stations, and bought all the materials directly – not leaving that responsibility to the contractors.
The communication aspect of "big three" considerations was put into motion through the use of a pretty familiar social media platform, using it to publish captured video footage to get the word out to those that may have been affected by the works. “Every day we ran a drone over the work area and filmed it, putting it on Facebook so our customers were aware of it and updated. We also purchased print media ads over that whole 21-day period and we only had 10 complaints from people about how it affected them. That’s because of the communication, making them feel a part of it and being aware of the importance of putting their safety first.”
As for “State of Good Repair” (SGR), Comfort maintained it is vital that railroads and operators focus their attention on keeping existing networks operational and assets in good condition as a higher priority than system expansion -- something that’s especially important when budgets are limited, he added, saying: "Investment in the latest asset management systems is deemed critical to mitigate against situations where projects never end or are not adequately planned."
Echoing this, Bravo said that the technology was indeed there to plan ahead in the long-term. There are around $90bi of dollars of good repair backlogs in the US, he told us, much of which can be attributed to rail. “With all these powerful tools and accurate data on asset condition and life cycle status, you can actually plan for and reserve money for a project that’s going to happen in about 10 years – the replacement of an entire fleet of cars, for example.”
According to Bravo, SGR and Capital Investment Planning (CIP) are integral parts and challenges in our industry, today heavily facilitated through the use of tailor made asset management software solutions.
But before any of those big steps can be taken, there is something that needs to be improved upon. “Most railroads in the US may be using relatively sophisticated tools, but that mentality -- that asset management mindset -- isn’t quite there yet.", said Bravo. "My wish would be that over the next five to 10 years, railroads won’t just be maximising the digitisation and utilisation of the tools that they have, constantly evolving and developing around how the technology advances, but also just really owning and buying into an asset management way of thinking,
“That starts from the top; it takes a strong leader to champion that and really buy into that for the organisation to own it.”
Paul and Marcelo spoke to SmartRail World to promote Trapeze’s podcast series, Transit Unplugged, a bi-weekly series of chats with CEOs of Transit Systems and companies. The North American based podcast now has travelled further afield to speak to colleagues in Australia, Europe s and the UK.