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MAINTENANCE STAFFING LEVELS FOR LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT SUMMARY A renaissance in light rail transit (LRT) over the last 25 years has resulted in many new sys- tems. Of the 20 existing light rail systems, 15 have been built or substantially renewed since 1980. Another 36 U.S. cities are either planning or implementing new light rail lines. Sys- tem maintenance plays a large part in keeping operating costs low. Adequate staffing for light rail vehicle fleet maintenance, wayside maintenance, and facilities/equipment maintenance is critical in ensuring a cost-effective system. Determining maintenance staffing levels is a challenge for all agencies, particularly new agencies with no rail maintenance history. A comparative survey of existing LRT systems may help maintenance managers understand the variables affecting maintenance staffing. The purpose of this synthesis report is to document light rail maintenance staffing practices to guide existing and emerging light rail projects. The initial approach taken was to review characteristics and operating environments of existing light rail systems to determine if any might clearly influence their maintenance staff levels. However, the analysis indicated that there are no clear relationships between level of staff and common system characteristics. There are too many factors extant to isolate any one as causal. There are also nonquantifiable factors involved including budget constraints, col- lective bargaining agreements, and management philosophies. Certain indicators are used by most agencies as benchmarks. The most widely used is the "number of revenue system failures" for light rail vehicle maintenance. However, accurate information on this indicator is lacking, most likely because of the varied definitions of this term in use. Because of its importance to maintenance managers, the industry needs to develop a consistent definition of "revenue system failures." Similarly, some useful non-cost indicator of maintenance of way (wayside maintenance) performance could be selected by the industry as its standard benchmark for this maintenance function. The second part of the study used a questionnaire to probe how light rail managers them- selves felt their agency's maintenance philosophies, policies, or labor relations affected maintenance staffing. Because the range of responses was substantial, the conclusions must be considered general. The main drivers of staff levels are agency policies on quality of ser- vice and ongoing experience with manpower availability. Managing these resources has become harder over time owing to gradually increasing time-off rules, budget constraints, and difficulty in training staff for broader responsibilities and advancement. Light rail sys- tems do not contract out many maintenance tasks, preferring, for quality control, to do as much as possible with their own resources. The need for and efficient use of common spare parts was noted by many systems. Although this is difficult to achieve given the number of railcar vendors in the market, the industry might want to select and standardize key components with high failure or replacement rates. The third part of the study focused on the light rail maintenance staffing of four case study cities: San Diego, Salt Lake City, Portland (Oregon), and Cleveland. They represent a range
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2 of agency types, system ages, climate types, and labor agreements. Based on the evaluation of these systems, overall productivity, as measured by total maintenance employees per unit of common measure (track-mile, peak vehicle, or car-mile), appears to be better with simpler organizations and fewer job classifications. There also appears to be a fairly consistent range of maintainers-to-manager ratios across the industry, although these vary somewhat by the technical nature of the maintenance func- tion. The study results can be used to confirm whether a staffing plan has a reasonable blend of managers and maintainers. The staff productivity indicators--employees per unit of measure--vary as well among the agencies surveyed. It was nevertheless possible to recognize possible common ranges. LRT systems can use these common staffing ranges as a check on reasonableness.