Going Green in the Maintenance Department

Everything is going green, and that includes the maintenance facilities for transit agencies. From basic practices being engrained in the day-to-day procedures to innovative building design, transit agencies are looking at ways of making their facilities more sustainable.

Creative Construction Materials
The Santa Clarita Transit Maintenance Facility is a LEED Gold-certified building. The facility includes a 22,000-square-foot administration building, 25,000-square-foot maintenance building, bus wash facility, CNG fueling island for city buses and a publicly accessible CNG fueling station. Completed in 2006, the project cost was $20 million.

One unique feature about this building was the choice in construction material — straw-bale construction. The building envelope is constructed of straw bales and there is a layer of lime plaster on the interior and exterior. Straw-bale construction uses baled straw from such things as wheat, oats, barley, rye or, as in this case, rice. Rice straw is an inexpensive waste product in the grain farming industry of California. Using this material has the environmental benefit of reducing the quantity of straw burned.

There are a number of advantages to straw-bale construction. It is durable, resistant to pest infestation and creates a well-insulated building. City of Santa Clarita Transit Manager Jeffrey O’Keefe mentions that they are already starting to realize energy savings.

Charles Smith, HOK vice president and senior project manager says, “When combined with more recent technologies such as under-floor air distribution, high-performance glazing and daylighting, it can be part of a powerful strategy for creating an energy and resource-efficient building.” He adds, “We were able to exceed California Energy Efficiency Standards by more than 40 percent.”

With this and its other green features, the transit maintenance facility has earned more than LEED certification — it also received the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltran) 2007 Excellence in Transportation Award in the category of Transportation Related Facilities.

Renewable Energy
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will be saving $200,000 a year in electricity costs thanks to its green practices.

The roof of the Carson bus division’s maintenance facility and six carport structures houses the largest solar panel installation at a single site within the U.S. transit industry. Photovoltaic (PV) energy makes use of the energy in the sun, with little impact on our environment. The PV panels convert light energy from the sun into electrical energy.

A PV cell produces about one or two watts of power. Cells are connected together to create panels large enough to produce the amount of energy needed. Dave Sotero, Senior Public Information Officer for Metro, says, “More than 1,600 solar cells were installed.

“On a dollar basis, it’s going to save us $200,000 a year in electricity costs, or approximately $17,000 a month.” He adds that some of the panels serve two purposes. “We created a carport structure in our employee parking lot and we put the solar panels on top of the carport structure. We have a shaded area for the cars, plus the solar generation capability.”

The solar installation will generate 600,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which will lower carbon emissions by 143 metric tons.

This solar panel installation was not the first for Metro. Solar panel systems are in use at the Metro bus yards in Sun Valley and Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. According to Metro, these installations are saving the agency approximately $160,000 per year in electricity costs.

“Metro’s first solar project was a tremendous success, not only because of the significant cost savings and actual performance results, but because projects such as these are a responsible way to reduce strain on the electrical grid and promote energy efficiency and sustainable business concepts at Metro,” says Roger Snoble, Metro CEO.

Rebates from these previous solar installations helped offset the $4.2 million cost of this latest installation. Sotero says they expect that in 12 to 14 years, the system will have paid for itself.

Conserving Resources
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit’s (NYCT) Corona Maintenance Shop and Car Washer in Queens, N.Y., is a $165-million, 135,000-square-foot railcar maintenance shop and ancillary facilities used for the inspection, repair, cleaning and maintenance of approximately 400 railcars of NYCT’s Interborough Rapid Transit No. 7 Line.

New York State Governor George Pataki’s Executive Order 111 mandates sustainable design on all public facilities larger than 20,000 square feet. To measure the project’s sustainable principles, the project team chose to use LEED criteria. Bill Detore, director of facilities planning, mentions the water consumption and electrical usage as two of the building’s standout features.

A 400,000-gallon storm water retention tank harvests rainwater for the car washer operation to minimize the use of city water. Detore explains, “It takes what we call grey water, or storm water, from the maintenance facility. From the storm water drain it goes into this retention tank and then it’s pumped about 800 feet over to the car washer.

“It’s the first feed for the water, so we can conceivably, if we have a full tank, we can basically wash for a couple of days without using city water.” He explains that the water from the washer itself is also recycled.

He adds, “We did a little quickie analysis a little while ago and it’s almost 60 percent of the water that feeds that washer that’s a combination of either grey water or reclaimed water.”

The electrical consumption of the facility is also of note due to a variety of green practices, including the use of fuel cells, photovoltaic energy and natural ventilation. “Essentially, we really haven’t used that much electricity compared to the older building and this building is literally double the size of the older building,” Detore states.

Reducing Pollutants
What are agencies doing in the maintenance department itself to be green? The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) incorporates agency-wide policies to make its operation as green as possible. Tony Bryant, director of bus maintenance at TriMet, shares some of the green practices in the maintenance department.

“Fred Hansen, his whole ethic is about sustainability and the environment,” Bryant says of TriMet’s general manager. Hansen spent nearly four years as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) deputy administrator, serving President Clinton, Vice President Gore and Administrator Carol Browner. Prior to joining the EPA, Hansen directed the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for more than 10 years, so he has a long background of environmental stewardship.

Bryant mentions, “We [TriMet] were already green, when he came. He raised the intensity of that, actively looking for ways to reduce pollution and to keep stuff out of landfills.”

When talking about what they do at TriMet, Bryant repeats a phrase Hansen is known to say, that there is no silver bullet, it is a silver buckshot. There is no one easy fix, there are a variety of steps that need to be taken to work toward a green agency.

Bryant says they are always looking for ways to recycle, reuse or reduce resources, including recycling metals, batteries, lacquer thinner from the paint shop, paper collected off the bus and re-refined oil. “We went out to bid for a lube oil and one of the bidders had a portion of the oil [that] was refined,” Bryant says. It is a little more expensive to use, but it has been working out well for the agency and they have been using it for several years now. TriMet also sends all of its used oil to be rerefined.

TriMet has switched all of its cleaning products to environmentally friendly products. “We’re going through chemicals, trying to find more environmentally friendly but effective cleaners,” says Bryant. “Squirting cleaner on the wall and watching the dirt roll down, those days are over. You use a little elbow grease now,” he adds.

A big part of the difference in using the new products is using the correct dilution rate, he stresses. “When you use the proper dilution, the chemistry of the product depends on that.” Too much or too little product can break down the effectiveness. When cleaning floors, using a floor scrubber that vacuums up the waste is another way in protecting the environment. “In the facilities and out on the platforms, we used to use a pressure washer. Now we’re not hosing dirt and water into the storm sewers.

“We send very little hazardous waste out, something like less than 50 pounds per year,” Bryant mentions. “We even won an award for it from the Oregon DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality.]”

Bryant attributes TriMet’s success thus far to developing measurable standards and keeping current on products in the marketplace that contribute toward sustainability. As for the future, two of the challenges they are focusing on, he says, are water use and the ability to measure explicitly.

Defining measurable goals
As the first LEED-certified transit facility in the United States, the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) in Grand Rapids, Mich., employs green practices throughout its agency. One of the things that has benefited not only the maintenance department, but the entire facility, was an energy audit.

Jennifer Kalczuk, Manager, Communications and External Relations at The Rapid, says, “We did a study with Grand Valley State University in the area on energy usage in the building and based on that energy audit, laid out the plan of things that we were going to do.

“It looked at the operations and really identified some areas where we could do things more efficiently, kind of having that holistic look at the system.” She adds, “There are things that we’ve been doing all along, but to get that kind of perspective has been really helpful.”

There were many things it found with the audit, which saved energy and improved efficiency, including the installation of high-speed doors in the garage, timers and occupancy sensors.

The Rapid’s CEO Peter Varga provides detailed information about the technologies it used and the benefits to the agency in this issue’s Manager’s Forum column.

Linda Robson, spokesperson for Sound Transit, points out that at Sound Transit, they try not to think about going green in terms of simply green elements. Sound Transit expects the announcement in the next month or so that it will be ISO [International Organization for Standardization) certified. “We have an Environmental and Sustainability Management System (ESMS) that is designed to the rigorous ISO 14001 series international standard for environmental management.” With only a handful of other public transit agencies having this certification, it’s no small order.

ISO is a non-governmental organization and states that it is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards. ISO provides measurable standards to tackle global issues, including climate change and sustainability.

Robson states that Sound Transit’s ESMS is a comprehensive way to address environmental risks, set goals and objectives to move toward greater environmental sustainability, and to train staff on environmental issues and stewardship.

“For Sound Transit, it’s really not just about doing green things or green elements, really it’s been about trying to elevate environmental protection and sustainability to something that is integrated into every facet of the agency’s organization,” she says. “It’s really integrated into the culture of the agency and integrated into the everyday activities at every level of the agency.”

This management system has established how the agency will get to where it wants to be. “Some of the things that we’re currently doing are establishing baseline activities like paper use; it seems so simple, but paper use, electricity and water use.” She continues, “We’ve been able to come up with some measurable goals for improving our environmental stewardship.”

As she explains, “It’s one thing to say, yeah, we recycle here. But it’s another to say, we’ve counted the number of units of paper that we’re using and we’re recycling this many tons each year.

“For this coming year, the goal of the agency is going to be not only to reduce the amount that is being thrown away, but also reduce paper use and reduce recycling — try to get at the heart of it so that it’s not a shallow surface effort.” With measurable goals, the agency is accountable to the public as it can show its progress.