When a Public Project Meets a Railroad

Public agencies encounter similar challenges when faced with coordinating and planning their public project through or around railroad rights of way. Coordination with a railroad is prudent for all projects that are within 100 feet of railroad right of way limit and required if within the railroad right of way. The type of project may vary—from a bike path or bridge replacement to levee improvements or large pipelines—but the process is essentially the same. Bottom line is that the business of railroads is moving freight or passengers, so it is vital the consultant be intimately familiar with the project approval process and understand the railroad’s preferences to avoid lengthy and costly delays.      

Typically, railroads will not grant permanent rights for projects, preferring licenses which are fully or partially revocable under certain circumstances, usually starting with any time the railroad may need to add additional tracks. Construction of the project would be covered by Permits, Construction and Maintenance Agreements, Temporary Occupancy Licenses, or other Agreements, most of which are peculiar to the rail industry.

In addition to the project design, there are also specific costs that need to be accurately accounted for in order to construct the project. For example, ‘flag protection’ is a cost that is not always considered in budgeting. Railroad flagmen are well paid as they have to be significantly trained in railroad general orders, are in constant contact with the dispatcher, and control the work environment. Many projects require multiple flagman, at a daily rate usually approaching $1,000, depending on the railroad, for the entirety of the project. We have seen cases where this exceeded $500,000 and was not initially accounted for in the project budget. A second ‘hidden cost’ is railroad protective insurance, yearly premiums of which can be in excess of $25,000 or more, depending on the nature of the project.

caution railroad (1)Another factor to consider when negotiating with railroads is safety. For a railroad, safety is paramount. All work proximate to active tracks has to immediately stop when trains are approaching until they clear. Depending on the project limits, this could be 40 or more trains per day, equating to 3-4 hours of stoppage time during the average workday — a cost that is frequently overlooked and always extends the construction duration beyond what would normally be required. Furthermore, all workers must receive railroad safety training and be certified before they can work on railroad property. The US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration employees nearly 400 Federal safety inspectors and has a designated Safety Management Team for each railroad, even short line railroads. Their primary responsibility is to focus on compliance and enforcement of safety standards. Therefore, consultants working with railroads must also be conscientious of eliminating as much risk as possible when working on railroad property.

Overall, coordinating with a railroad for a public project can be time consuming and challenging. However, with the right consultant and the correct budget and schedule considerations, the process can be as streamlined and operations uninterrupted as much as possible.

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