Fix-it Central

As the nation's largest statewide public transportation agency, NJ Transit demands a maintenance facility that can keep up with the needs associated with providing reliable rail service to a steadily expanding customer base. The agency provides more than 250,000 passenger rail trips on a typical weekday, operating 730 trains across 11 commuter rail lines that serve 162 rail stations across the state. This feat is accomplished by effective manipulation of a fleet of 907 rail cars and 182 locomotives.

The safety and reliability of NJ Transit's rail fleet relies largely on the work performed at the Meadows Maintenance Complex (MMC), which extends across 78 acres in the industrial area of Kearny, N.J. Opened in 1987, four years after the corporation took over and consolidated rail operations in New Jersey, the MMC is easily accessible to all of NJ Transit's rail equipment. Repair and inspection work take place inside several buildings that contain more than 500,000 square feet of space, and its yard has the capacity to store up to 60 locomotives, 50 cab cars and 200 coaches.

Most of the maintenance, major cleaning and repairs of NJ Transit's rail fleet takes place at the MMC, while the remainder is performed at smaller facilities throughout the state and under contract with Metro- North and Amtrak. Work at the MMC centers around keeping the locomotives and coaches in good condition to ensure safe, reliable and comfortable rail service for NJ Transit customers. The facility is equipped for equipment overhauls, heavy and intermediate repairs, periodic inspection, scheduled maintenance, major cleaning, component repair, laboratory testing and painting of NJ Transit's entire fleet of rail cars and locomotives.

The MMC is the work location for approximately 600 NJ Transit employees, including craft, supervisory, technical support, transportation, material stores, quality control, safety and training personnel. Each year, rail maintenance crews perform roughly 35,000 equipment inspections, based on scheduled maintenance and reports from train crews in the fi eld. In a typical year, NJ Transit oversees the replacement of 12,000 brake parts; 8,000 train wheels; 1,200 motors and 5,000 seats; and completes more than 40,000 exterior and interior cleanings. Plans for the MMC arose out of the need to centralize the daily upkeep and repair of rolling stock at one technologically advanced location. The facility was built to move NJ Transit's rail maintenance program into the 21st century, and it has accomplished that, with some adjustments along the way. An expansion project that began in 2003 is currently nearing completion in 2007, and the agency is already preparing for the future, anticipating needs related to capacity expansion initiatives such as the multilevel rail cars - the first of which will be placed into service in December - and the Trans- Hudson Express (THE) Tunnel project, which will double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York with construction of a second two-track tunnel underneath the Hudson River.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Before the MMC was built, NJ Transit faced the challenges inherent in the obsolete, inadequate and decentralized system of rail maintenance yards and shops that it inherited from private railroads. Seeds for a project to construct a new maintenance facility were rooted in the mid-1970s, when the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) authorized a consultant's study to evaluate the servicing, inspection and maintenance requirements and facilities for the rail fleet operated in service by NJDOT (NJ Transit) through the year 2010. The study was primarily funded by the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA).

The consulting firm submitted a final report in late 1980, highlighting a number of defi ciencies in the existing maintenance system. The study noted the lack of a facility or location that had adequate available space or ready accessibility to handle all of the repairs, inspections and servicing necessary to maintain a rail fleet. The report also noted serious drawbacks to the shops that were candidates for rehabilitation or upgrading at the time. Examples cited included the inadequacy of the Hoboken Electrical MU Shed, which was designed for light repair only, and the fact that the Elizabethport Locomotive Shop - the only facility capable of heavy locomotive repairs - was accessible only by deadhead (non-revenue) moves. Other, smaller shops would require significant modifications. The consultants recommended that a heavy repair, service and inspection complex be built at Koppers Coke, Kearny and that various improvements be made at other locations. In mid-1980, based on the consultants' preliminary reports, the NJ Transit board of directors approved (contingent upon UMTA funding) the acquisition of the Koppers Coke site and the entire project in principle. However, NJ Transit contacted UMTA in 1981 for approval to change the proposed location of the complex after it became apparent that the Koppers Coke site had more environmental problems than originally thought and additional land became available at the Conrail Meadows Yard, where the MMC stands today.

With NJ Transit still being such a young entity during the design phase, the size of its staff grew considerably from 1981 to 1984. With this growth, most of the original concepts for the new maintenance facility were revised and expanded, while others were dropped entirely.

By the mid-1980s, the need for a centralized, comprehensive maintenance complex could be even more readily justified than in 1975. The inadequacies of the Hoboken MU Shed became more apparent after new multiple unit electric rail cars came on line in August 1984. The lack of high voltage power in the shop meant costly overtime until the cars could be brought out through the main interlocking after the peak period for postinspection testing. Without a drop table, the cars had to be sent to another part of the yard or to the Elizabethport Shop for under fl oor component work. Repair and inspection tasks at the shed proved diffi cult and less safe as a result of the narrow aisles, shallow pits and medium height raised rail, based on 1930s technology.

The Elizabethport Shop presented just as many problems as the Hoboken MU Shed. Its location was not central to NJ Transit operating lines and proved virtually inaccessible from the Hoboken Division. Much of the equipment in the shop was antiquated and in poor repair, and the building itself had been in use since 1901. As such, NJ Transit declined to take over the shop from Conrail by provisions of various acts.

Meanwhile, NJ Transit faced problems with maintaining new or overhauled rolling stock outdoors. By default, outdoor maintenance is not as safe or efficient as indoor maintenance, and the necessity of performing intermediate repairs and inspections on locomotives outdoors at Hoboken led to some costly "mini-overhauls" in the early 1980s.

Ultimately, construction of the MMC would provide NJ Transit with the capability to maintain equipment closer to manufacturer's standards, reducing the frequency of replacement, as well as the ability to perform certain activities in-house for less than an outside vendor's cost. It would also result in the elimination of duplicate stores and shops, as well as several energy-inefficient locations. And, it would reduce the number of deadhead miles and the time associated with moving equipment to and from the different yards and shops.

BUILDING A FACILITY

The MMC project involved a total of 17 contracts, including one design, 12 preparation and construction, and four force account agreements variously between NJ Transit, Amtrak, PSE&G and Conrail. The facility was designed by joint venture firm Seelye, Stevenson, Value & Knecht and Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall, beginning in early 1982 and finishing in late 1984, with continuous overview by NJ Transit Rail Operations engineering and mechanical department staff.

The project included the construction of eight buildings, totaling 513,000 square feet under roof (11.8 acres), and installation of 12 to 13 miles of track on a 78-acre site at a total project cost of approximately $123 million.

Additional work included the installation of 12 miles of track, including 90 switches and signals in the yard to connect with main rail lines, performed by NJ Transit Rail Operations, as well as track, communications and signal work to link the Harrison Connection with the Northeast Corridor, performed by Amtrak.

To construct the MMC, roughly 8,000,000 pounds of steel were erected and 30,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured. In addition, 500,000 cubic yards of soil were removed from under what would become the main shop building and were used to build up the average yard elevation. To provide for a better foundation under the future building, the soil was replaced by 500,000 cubic yards of compacted fill.

The physical move into the MMC began on July 13, 1987, and was completed in November 1987. The move entailed transferring approximately 195 tractor-trailer loads of material and equipment.

A NEW ERA OF MAINTENANCE

With the opening of the MMC, NJ Transit consolidated maintenance functions that previously were performed at seven work sites scattered throughout New Jersey and New York - among them the antiquated Elizabethport "E-port" Shops (built c.1901), Sunnyside, N.Y. (c.1911) and Hoboken (c.1910-1930) - in a centralized facility located adjacent to the major rail lines of two divisions. Work at the Elizabethport Shops and at Harrison Yard was completely phased out with the opening of the MMC, and work at Hoboken, Raritan, South Amboy and Sunnyside, N.Y., was scaled back signifi cantly. Staff levels from these locations were consolidated to the new facility. (NJ Transit maintains 13 other rail yards for train layover, turnaround servicing and daily inspection.)

The MMC eliminated the duplication of shops and reduced the miles and time associated with moving equipment between these different shops. Maintenance functions that were previously outsourced to vendors could instead be performed in-house, improving cost efficiency and turnover. The capabilities of the new facility translated to manpower, time and dollar savings for NJ Transit. For example, at the MMC, car hoists could now lift rail cars automatically, while previously it took four people to jack up a car so that it could be worked on. And with an electrical shop on site, NJ Transit staff could perform in-house work on electrical components. Prior to the opening of the MMC, this type of work was sent to vendors, which sometimes meant that repair of a component could take up to six weeks, whereas the same work at the MMC can be completed in a day or two at a fraction of the cost.

The centralized location of the MMC also greatly reduced deadhead time. Previously, just transporting a locomotive from Hoboken to Elizabethport for engine maintenance took one day, while the MMC cut the transportation time to 15 minutes. Generally, most locomotives and passenger cars are in and out of the facility within 24 hours.

INSIDE THE MMC

The MMC is composed of several buildings and a train yard that handle a broad range of maintenance and support functions:

  • *Main Shop Building: The Main Shop Building is where major repairs, overhaul and inspection of rail cars and locomotives, repair and storage of components in a centralized stores facility and administrative functions are performed. Repair, overhaul and inspection are conducted on 13 tracks, and support shops include those for metal and woodworking, electric, battery, wheel/axle, truck, upholstery, electronics and air brake/ tread brake. The building also contains a testing laboratory, industrial engineering and quality control areas, training classrooms, locker rooms and a cafeteria.
  • *Service and Inspection Building: This building is used for daily cleaning, inspection and servicing as well as minor repairs. It contains two tracks, each capable of holding a sevencar train and one locomotive. The building also contains a sand, lubricating oil and fuel dispensing system for locomotives.
  • *Vehicle Shop Annex: The Vehicle Shop Annex is where rail equipment underframes undergo high-pressure washing and compressed air blowout before entering the Main Shop Building. The control tower, locker and restroom areas and administrative offi ces are also located here.
  • *Locomotive Pre-Inspection Building: This small building serves to provide high-pressure truck washing and pre-inspection cleaning of locomotives.
  • *Load Test Platform: The Load Test Platform is a covered platform designed specifically for load testing of locomotives, for testing both locomotives' push-pull capacity to determine the engine horsepower available to ensure maximum efficiency, as well as the generators, which provide power for lighting, heating and air conditioning.
  • *Substation and Switching House: This building contains all of the electrical servicing equipment for the MMC.

Trains that layover in the yard are connected to a standby power source, resulting in fuel savings and lower noise levels. The train yard at the complex also contains a 100,000-gallon fuel tank.

The MMC also houses the Maintenance Activity Reporting System (MARS), a computerized system that generates work orders of maintenance tasks and tracks the history of vehicles and components, updating and storing up-to-date records of all stock both at the maintenance facility and throughout other work locations.

EXPANDING FOR THE FUTURE

As NJ Transit works to meet surging ridership demand, the rapid growth of rail operations has generated the need to maintain an expanded fleet. In August 2000, a study of rolling stock maintenance infrastructure identified several improvements needed to the existing maintenance facilities at the MMC to accommodate this growth.

NJ Transit is currently in the process of procuring new multilevel vehicles, electric locomotives, diesel-electric locomotives and diesel multiple unit rail cars to accommodate increased ridership demand and new services. The expanded, technologically advanced fleet of rolling stock and new regulatory requirements for vehicle inspections will place additional demands on the MMC.

Construction work on an MMC expansion project began in the fall of 2003. The various facility upgrades include the expansion of the center yard by six storage tracks, an inspection pit, a new train washer to replace the existing washer, a warehouse addition, a new component storage building and an expansion to the Service and Inspection Building. Other enhancements include the expansion of the car area and locomotive area of the Main Shop Building, construction of a new seven-track switching yard (including a new pit/pedestal track), extension of the catenary system and the installation of a wheel press, parts cleaner and heated lubricating oil in the Main Shop Building. The combined improvements will increase capacity to allow for continued efficient maintenance operations at the MMC.

The new bi-directional train washer, which has a catenary system and can wash both diesel and electric trains, allows NJ Transit to use its water reclamation system in a more efficient manner when washing trains. Previously, only diesel trains could be washed in the enclosed train washer. Electric trains were washed using an open washing system, and runoff water from rainy days would drain into the reclaim system and be treated unnecessarily.

Construction for the expansion project has been phased to allow for increased train storage capacity and servicing prior to the project's completion, anticipated for fall 2007.

What began as a solution to the problem of an obsolete, disconnected rail maintenance system has evolved over time to keep up with an expanding fleet and new technologies. Though NJ Transit was still a fl edgling transportation agency when the facility was planned, the thought and foresight that went into the design and equipment, and the ability of the rail operations work force to adjust to growing demands, has carried the agency well into the 21st century. As NJ Transit looks to the future and continues to adapt to the changing needs of its riding public, the MMC is sure to continue its evolution as a state-of-the art maintenance facility.

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