Amtrak needs to beef up its plan for managing the Gateway transportation project to keep the project from going off the rails and over budget, the company’s inspector general said in a Feb. 8 report.
The $30 billion Gateway Tunnel Project is a sweeping endeavor with massive implications for North Jersey commuters. Amtrak is partnering with New Jersey and New York states to upgrade and replace essential rail infrastructure between Newark and Penn Station in New York City by 2035.
Projects under the Gateway umbrella include replacing the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, constructing a new tunnel under the Hudson River, and rehabilitating the existing North River Tunnel.
More Defined Plans Needed
“[T]he plan does not identify or describe the processes the company will use to develop and execute the program so they are repeatable and consistent across projects,” the company’s IG said in the report. “Without such defined processes, the company risks reacting to issues and demands as they arise instead of conducting its work in a disciplined manner to help ensure that it meets its commitments on time, in scope, and in budget.”
Amtrak’s IG said the company needs to develop “a thorough program management framework” that describes the processes its departments will follow and the tools they will use to manage the program now and in the future.
“Given the enormity of the company’s commitments over the next decade and the fact that major projects are already underway, the company has an opportunity now to build this framework to better prepare itself to succeed with the program,” the IG said.
Absent this type of framework, the IG report outlined three challenges Amtrak faces on Gateway.
- “The program team has been overtasked” because Amtrak has not assessed what resources the team and departments supporting the project need to manage current and future Gateway-related work.
- Amtrak 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 internal stakeholders with responsibilities for Gateway.”
- Amtrak has assessed the risks to individual projects in coordination with its Gateway partners, but “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.
The IG offered specific examples of gaps in Amtrak’s Gateway program management plan, including finding “the company provided generic descriptions of participating departments instead of detailed plans identifying and describing how it will perform its work.”
For example, the Amtrak team described a process to the IG that it is using the forecast, track, update, and control program costs
“The team, however, has not captured this process or referred to existing company policy, if applicable, in the program management plan to ensure that the team has a consistent approach for managing costs across the program. Instead, it contains only a description of the Finance department,” the report said.
Schedule Management Lacking
In another example, the IG said Amtrak’s Gateway program management plan does not lay out the process the team will use to develop the master schedule or the frequency and method by which it will be updated.
“Schedule management will help the company meet timelines set out in contractual agreements. Instead, the plan states that the company is developing a master schedule,” the IG said.
The IG additionally faulted Amtrak for it’s Gateway plan not containing “a quality management section identifying the company’s quality standards—such as whether projects are meeting engineering specifications the company requires, and how the company will ensure that those standards are met across the program.”
Amtrak Executive Vice President of Capital Delivery Laura Mason responded to the IG’s recommendations in a Jan. 21 letter that appears in the report. Mason’s letter detailed steps the company is taking to address the IG’s concerns.
Mason said the company will bring in a risk management consultant and Amtrak is committed to develop a written communication management plan—which will include standardized reports—to better advise internal stakeholders of project developments.
Moreover, Amtrak committed to develop an organizational chart for Gateway and develop a hiring plan to fill vacant and newly proposed positions. Mason additionally pledged to provide a revised program management plan addressing a number of the IG’s concerns.
The long-delayed Gateway project got a boost in late January when the Federal Transit Administration raised its rating of the project, making it eligible for federal funding through the Capital Investment Grants program for the building of two rail tubes under the Hudson River.