NRC Commends WMATA - Silver Line Extension RFP
This week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced competitive contracting opportunities for the maintenance and operations of the Metrorail Silver Line extension. The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association (NRC) believes contracting out and introducing competition will dramatically improve outcomes for riders, rail worker safety, and WMATA's ongoing financial situation.
"The NRC commends Paul Wiedefeld and the WMATA senior leadership for recognizing that competitive contractors can help WMATA provide quality service for customers, while being more cost efficient to the transit agency," former NRC Chairman and current NRC Transit Committee Co-Chair Larry Laurello remarked after the announcement. "Safety is first and foremost for railroad contractors."
The NRC's contractor member companies set the standard for rail maintenance work conducted safely, efficiently, on time, and on budget. The NRC supports WMATA's choice to move forward with a new approach and their statement from Tuesday's press release regarding the use of competitive contracting as a way to control operating and maintenance costs.
WMATA's request for proposals (RFP) is seeking potential vendors for the operation and maintenance of new Silver Line trains, stations, and facilities, including: Silver Line railcar servicing; track and infrastructure maintenance; coverage of the Dulles Rail Yard; and additional administrative functions necessary to support operations. The solicitation further includes options to operate Silver Line trains. Proposals for the RFP are due on January 15, 2019. Click here to review the full RFP.
"Contractors thrive in a competitive environment. The opportunity to bid for rail operations and maintenance contracts on a major transit system is a win for our industry," NRC Board Member Marc Hackett said following WMATA's statement. "Under this new approach, NRC member companies will have an opportunity to deliver quality services at a fair price, on time, and on budget, all while maintaining the highest safety standards. As an association, we will continue to deliver the message that competitive contracting is the solution when it comes to building and maintaining rail infrastructure."
WMATA's decision follows a recent study released by the non-partisan transportation think tank Eno Foundation, which suggested leveraging competition among contractors as a way to address maintenance backlogs across the nation's major rail systems. Public transit in the United States is in a major financial and maintenance crisis. According to a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), failure to invest in public transportation infrastructure modernization will cause a loss of $340 billion in cumulative business sales from 2017-2023. This translates to a loss of $180 billion in cumulative gross national product (GNP) and a loss of $109 billion in household income. A 2015 Conditions and Performance report produced by the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated the overall State of Good Repair backlog to be at $89.9 billion and growing. This includes more than $50 billion in backlog just within the seven largest legacy transit systems, of which WMATA is one.
According to WMATA's own calculations, more than $2.5 billion of unfunded benefits and pension liabilities currently exist. One of the core benefits of utilizing private contracting companies, such as NRC's members, is that a transit agency can hire them, create financial incentives and penalties, and decline to award future work to them if the agency is unsatisfied with the service. When a contract ends, the contractor leaves, creating no long-term pension liabilities for the agency and the local taxpayers.
"The bottom line is the riders and taxpayers of our nation's heavy rail transit systems want a reliable, safe transit option that gets them to their destination safely and on time," NRC Executive Vice President Matt Bell, a daily Metrorail commuter, stated. "WMATA will be able to save taxpayers millions of dollars by controlling operating and maintenance costs by working with private contractors on the Silver Line Phase II extension."
The NRC is the trade association that represents the rail construction and maintenance industry. NRC member companies are located in 40 states across the country and range in size from small family businesses to the largest companies in the industry. They perform track construction, maintenance-of-way, and signal and communications installation work for rail transit, commuter rail, intercity passenger rail, industrial rail, and freight rail customers throughout North America. Their work includes track work, grade crossings, bridges, rail yards, signals and communication, tunnels, rail grinding, track surfacing, welding, and many other specialties.