While they do run trains very successfully, rail service contractors can do significantly more to help transit systems with their rail services.
For starters, they form strategic partnerships with companies located near the system for products and services such as parts and repairs; provide technological innovations, such as special apps for conductors that streamline all the rules and information they need to have at their fingertips; and offer expertise in lean manufacturing to enhance fleet availability and reliability.
To find out more about how they have helped rail systems across the U.S., METRO Magazine talked to five contractors, some of whom are also railcar manufacturers, and got the latest on some of their key projects.
Alstom Transport’s expertise covers a comprehensive knowledge of train infrastructure, signaling, maintenance, renovations, and training and consulting, according to the company. With this know-how, the contractor and manufacturer offers systems that feature a blend of diverse technologies and flexible implementation.
This is reflected in the largest project Alstom has ever signed, according to the company, in which it is supplying 600 commuter trains to Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and constructing a manufacturing facility for the transit system. The contract marks a significant milestone in its strategy to strengthen its presence at both global and local levels. This achievement can be attributed to its worldwide industrial footprint and strategic partnerships that enable proximity to its customers.
The project contract was signed in October 2013 for the supply of the X’Ttrapolis Mega commuter trains (3,600 cars) over a period of 10 years. Alstom will also build a local manufacturing facility near Johannesburg.
South African rail company Gibela, as part of the joint venture led by Alstom, will provide technical support and supply spare parts over an 18-year period. The overall value of the contract is worth $5.5 billion.
“We were particularly focused on comfort, safety and reliability to make sure that Prasa customers travel in the safest conditions possible and arrive at their destination on time,” says Yvan Eriau, Alstom Transport’s managing director, Southern Africa. “Our trains are accessible to everyone, thanks to their low-floor, spacious interiors and wide doors. To make the trains safer, we used an anti-crash system and video surveillance.”
Bombardier Transportation is particularly proud of offering its clients game-changing approaches to maintaining and operating rail fleets by leveraging its vast manufacturing experience in the rail and aerospace sectors, combined with technology solutions it adapted specifically to the rail environment, Thomas Martin, GM, sales and business development, services, Bombardier Transportation, says.
An example of this approach is the contractor’s implementation of World Class Operations and Maintenance (WCO&M) at its sites in Europe and North America. By combining foundational principles of lean manufacturing with best practices adapted from its manufacturing sites, Bombardier achieved greater results with respect to fleet reliability and availability, as well as in maintaining the value of its clients’ assets beyond what a traditional maintenance approach offers, Martin explains.
Agence Métropolitaine de Transport, Montréal’s (AMT) commuter rail service recently benefited from this approach. Bombardier’s team of operation and maintenance experts worked alongside the transit system’s personnel to implement the WCO&M program for the maintenance of its rail fleet.
Bombardier is also implementing several key innovations to streamline AMT’s operation. Among these innovations are its Sentio products, which employ wireless communication coupled with a set of information tools that provide personnel instant access to documents, instructions, drawings and work orders via Web-enabled handheld devices, Martin says.
The contractor is also optimizing AMT’s maintenance regime, providing greater access to meaningful asset condition data, and enhancing the safety, reliability and availability of the fleet.
Overall, the contractor’s team of more than 1,400 service employees in North America also maintains facilities and stations and provides dispatching, overhaul, spare parts, long-term material supply agreements and technology solutions, including elearning, TrackSafe roadway worker protection and inventory optimization.
Herzog Transit Services Inc.
Founded in 1994, Herzog Transit Services Inc. (HTSI), located in Dallas, offers a variety of services, including train operations and dispatching; right-of-way maintenance; rail vehicle, stations and facilities maintenance; and is “proud to provide one-stop shopping for what transit systems need,” Norm Jester, HTSI’s VP, corporate development, says.
HTSI is involved in the movement of 96,000 passenger trains each year, primarily in commuter rail, and operates 11 contracts around the country, including in Dallas; San Jose, Calif.; Atlantic City, N.J.; Austin, Texas; Stockton, Calif.; Oceanside, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; San Pedro, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; and Lewisville, Texas, he adds.
Soon, HTSI may also add Kansas City, Mo., to that list, as it potentially takes on a streetcar project for the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.
Recently, the contractor was selected to negotiate with the transit system for operation and maintenance of its new streetcar, which will run in Kansas City’s downtown area. If awarded the contract, Herzog Contracting Corp. would build the streetcar and HTSI would operate and maintain the streetcar, Jester explains.
The contractor is excited about the opportunity, and optimistic about successful closure of the negotiations. HTSI expects to find out about the agreement with Kansas City Streetcar in the next several weeks.
Although HTSI already operates one streetcar line, the Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Streetcar, a vintage-style system, the Kansas City Streetcar, with a more modern style, introduces a relatively new business unit into the services HTSI provides to the industry.
“Heretofore, people have looked at [HTSI] as being commuter rail service providers,” Jester says. “This launches us into the streetcar [market].”
HTSI is looking forward to getting into the streetcar business, he adds, because of the numerous cities that are planning streetcar lines.
Keolis North America
Focusing on the service needs in each region it operates in is the approach Keolis North America takes on providing customized rail services to assist agencies, and ultimately, riders in navigating challenges, including regulatory requirements, recordkeeping, maintenance practices, Information Technology (IT) systems, ticketing,and customer service, Gregg Baxter, GM, Keolis Rail Services, Virginia, says.
The contractor demonstrated this in July 2010, when it took over operations, mechanical, facility and warehousing responsibilities for Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter service from Amtrak, which had operated the system since the inception of the service.
The national rail carrier, Baxter says, generally takes more of a one-size-fits-all approach to its operations, whether it’s Virginia, Chicago or California. However, each system has its own unique set of circumstances, requiring different operational approaches, he adds.
“Our customers’ expectations are a lot different in Virginia than in Boston. As we grow as a company, we have to be cognizant that no matter what, we understand at the local level what the needs are,” he explains.
During the procurement process, Keolis learned that VRE was looking for more influence on its day-to-day operations. One small detail the transit system wanted was for its engineers to wear uniforms.
“For 18 years, that didn’t happen. Well, day one, we came in, guess what? Our engineers had uniforms,” Baxter says. “One-size-fits-all didn’t work, in that case, because [Amtrak’s] engineers don’t wear uniforms. They couldn’t make them wear them at one location and not others, where we as a contract operator were able to require that. It’s worked for four years now.”
In addition to providing full service to rail systems, from train operations to selling tickets to maintaining railcars, equipment and track, Veolia Transportation is also giving the industry more tools for communication and safety, Ron Hartman, CEO, rail, Veolia Transportation, says.
Veolia provides an iPhone app, the “Conductor’s Companion,” for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. (MBCR), which enables conductors to give real-time arrival information and schedule updates to customers.
The app, which has been approved by the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), also helps conductors more directly, by making all the information contained in thousand-page rule books they had to carry with them more easily accessible, Hartman says.
Additionally, a version of the app that tracks trains for riders is in the works.
The app helps Veolia successfully manage transportation on Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which typically runs 500 trains a day, for special events, such as the Boston Marathon and various sporting events.
“We have mastered everything from selling tickets to thousands of people who have never ridden a train before to making sure our people have the right information,” Hartman says.
Meanwhile, in its most recent safety achievement, Veolia pioneered a program in partnership with the FRA, developing research to train engineers to prevent distracted driving.
Veolia tested engineers on simulators with various unusual incidents to see how they responded and determined how to encourage the right behaviors, Hartman explains.
“We will provide to all of our employees training programs that give engineers cues to recognize when they’re losing their focus on what they’re doing,” he says.
Veolia will begin training its engineers in the program and then start making it available to the industry.