Progressive Project Delivery Paves the Way for Increased Freight Rail Capacity on East Coast

March 10, 2017


As the nation’s third largest freight rail carrier, CSX is acutely aware of the impact rail operations have, and can potentially have, on the country’s competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Their network, which encompasses nearly 21,000 route miles of track in 23 states, the District of Columbia and parts of Canada, serves some of the largest population centers in the nation, and is responsible for transporting millions of carloads of freight throughout the eastern United States each year. 

In 2008, the rail transportation giant embarked on an ambitious infrastructure improvement program—the National Gateway Initiative—to enhance the efficiency and reliability of intermodal rail traffic along its eastern seaboard routes and to critical Midwest markets. The $850 million public-private partnership, which was made possible by a combination of federal, state and CSX funds, includes raising the clearances of 61 bridges and tunnels in six states and the District of Columbia to make way for double-stack intermodal containers; it also includes new or improved intermodal terminals along the way. Phase 1 of the two-part program was completed in 2013; Phase 2, which includes work on some of America’s oldest rail tunnels, as well as numerous clearance improvement projects throughout Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC, will culminate next year. When complete, this substantial infrastructure investment will modernize America’s transportation system, create a double-stack rail corridor between many major Mid-Atlantic ports and the greater Midwest, and take CSX one step closer to realizing their ambitious master mission: creating the “CSX of Tomorrow.” 

One of the most critical facets of Phase 2 of the program is the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Rehabilitation. Located in the heart of the nation’s capital, the more-than-a-century old tunnel is a critical route for freight trains traveling through Washington, DC, to points north and south, as well as for freight traffic from eastern seaports to the Midwest. The original single-track tunnel could only accommodate one single-stack train at a time and was a frequent choke point for rail traffic traveling through the Mid-Atlantic region. Expanding the tunnel’s capacity and clearance will significantly improve the flow of freight rail traffic and make numerous East Coast ports more competitive. 

As CSX set out to alleviate this longtime bottleneck, it turned to a progressive delivery method, and to the Clark/Parsons design-build team to lead the charge. With a highly-complex scope, the $250 million project, which includes reconstruction of the 3,800-foot tunnel that runs beneath Virginia Avenue, SE, from 2nd to 14th streets, is one of the most sensitive civil engineering projects currently underway in the country.

Under a progressive design-build procurement, CSX involved Clark, and joint venture design partner, Parsons, during the earliest stages of project development: the NEPA permitting process. Onboarding Clark/Parsons during the early planning phase helped to ensure that CSX had the most effective design and construction solutions; it also made certain that work could commence as soon as possible following CSX’s receipt of the Federal Highway Administration’s record of decision. This approach established a culture of collaboration among key stakeholders early on, and built a foundation of transparency and trust that has helped the team successfully achieve delivery of the first tunnel one month early, despite many challenges along the way. 

Since fall 2011, Clark/Parsons has worked hand-in-hand with CSX to move the project forward, providing critical technical support during the rigorous NEPA and permitting processes, as well as preconstruction services, estimating, and support for field investigations and traffic studies, all before detailed final engineering work and construction commenced. 

Construction operations for Phase 1 of the project began in May 2015, within six months of the record of decision. Since that time, the team has operated with surgical precision to perform the work, which included construction of a new 4,100-foot, cut-and-cover tunnel structure south of the existing masonry tunnel, all while freight train operations continued through the existing tunnel on the jobsite. From the project’s outset, the team has focused on working collaboratively to plan, problem-solve, successfully execute the work, and maintain the schedule, all while limiting the impact of construction operations on nearby residents and businesses. The team’s cooperative mindset has helped them identify opportunities to adjust the schedule to move the project forward more effectively. 

In December 2016, the project team celebrated a major milestone: the completion of Phase 1—a month ahead of schedule—allowing the first of two new CSX tunnels to open for business and enabling double-stack railcars to travel through the District of Columbia, and locations in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, for the first time.

Why Progressive Design-Build?

Clark Senior Vice President and Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project Director Phil Sheridan recently sat down with CSX’s Chuck Gullakson, Chief Project Engineer on the project, to discuss the reconstruction project and how progressive design-build is contributing to the project’s success and enabling CSX to realize their vision for the future. 

Phil Sheridan: The Virginia Avenue Tunnel is the last of 61 clearance projects in CSX’s National Gateway Initiative and will have a major impact on freight rail travel throughout the greater Mid-Atlantic region. Why did CSX decide to utilize progressive design-build to deliver the project and remaining Phase 2 components? 

Chuck Gullakson: CSX chose a progressive design-build approach, and more importantly, a contractor-led design-build team, as a means of achieving the aggressive completion schedule that we required for this project. Once we won approval to move forward, we wanted to be optimally positioned to streamline the design and construction process in moving from the preliminary designs to final construction drawings as efficiently as possible. We hoped that integrating the elements of the process into a single team, led by the construction contractor responsible for executing the design, would improve the project’s overall timeliness. So far, that strategy is working.

Phil: Under this delivery model, Clark was involved in the project from a very early stage. How did establishing that partnership with the contractor-led team during this phase help CSX move the project forward? Specifically, what, if any value did Clark/Parsons provide during the NEPA and permitting stages that would not have been realized under a traditional project delivery model?

Chuck: They were instrumental in supporting CSX, FHWA, and DDOT through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process to secure approval for the project, given their intimate knowledge of the available construction techniques and unique local conditions. Not only did the Clark/Parsons team help us explain the project to the public, they helped us identify ways to mitigate community impacts through the selection of design and construction techniques and materials. Additionally, their sensitivity to CSX’s requirements that train operations be safely maintained throughout the project resulted in a very executable plan that might not have emerged through a different approach. 

Phil: What do you look for in a design-build partner? Why did you select Clark/Parsons for this project? 

Chuck: Clark and Parsons are two names that quickly rise to the top of any short list of partners for major transportation-related projects, and the specific team that has been fielded by the JV has an unparalleled depth of knowledge of the unique requirements of a project like this in the nation’s capital. We searched for exceptional qualifications and cost-competitiveness as table stakes —delivering the local expertise that this team also provides was the differentiator. 

Phil: Based on its location alone, the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction project was destined to be a challenging project. Has the progressive design-build model helped the team address and overcome those challenges more efficiently and effectively, and if so, how?

Chuck: The District of Columbia is one of the oldest cities in the nation, and every era of U.S. history is represented in the city’s design. Local conditions at the tunnel site vary from 19th century blue-stone pavers to 21st century telecommunications network technology and everything in between. Having a fluid, flexible progressive design-build team in place has made it possible to adopt to local as-built conditions above and below ground as they are discovered, reducing the time required to address new discoveries. A chief example among them was the discovery of an abandoned segment of an 1870’s era railroad tunnel serving the Washington Navy Yard area that was buried adjacent to the excavation site for the first new Virginia Avenue Tunnel. A revised demolition/excavation plan was required and the team quickly responded, resequencing work across the 11-block project site to ensure progress continued even while additional excavation was required. 

Phil: Can you offer your perspective on the working dynamic between CSX and the design-build team? 

Chuck: CSX and the Clark/Parsons JV have an excellent relationship. We have worked together to plan the job since before we had project approval; we have collaborated on solutions to new challenges as they emerge; we coordinate closely on communicating pending project work to the nearby residents and the surrounding community to minimize impacts as much as possible; and we celebrate our successes together. We have a unique partnership on a unique project, and both CSX and the community have benefited from the connection.