While still jubilant about the unprecedented amount of federal funding for transit—$108 billion over five years—rail advocates also are concerned about the shortage of workers, the need to better manage project risks and the ability to implement mandated asset-management plans for their infrastructure and vehicles.

“This is an interesting time in the asset-management world,” said Laura Zale, manager of asset management for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), addressing attendees of the American Public Transportation Association’s annual rail conference in San Diego in early June.

Almost 10 years ago, the federal MAP-21 transportation law mandated that agencies create transit asset management plans (TAMs). “The conversation has shifted over 10 years,” said Zale, noting that reaching a state of good repair (SOGR) used to be associated with older systems. “Asset management can be used as a tool no matter how old you are,” she said. Also, rather than just addressing aging infrastructure, TAMs should address asset customer service, quality and equity, she said.

Jeff Hiott, vice president of enterprise program management at the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, Texas, says the agency is trying to move beyond “checking the boxes” to improving the accuracy of TAM data—while planning construction of new assets, including four bus rapid transit lines, almost 30 miles of new light rail and a two-mile subway underneath a lake as well as new electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.

In another session, attendees participated in a mock risk management session for a fictional 15-mile automated people mover project. Divided into groups of vehicles and operations, estimating and scheduling, safety and environment, project and construction management, and design and engineering, the participants had to come up with the highest risk for each category and estimate its probability and potential impact on time and schedule. 

Veronica Vanterpool, deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, noted that 870 transit stations are not ADA compliant and one-third of subway vehicles are over 25 years old, yet 42% of transit workers are eligible to retire. Xinge Wang, deputy director for the FTA-created International Transportation Learning Center, said the labor shortage is a “crisis.” The center is ramping up efforts to recruit new talent.