Title: Control of Force Account Schedules and Budgets
Date: April 4, 1997
Metro-North Railroad (MNR) has undertaken a major capital improvement program that includes the Grand Central Terminal Upgrade, the 125th Street Station and Park Avenue Viaduct, and several System wide Projects. Since these improvements must be made while maintaining nearly normal passenger service, it is apparent that much of this work meets the criteria for Force Account Work. The Metro-North Railroad (MNR) has undertaken a major capital improvement program. Many of these capital improvements are upgrades of existing facilities. A few of the more noteworthy aspects of this program are as follows:
- The Grand Central Terminal Upgrade
- Utility Infrastructure
- Passenger Facilities
- Track Areas
- Crew Areas
- Maintenance Shops
- 125th Street Station and Park Avenue Viaduct
- Structural Rehab
- Station Renovation
- System wide Projects
- Track Renewal
- Signal and Communications
Each of these improvements must be made while maintaining the facility in some semblance of normal passenger service. In addition, the new electrical/mechanical systems often must be tied directly into the existing electrical/mechanical systems without interruption to service. As a result, the construction activities of the private contractors must be carefully coordinated and fully integrated with the capital improvements work being conducted by MNR in-house forces. These in-house activities to support the work of the private contractors (such as flagging work in close proximity to active rail lines) are classified as "Force Account" by Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Circular 5010.1B and are eligible for Federal participation in the costs, provided the Force Account program is warranted and has been properly documented.
According to FTA Circular 5010.1B, any of four situations may warrant the use of Force Account:
- Cost Savings
- Exclusive Expertise
- Safety and Efficiency of Operations
- Union Agreement
2. The Lesson
As with most transit agencies of their size and scope, the MNR has consciously developed a strong program for managing the construction activities of private contractors in implementing the agency's capital improvement program. However, as with many other transit agencies, the management of the Force Account activities has generally evolved within an operations and maintenance division of the agency and, due to the more spontaneous nature of the work as it responds to changing operational needs, has been handled through a less formal and more hands-on process. While this approach has the strength of being highly flexible, it has the weakness of being susceptible to disruption of planned activities in favor of responding to immediate and unanticipated problems. The following hypothetical example illustrates the problem:
Private contractor activities in the Terminal include installation of new electrical systems. Supporting Force Account work includes tying in this new electrical work into existing electrical service. However, in instances where unplanned maintenance needs have diverted planned MNR Force Account efforts to other activities, the lack of timely performance by Force Account crews can cause delays to the private contractors. In addition to exposure to MNR from claims by the private contractor, the timely delivery of a needed improvement is jeopardized.
Other projects involve only Force Account crews. These crews are susceptible to being diverted to critical operating needs. As a result, Force Account improvement projects may languish and needed improvements remain uncompleted.
As plans are made and commitments given for Force Account work, detailed plans are required to ensure that adequate forces are available for both capital improvement projects and on-going maintenance activities -- including emergency repairs. Without a strong management and control system, available forces may become over-committed with resultant delays in capital project implementation.
With all of these potential problems in the scheduling of Force Account work, budget control can also be a problem: projects that consistently fall behind schedule are often prone to the slow depletion of funds.
MNR responded to these situations by establishing a section within the operating division for the management of the Force Account activities. The Director of Force Account Management and Project Control was established to provide strong guidance to the Force Account program. This position has been able to integrate the Force Account manpower budgeting and scheduling with the MNR Fiscal year budgeting. Ongoing monitoring of costs is underway. Additional focus has been provided for the weekly private contractor coordination meetings.
More remains to be done. However, MNR plans to provide the same degree of project control to Force Account activities as is utilized on the private contractor activities, including initial detailed schedule development; monthly schedule updates; analysis of percent complete; and frequent forecasts of Estimate at Completion. A comprehensive resource loaded schedule should be developed and maintained. This resource loaded schedule should be reconciled with crew availability by discreet time periods. Formal analysis and documentation of trends should be accomplished. Formal methods of communication should be established between the managers of capital projects and the operations personnel responsible for Force Account supervision.
Many transit properties use Force Account labor as an integral part of their capital improvement program. The Force Account activities will be utilized more effectively if the same degree of management and project control is applied to these activities as is afforded the work of private contractors.
Metro-North Force Account Management Plans