The Gravy Train - An Inside Look at the Long Island Rail Road
by Dan Ruppert
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Growing up in the suburbs of New York City on Long Island, I took a keen interest in all forms of transportation, especially trains. Afer graduating college, I worked as an industrial engineer for private sector corporations progressing to a middle management position within a Fortune 25 Company. In 1983 I accepted a job opportunity with the Long Island Rail Road as an industrial engineer. The LIRR is a government-subsidized agency that is part of a larger regional organization called the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The LIRR had embarked on a very ambitious improvement program to upgrade their physical plants. This plan included the construction of a new railcar maintenance facility. The new facility was to replace their one hundred year old maintenance shops. I was hired to develop facility layouts for the most advanced rail car maintenance facility in the country. Friends and professional colleagues advised me to decline the job offer. However, I was a railroad buff and the opportunity to work for a railroad overshadowed any tredpidations. For decades, the LIRR had bore the brunt of adverse publicity. I would often consider much of the critisism as being too harsh and misguided. Not long after commencing employment, my perspective of the LIRR would be completely transformed. The inefficient and workplace abuses I witnessed first hand could only flourish in publicly subsidized environment. My job required me to observe and analyze the maintenance and repair operations performed on commuter railcars. My next step was identifying more efficient methods. I would then implement these improvements into the design of the new railcar maintenance facilities. I was met with a wall of resistence and non-cooperation from the unionized workforce. The LIRR had languished in decades of inefficient work habits supplemented with managerial coplacency and rampant nepotism. I would operate in a very hostile environment that had no incentive to embrace improvements. It would be in the better interests of the unions to maintain low productivity and therefore justify the gross overstaffing that existed for decades.
Upon completion of developing the facility layouts, the next phase of my responsibilities involved coordination with design consultants hired by the LIRR. The consultants were responsible for the architectural and structural designs of the new maintenance facility. The consultans typically were selected based on political connections and not their level of expertise. The design phase was muddled with incompetence and waste. Inept project management would add tens of millions of dollars and lengthly delays to the construction phase of the project. Upon completion of construction, a new regime intent on maintaining the status quo within the LIRR assues control of the new maintenance facility. The new regime is not committed to capitalizing on the labor efficiencies offered by the new facility. Key positions are then filled with managers' intent in preserving the traditional inefficient ways of the LIRR. My story concludes with the agendas of the new regime and conflicts with those who were trying to transform the LIRR into a socially responsible institution. My trials and tribulations along with personal victories and setbacks are all the basis of my book.
- Trafford Publishing, January 2003
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