Public transit has underfunded for decades and system delays, especially on legacy systems, are increasing. ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave public transit a “D-”, the lowest grade given to a U.S. infrastructure category, largely due to the ever growing $90 billion in rehabilitation costs. Eno recently released a paper titled “Tools for a Smoother Ride: Managing Rail Assets and Leveraging Competition” focused on the inadequacy of current infrastructure practices in maintaining our transit rail infrastructure both today and into the future.
First and foremost, the authors of the report, Paul Lewis and Malcolm Kenton, establish that funding must be part of the solution. For decades, rail infrastructure has been drastically underfunded leading to large future costs. Additionally, the authors found that asset mismanagement has become commonplace in most rail systems. The lack of an asset management plan has led to priority and funding mismatch when it comes to addressing the most needed issues. Finally, the authors found that most rail systems were maintained in-house versus contracted out to private companies. Younger rail systems are more likely to contract out in order to gain expertise, but few older systems have adopted contracting out maintenance efforts.
The authors recommend five sequential steps as vital for the revival of America’s public rail transit.
- Design and implement an effective asset management plan
- Do not negatively affect the compensation of the existing workforce
- Track and test alternative methods of infrastructure maintenance
- Carry out a fair and functional procurement process and write an effective contract
- Administer contracts effectively
The first step encourages agencies to adopt asset management plans. With an effective asset management plan, rail systems will be better suited to match public demand with the assets available. Asset management plans also allow agencies to inventory their assets, have advanced knowledge about the condition of their assets, and prioritize limited available funding. Performance metrics should be an important component of any asset management plan. Step two focuses on how contracting out services cannot be used to undermine workers and cut costs. Successfully contracting must bring in accountability and expertise to help improve the system.
The third step focuses on testing methods of maintenance to understand the best practices for a given region. Eno notes that presently, there is a dearth of information available to compare the effectiveness of different methods of maintenance, leading to inconclusive best practices. The authors suggest transit agencies consider contracting out the maintenance of one line in a system and benchmarking that line with others under the same system. By comparing the results, a regional rail system can identify what type of maintenance is most effective for itself.
The fourth and fifth step relate to effective contract creation, negotiation, and administration. For any of these steps to be worthwhile, the final contracts must successfully address the issues at hand and provide accountability for the work being done. These contracts provide the public with a necessary good and the private with long-term opportunities to grow.