With all the work the LIRR Expansion Project completed on the Main Line this past summer, we wanted to share with you how the MTA managed to achieve so many milestones on time. To get to the bottom of it, AModernLI spoke with LIRR Force Account Manager Steve Leidner to learn more about the successful bridge roll-ins over the summer and the construction crews that made it happen.
AMLI: First thing first: What does ‘force account’ mean?
STEVE LEIDNER: ‘Force account’ is just another term for LIRR’s in-field construction crews. This could be people working on tracks, third rail, signals, communications and other infrastructure components. LIRR has force account crews spread throughout the entire railroad system, from Penn Station to Montauk.
AMLI: Where do you come into the mix?
SL: As Force Account Manager, I schedule these forces, with various discipline managers, to ensure our project has enough crews to get the necessary tasks done on time. Since force account is needed throughout the LIRR system, it’s my job to secure workers. There are so many important improvements happening throughout Long Island – Jamaica Capacity Improvements and several state-of-good-repair initiatives, for example – so force account must be strategically planned to ensure there’s no shortage of crews for these vital projects.
AMLI: Let’s talk about the major weekend work the MTA completed on the Main Line over the summer. A lot of construction was packed into a short period of time. How do you coordinate force account to get it done on time?
SL: A good example of this is the bridge replacements that occurred over single weekends, such as South Tyson Bridge and Nassau Boulevard Bridge. To complete a bridge replacement, the LIRR must schedule a double track outage, meaning both Main Line tracks are de-energized and taken out of service for the weekend, which essentially halts all trains on a particular line from late Friday night to early Monday morning. Force account bookends the weekend: we prepare the double track outage, let the contractor roll-in the bridge for most of the weekend, and then we put the tracks and necessary communications infrastructure back into service for the Monday morning rush.
AMLI: How is a double track outage implemented?
SL: Since trains are powered by the third rail, force account must remove the track and its components – we remove the third rail and track panels, as well as associated signal and switch infrastructure. We essentially take apart the railroad so nothing extraneous gets in the way. This must be done efficiently, so the contractor has enough time to work throughout the weekend. Any delay in the schedule compromises our ability to get the trains up and running for Monday morning and cause systemwide delays, so it’s vital for me to ensure we have force account ready to spring into action Friday evening.
AMLI: Okay, so 3TC (the design-build contractor for the LIRR Expansion Project) does its thing and successfully rolls in the bridge. What’s next?
SL: Force account takes over again around Sunday afternoon to make sure trains can safely travel across the new bridge. We lay down the tracks including ties and panels, fill the area with ballast and run a regulator over the tracks as many times as necessary to ensure the ballast is compact and the tracks are properly in position. Everything we took apart Friday evening gets put back together with this new and improved structure in place. After this, the third rail is powered up again and a test train runs through the territory. The last step is to get the structures inspectors on site to check that the new bridge is sturdy for passenger trains to resume full service. Once we get the go-ahead, regular service is resumed on the Main Line for the Monday morning rush. Our goal is to make sure the Railroad is never shut down for longer than it needs to be.
Background on LIRR Expansion Project:
The construction of a third track from Floral Park to Hicksville will reduce train congestion and delays and enable true bi-directional service during peak hours with a more reliable rail network. This transformative work includes several related projects, including the construction of parking garages, retaining walls, improvements to rail bridges and the removal of eight street-level grade crossings. Construction is being managed to minimize the impact on daily routines, with extensive mitigation and public outreach efforts in local communities. For more information, please visit the LIRR Expansion Project Floral Park to Hicksville project page on AModernLI.com.