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54 a freeway bottleneck was considered "low cost" in comparison ules to minimize disruption to trains and specifically to cus- to the much larger total highway program. Others said low-cost tomer commitments. It is not unusual for railroads to work projects would be in the $50,000 to $250,000 range. The respon- with major customers on track improvement projects for dents' perspectives appear to vary with their position. Opera- example, by coordinating track work with a factory slowdown tions personnel tended to cite lower thresholds for "low cost." for vacations or heavy maintenance. Given the state of short- Respondents accustomed to working with larger capital pro- line infrastructure, the issue is not whether projects are inex- grams tended to define "low cost" considerably higher, up to pensive and can be implemented quickly, but how they can be $20 million. financed. Similar perspectives were given to the definition of "quickly implementable." One respondent categorized "quickly imple- 5.1.3 Deepwater Ports and mentable" as being any strategy that an agency can adopt Inland Waterways administratively, without seeking approval from outside agen- cies. When outside agency approval is needed, it generally indi- Low-cost physical improvements to reduce port congestion cates that the project has some impacts and will result in more and enhance landside freight movement are similar to those for lengthy reviews. the primary modes linking the intermodal facilities. Examples include improving the turning radii and lanes for intermodal connectors and adding rail spurs and tracks serving the ports. 5.1.2 Railroads Operational improvements include port peak pricing strategies The definition of a "low-cost" and "quickly implementable" that use pricing to encourage pickup/delivery of cargo at less improvement project varies depending on the category of congested times so as to reduce freight and passenger conges- the railroad. For a regional railroad, a "low-cost" improvement tion on the transportation system, improve operating efficien- project is one that is less than $500,000 while "quickly imple- cies, and reduce truck wait and idling times, among others. mentable" would be completion in under 6 months. For a Interviews with port terminal operators indicate that given short-line railroad of modest size, projects that cost less than the complexity of their operations, and noting that the major $2 million and that could be completed in 2 years would fit the mobility constraints are regulatory and operational in nature, criteria. A major Class I railroad, on the other hand, thought no "low-cost" and "quickly implementable" action could be the cost range might be more like $1 million to $10 million. identified. However, from a private-sector point of view, any Ideally, a low-cost and quickly implementable improvement regulatory requirements that positively impact their opera- project is one with a cash payback within the current year--so tions could be viewed as low cost. Also, given that intermodal that there would be no impact on net income. This criterion connectors are critical elements in the efficient movement of would also allow a line manager to use an authorized operat- freight through the ports, any improvements that remove ing budget to complete a "capital" project outside of the mobility constraints are reflected in the efficiency of opera- firm's annual capital expenditures budget and thus speed up tions of the port terminals. realization of the project benefits. Most railroads prepare cap- A "low-cost" improvement in the inland waterways would ital budgets midway through the year, effective the following involve better scheduling of and allowing transit of waterborne January 1, and thus there is a minimum 6-month delay in cargo according to two factors: (i) urgency of need for the cargo implementing a new capital project. Also, amendment of cap- and (ii) resulting financial impact to the stakeholder of delay. ital budgets to accommodate new projects is infrequent at rail- Specific ideas included: roads with tight cash flow constraints. However, the current year payback scenario represents unusual circumstances, as Resource optimization instead of addition few projects yield returns this high and this fast. Also, most rail- Not re-inspecting cargo that was already inspected at a for- roads probably would frown on going outside established cap- eign port terminal ital budgeting guidelines in this manner. Using the arbitration system favored by unions to discuss While most projects of the low-cost and quickly imple- greater use of optical readers at gates that would result in mentable size can be completed in a single construction season, clerk reductions; also discuss flexible shifts this way. to do so requires advance preparation and coordinated sched- uling. On large railroads with dense traffic, moreover, the spe- Results of the survey indicate that overall, 43 percent of the cific constraint is likely to be "track time," i.e., the "window" in respondents defined "quickly implementable" as improve- train schedules for maintenance of way (MOW) work, rather ments that can be completed in less than 1 year and another than total elapsed time. Railroads make great efforts to sched- 35 percent of respondents indicated less than 2 years. The ule availability or delivery of all the needed resources (labor, results strongly suggest that a quickly implementable, low-cost materials, track construction machinery) around train sched- improvement project should be completed in less than 1 year