2021 Infrastructure Bill

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
It could be my fault for ‘misnomer-ing’ their idea, which might be better described as excessive staffing, little to no competition, antiquated regulations, and over-generous contracts thwarting any attempt to keep the costs of rail down. In their prediction, these issues would eat through the 66 billion rather quickly, and may prevent actual projects getting completed (in a timely and non-costly way). To be fair, this has happened with other infrastructure projects like the 2nd Avenue tunnel, the Big Dig, and the CHSRA (at least to my understanding. If I’m wrong, feel free to politely correct and cite).
Some clarifications.

2nd Avenue Subway *did* have problems with contractors chiseling and charging excessive amounts, however. Not unions -- contractors. NYC in particular has a lot of problems with overpriced bidding, which is mostly NYC-specific.

Big Dig was fundamentally always going to cost what it cost, it was warned about in advance, and it was advertised with an lowballed cost by the politicos who wanted to build it. It's a *road tunnel* and they're *very expensive*, partly due to width and ventilation. Rail's cheaper.

CHSRA had one problem with a chiseling, money-extracting contractor on the first segment; that contractor hasn't been hired again. CHSRA is actually coming in on budget, pretty much, in constant 1995-era dollars; claims to the contrary are dishonest, and have been made by a *change in the procedure used to account for inflation*, which is essentially a dishonest way of doctoring the numbers. This change in how costs are reported was mandated by anti-rail extremist politicians.

The fact is that outside NYC, Amtrak hasn't had any of these problems and its projects have mostly come in on budget, with the exception of NYC-area projects. There is a problem in NYC.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporter
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,315
Location
Denver
Having worked on both sides of the union /management fence I would note that the cost of using union labor sometimes is not the wage scale but rather the contract work rules. If these are not kept up to date they raise costs and may actually result in disbenefits to workers.

The rail industry went through this for years until both sides discovered that they could negotiate and some of the small craft unions were merged.

The big problem with the Infrastructure package implementation will be finding competent staffing at all levels. The big consulting firms will be raiding the transit and rail employers and plugging in junior staff whose academic hours included little about railways. Consider that in 1990 when RTD (Denver) started to get serious again about rail transit there were two (2) of us going to the public meetings to answer the questions. By the time of the 2004 Fastracks package vote there was a team of experienced people in every aspect in house. It still was a big enough project that major components were contracted out. Step by step most of the package has been built and opened.

So if the infrastructure plan is approved in 2021, part of it should be recognizable by 2035 and then there should be a series of openings by 2050. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it but it is going to be difficult.

Sometimes I smile when I see this photo of my grandsons so confidently exploring the brave new world that we Baby Boomers are leaving them. Sometimes I cry when I see this photo as I think of how much time has been wasted by we Baby Boomers when action was so clearly needed long ago. And had it been taken at a steady pace we could have had better work at reasonable prices.

2015 10 03 IMG_8864kk.JPG

-- photo by Patti.
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
575
Location
Boston
Some clarifications.

2nd Avenue Subway *did* have problems with contractors chiseling and charging excessive amounts, however. Not unions -- contractors. NYC in particular has a lot of problems with overpriced bidding, which is mostly NYC-specific.

Big Dig was fundamentally always going to cost what it cost, it was warned about in advance, and it was advertised with an lowballed cost by the politicos who wanted to build it. It's a *road tunnel* and they're *very expensive*, partly due to width and ventilation. Rail's cheaper.

CHSRA had one problem with a chiseling, money-extracting contractor on the first segment; that contractor hasn't been hired again. CHSRA is actually coming in on budget, pretty much, in constant 1995-era dollars; claims to the contrary are dishonest, and have been made by a *change in the procedure used to account for inflation*, which is essentially a dishonest way of doctoring the numbers. This change in how costs are reported was mandated by anti-rail extremist politicians.

The fact is that outside NYC, Amtrak hasn't had any of these problems and its projects have mostly come in on budget, with the exception of NYC-area projects. There is a problem in NYC.
thanks for all of this clarification.
I have passed all of these thoughts along to my friends.
After reading what people have to say, I think there’s a couple of takeaways:

-I definitely ‘misnomered’ “union fees/costs,” (or whatever you feel the proper nomenclature is), but that was only one small part of my original question. This created a red herring and of course, my other half of the question went largely undiscussed. The main issue that I was failing to accurately describe seems to be with contractors.

-I think their fears don’t come from an irrational place. The US has a history of projects costing more than what they original stated, or more than they should due to any form of poor planning or negligence. My friends fear this will repeat itself, and wonder whether this is money wisely spent. I get it. Rather stereotypically of them, they wish the private sector has more of a say in passenger rail infrastructure (which of course is the case is parts of Europe, and seems to be showing signs of happening here too)
 
Last edited:

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
thanks for all of this clarification.
I have passed all of these thoughts along to my friends.
After reading what people have to say, I think there’s a couple of takeaways:

-I definitely ‘misnomered’ “union fees/costs,” (or whatever you feel the proper nomenclature is), but that was only one small part of my original question. This created a red herring and of course, my other half of the question went largely undiscussed. The main issue that I was failing to accurately describe seems to be with contractors.

-I think their fears don’t come from an irrational place. The US has a history of projects costing more than what they original stated, or more than they should due to any form of poor planning or negligence. My friends fear this will repeat itself, and wonder whether this is money wisely spent. I get it. Rather stereotypically of them, they wish the private sector has more of a say in passenger rail infrastructure (which of course is the case is parts of Europe, and seems to be showing signs of happening here too)
The private sector is the source of pretty much ALL the project cost overruns, so your friends aren't being rational in that regard.

In Europe, the big difference is that far more of the projects are done in-house by permanent government staff. In the US, the lack of permanent in-house trained government staff means that private contractors can "sell the government a bill of goods" and defraud the government, and nobody in government is expert enough to know that this is happening until it's too late.

An example was on the Boston Green Line Extension. The first contractor was defrauding the government, but the oversight committee was too small, lacked expertise, so didn't realize this and kept assuming that the costs were real. Finally a new investigative board was brought in, and they had people with more expertise. They fired the fraudulent contractor *and blacklisted them*, reported them for possible prosecution, hired in-house experts, and rebid the entire project.

The new bids came in under budget and on schedule. They'd got a different group of contractors now that it was recognized that the fraudulent contractors were not being tolerated any more.


If you want better results you actually need *less* private sector involvement and *more* in-house permanent government employees with technical expertise. And private contractors who have a history of dishonesty and chiseling need to be banned from contracting.
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
AU Supporter
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
3,845
Location
Baltimore. MD
The private sector is the source of pretty much ALL the project cost overruns, so your friends aren't being rational in that regard.

In Europe, the big difference is that far more of the projects are done in-house by permanent government staff. In the US, the lack of permanent in-house trained government staff means that private contractors can "sell the government a bill of goods" and defraud the government, and nobody in government is expert enough to know that this is happening until it's too late.

An example was on the Boston Green Line Extension. The first contractor was defrauding the government, but the oversight committee was too small, lacked expertise, so didn't realize this and kept assuming that the costs were real. Finally a new investigative board was brought in, and they had people with more expertise. They fired the fraudulent contractor *and blacklisted them*, reported them for possible prosecution, hired in-house experts, and rebid the entire project.

The new bids came in under budget and on schedule. They'd got a different group of contractors now that it was recognized that the fraudulent contractors were not being tolerated any more.


If you want better results you actually need *less* private sector involvement and *more* in-house permanent government employees with technical expertise. And private contractors who have a history of dishonesty and chiseling need to be banned from contracting.
I'm curious about private companies that outsource or contract stuff out, which would put them in a similar position to a government agency that is running a contract. Do they hire sufficient technical expertise to keep themselves from being defrauded? An example might be the Siemens Venture coach job with the lead plumbing fixtures. I can't believe that Siemens manufactured those defective parts themselves. Thus, they contracted them out, but how was the contracting oversight done, and is Siemens (like our American publicly held companies) under pressure from the markets to keep costs down, and did they do that by not hiring enough in-house technical expertise?
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
AU Supporter
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
3,845
Location
Baltimore. MD
If labor costs are such an issue, why do so many companies pay their executives so much instead of haggling with them to lower the costs of their labor or cutting all their perks? :)
Or they could move their headquarters to Monterrey or Mexico City and hire Mexican senior executives (at Mexican executive pay rates).
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
I'm curious about private companies that outsource or contract stuff out, which would put them in a similar position to a government agency that is running a contract. Do they hire sufficient technical expertise to keep themselves from being defrauded?
Frequently not. Similar problems happen. :-( Yes, it's documented in other industries. And in trains, Bombardier basically blew its entire company up by doing such things.

An example might be the Siemens Venture coach job with the lead plumbing fixtures. I can't believe that Siemens manufactured those defective parts themselves. Thus, they contracted them out, but how was the contracting oversight done, and is Siemens (like our American publicly held companies) under pressure from the markets to keep costs down, and did they do that by not hiring enough in-house technical expertise?
Can't speak to that directly.
 

John from RI

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 6, 2021
Messages
25
Location
Bloomfield NJ
If we want to talk about pork we need to consider the Interstate Highway System where it runs through cities. Providence, where spent a lot of -95 time when I was young, is an example. I-95 runs though Providence where successful urban neighborhoods such as Cathedral Square were ripped out to build it. And the lost of massive amounts of the tax base is an important reason for the decline of the city. The highway was built in the middle 1950's. A short time later there a new parallel interstate, I-295, had to be built. It runs around Providence and reconnects to I-95 in southern Massachusetts. Had I-295 been built in the first place I-95 through Providence could have been avoided completely.
To make matters worse a massive interchange with I-195 which runs from Providence to Cape Cod was built in the 1960's, destroying more of the tax base. Then in the early 2000's that interchange was ripped out and replaces, costing more millions and destroying more the the tax base. But neither of these two interchanges were needed at all. I 295 might simply have been extended and then continued out to Cape Cod.
I can only wonder about how many other once successful cities have been eviscerated by Interstate Highways would might have been built around them. How many people were pushed into slums who once lived in decent neighborhoods. How many businesses were destroyed. How much wasted taxes have we all paid.
Railroads were not perfect. There was plenty wrong with the New York New Haven and Hartford. But it built up cities like Providence while paying taxes. It never tore down the cities as the Interstate Highways did to Providence.
 

PaTrainFan

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
May 1, 2017
Messages
565
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
Now the work begins for Amtrak. How will it administer the massive new influx of tens of billions of dollars when they can't effectively manage the system they have now, or get one new long planned new service established along the Gulf Coast?
 

PaTrainFan

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
May 1, 2017
Messages
565
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
You can’t really lay this at the feet of management. If anything, their aggressive pursuit of CSX to allow the service is a high point.
I agree, but they're going to face this type of fight almost everywhere, especially if CSX succeeds. It is going to take a Herculean effort to accomplish what Amtrak is planning.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,651
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
I agree, but they're going to face this type of fight almost everywhere, especially if CSX succeeds. It is going to take a Herculean effort to accomplish what Amtrak is planning.
I suspect Amtrak cannot do it alone. There is some amount of political and legal castration of the likes of CSX that will be involved if all this is going to come to pass. There is no reason to roll over to the whims of a patently incompetent corporation which apparently does not even handle its own real interests competently. If we think Amtrak needs new management we should be thinking so about CSX and NS at least at double the intensity, and campaign to achieve that by all legal means.
 

Lonnie

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 1, 2010
Messages
19
Location
Syracuse
If we want to talk about pork we need to consider the Interstate Highway System where it runs through cities. Providence, where spent a lot of -95 time when I was young, is an example. I-95 runs though Providence where successful urban neighborhoods such as Cathedral Square were ripped out to build it. And the lost of massive amounts of the tax base is an important reason for the decline of the city. The highway was built in the middle 1950's. A short time later there a new parallel interstate, I-295, had to be built. It runs around Providence and reconnects to I-95 in southern Massachusetts. Had I-295 been built in the first place I-95 through Providence could have been avoided completely.
To make matters worse a massive interchange with I-195 which runs from Providence to Cape Cod was built in the 1960's, destroying more of the tax base. Then in the early 2000's that interchange was ripped out and replaces, costing more millions and destroying more the the tax base. But neither of these two interchanges were needed at all. I 295 might simply have been extended and then continued out to Cape Cod.
I can only wonder about how many other once successful cities have been eviscerated by Interstate Highways would might have been built around them. How many people were pushed into slums who once lived in decent neighborhoods. How many businesses were destroyed. How much wasted taxes have we all paid.
Railroads were not perfect. There was plenty wrong with the New York New Haven and Hartford. But it built up cities like Providence while paying taxes. It never tore down the cities as the Interstate Highways did to Providence.
Syracuse NY was one of the first cities to be bisected by the new interstate. It was so poorly designed (apparently by a California company that didn't understand what nine feet of snow in a season can do to roadways), they have never stopped working on it. In the heart of the city is a spot where the actual highway narrows to one lane! They destroyed a vibrant neighborhood of - you guessed it - people of color, set the wealthier side of the city apart from the rest, did all those things that happened in Providence. For the past ten years they've been engaging with the public to find out what they feel is the best way to handle a highway so old it has to be either rebuilt to current standards or brought down to street level, making I-81 go around the city on the current I-481. Fortunately, they keep voting to get rid of the city portion.
 

Anthony V

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Messages
251
As part of the IIJA, did the amendment to require US DOT to study restoring various discontinued long distance routes (with the Pioneer and North Coast Hiawatha getting priority) pass?
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
Syracuse NY was one of the first cities to be bisected by the new interstate. It was so poorly designed (apparently by a California company that didn't understand what nine feet of snow in a season can do to roadways), they have never stopped working on it. In the heart of the city is a spot where the actual highway narrows to one lane! They destroyed a vibrant neighborhood of - you guessed it - people of color, set the wealthier side of the city apart from the rest, did all those things that happened in Providence. For the past ten years they've been engaging with the public to find out what they feel is the best way to handle a highway so old it has to be either rebuilt to current standards or brought down to street level, making I-81 go around the city on the current I-481. Fortunately, they keep voting to get rid of the city portion.
I am so looking forward to the I-81 viaduct teardown. It looks like they're finally committing to it and have funding.

The other highway which bisects Syracuse was built by ripping out the downtown passenger rail line. That's I-690. Sadly there are no plans to repair that problem. :-(
 

Lonnie

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 1, 2010
Messages
19
Location
Syracuse
I am so looking forward to the I-81 viaduct teardown. It looks like they're finally committing to it and have funding.

The other highway which bisects Syracuse was built by ripping out the downtown passenger rail line. That's I-690. Sadly there are no plans to repair that problem. :-(
It was in 1936 when they moved the trains out of downtown. That was 60 trains a day right where downtown crowds of people were constantly crossing those rails. Due to excessive death, dismemberment and pollution, not to mention traffic tie-ups at the 29 grade crossings, the rails were moved by only a few blocks. Now I-690 runs where the trains used to run and the platform is being maintained with works of art that are white statues of people waiting for a train that will never come. There's a pretty nice new transportation hub just a little further north next to the amazing farmer's market so at last you can go from train to bus or visa versa.
 

Attachments

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
It was in 1936 when they moved the trains out of downtown. That was 60 trains a day right where downtown crowds of people were constantly crossing those rails. Due to excessive death, dismemberment and pollution, not to mention traffic tie-ups at the 29 grade crossings, the rails were moved by only a few blocks. Now I-690 runs where the trains used to run and the platform is being maintained with works of art that are white statues of people waiting for a train that will never come. There's a pretty nice new transportation hub just a little further north next to the amazing farmer's market so at last you can go from train to bus or visa versa.
Yeah, the street running had to go -- amazing it lasted until 1936. The elevated railway line lasted less than 20 years before being ripped out for the expressway. :-(

I use the new Syracuse station routinely, but the lack of sidewalks there is a severe problem for myself and my partner who has mobility impairments. Even crossing to the farmer's market is unsafe.

Apparently the current Syracuse mayor, Ben Walsh, managed to get the city to pass a law just this year where the city will take over sidewalk maintenance and construction (previously adjacent property owners were supposed to do it and it didn't happen). So hopefully the unfortunate situation there will be fixed soon.

If you want to help, write the city and ask them to fix the gaps in the sidewalk network between the train station, the farmer's market, the street grid, and DestinyUSA -- the more requests they get the more likely they'll prioritize it, I suspect.
 

GoAmtrak

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 4, 2021
Messages
33
Location
Switzerland
I am so looking forward to the I-81 viaduct teardown. It looks like they're finally committing to it and have funding.

The other highway which bisects Syracuse was built by ripping out the downtown passenger rail line. That's I-690. Sadly there are no plans to repair that problem. :-(
Perhaps a little bit of topic, but I like Syracuse and upstate New York also! I think the urban planning cutting Syracuse into pieces by a highway was a big fault they would never do again. Poor urban planning again. As you correctly mentioned, passenger railway service should be at the place of the highway and serve downtown Syracuse instead.
 
Top