Amtrak needs a comprehensive program management framework to govern how it will complete work across Gateway projects, a new Amtrak Office of Inspector General (OIG) report has found.
While Amtrak “has started hiring staff and building a schedule, among other things, to manage the volume of work it will soon encounter on Gateway, its highest priority infrastructure investment, … [it] has an opportunity now to build [a] framework to better prepare itself to succeed,” according to the OIG report, which was released Feb. 8 (download below).
Amtrak is partnering with the states of New York and New Jersey to upgrade and replace “essential rail infrastructure” between Newark, N.J., and New York’s Penn Station on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) by 2035. The estimated cost: more than $30 billion. Gateway projects include: replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River; constructing a new tunnel under the Hudson River; rehabbing the existing North River Tunnel; and increasing capacity from two to four mainline tracks. In November 2021, Congress passed, and the President signed, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide funding to Amtrak for its infrastructure efforts and potential grants to its partners.
Amtrak, as the majority owner of the NEC, “has a vested interest in ensuring that the Gateway projects meet its requirements,” according to the OIG report. “The company has a range of responsibilities across the program, from leading the design, procurement, construction and delivery on some projects to supporting its partners as they lead other projects.
“For example, the company expects to have a lead role in the delivery of the Sawtooth Bridges project, but will support its partner on the Portal North Bridge project by reviewing the contractor’s drawings and inspecting construction to ensure that it meets company standards.”
From 2012 through September 2021, Amtrak spent about $853 million on Gateway, including constructing tunnel segments in Manhattan to secure right-of-way for the future tunnel, acquiring real estate, and developing federal environmental reviews and designs for projects, OIG said.
According to the OIG report, Amtrak is facing three challenges without a Gateway program management framework in place:
- The “program team has been overtasked because the company has not assessed the resources that the team and departments providing major support to Gateway need to manage current and future work.”
- It “has not determined how it will collect and provide comprehensive and consolidated information on the program’s overall status—including budget and schedule—to all the internal stakeholders with responsibilities for Gateway.”
- While “the company has assessed the risks to individual projects in coordination with its partners, it has not assessed the broader program-wide risks it may face managing its Gateway commitments, such as potential impacts to other company acquisitions or projects.”
OIG recommended that Amtrak not only build out a program management plan, but also assess its current and future resource needs; implement communication protocols to manage how it will generate, collect and distribute program information; and develop a process to identify and mitigate its program risks.
In commenting on a draft report, Executive Vice President for Capital Delivery Laura Mason “agreed with our recommendations and identified specific actions the company plans to take to address them” this year, OIG concluded.
Amtrak provided Railway Age with the following statement on the Gateway audit:
“We appreciate the work of the Office of Inspector General and are accelerating process improvements and will continue to incorporate best practices into the Gateway Program—efforts that had been underway prior to the OIG’s audit. With the support of the Biden Administration, Congress and our state partners, Amtrak is poised to enter a new era of capital investment. As the Gateway Program accelerates out of the planning phase and into construction and delivery, Amtrak is also evolving and dedicating the resources necessary to meet our commitments to the Program, our partners and the nation. To see Amtrak’s full response to the OIG’s report, please see pages 32-36.”
In related developments, OIG on Feb. 2 released another new report: “GOVERNANCE: Amtrak Has Begun to Address State Partners’ Concerns About Shared Costs But Has More Work to Do to Improve Relationships.”