Construction On Track
October 14, 2010 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Church and 30th St. San Francisco MUNI Construction is a 12 minute time lapse film showing 3.5 days of construction crews replacing MUNI tracks in San Francisco. "This is a time-lapse video showing the replacement of the MUNI tracks in front of my house. Demolition began on the evening of Friday, October 8, and work continued around the clock until early in the morning of Tuesday, October 12. The MUNI folks were nice enough to distribute earplugs to those of us in the immediate vicinity."
posted by hippybear (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Roncesvalles St streetcar track replacement in Toronto would take about 3 & 1/2 days to watch in time-lapsed form. The street was torn up when I moved away, about 2.5 years ago. it still isn't back together.

So this video was pretty quick work all things considered.
posted by GuyZero at 11:18 AM on October 14, 2010

This is the same guy who did A History of the Sky a while back, which I quite liked. This is neat too.
posted by echo target at 11:24 AM on October 14, 2010

This is great!
posted by intermod at 11:52 AM on October 14, 2010

I walked by at some point, but I haven't found myself in the video yet! Damn Nyquist sampling theory.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2010

Woo, thermite!
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:21 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

We really are just giant ants!
posted by ericb at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2010

As a kid I was mesmerized by the graceful motion of a backhoe. I still am.
posted by ericb at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2010

That's totally amazing. Also, I was born 2 blocks from there in 1962. I've always loved the electric wires in the air. They intersect at amazing angles, and make for great pictures on a rare sunny day.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:47 PM on October 14, 2010

I lived in this building 15 years ago. The J train turning the corner was so incredibly loud. Hope that noise has been mitigated somewhat.
posted by greasepig at 12:59 PM on October 14, 2010

This is amazing.
posted by equalpants at 1:23 PM on October 14, 2010

This is pretty cool, I'm gonna wear my J Church shirt today in honor.
posted by bizwank at 1:25 PM on October 14, 2010

One has to wonder what the heck Washington DC has been doing for the past 3 years on the rather short H Street and Anacostia streetcar lines.

They've been working on the very short H St line since 2008, and the Anacostia line since 2006, and there's still no end in sight.

On the other hand, these guys removed and replaced a complicated intersection in 3 days.

Anybody know if there's an engineering reason why they don't use concrete sleepers? Is it a short-term cost saving measure? Ripping up the streets to replace the rotten wooden ties every decade or so seems like an awful waste of money.
posted by schmod at 1:25 PM on October 14, 2010

What exactly is it about road work that costs so much? $3M for what? A few guys with some backhoes, steel, concrete, and what ten other guys doing some 'stuff'. Couple of dump trucks.

I'd love to see a breakdown of the costs.
posted by zeoslap at 1:27 PM on October 14, 2010

Also why once the trains were running again did they need to work nights (and the associated costs that go along with that)
posted by zeoslap at 1:32 PM on October 14, 2010

Toronto uses metal sleepers so I dunno why they seem to use wood here.
posted by GuyZero at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2010

So... you're suggesting that they spend a few days ripping up the road to replace the tracks, but then not bother to test those tracks with real trains before spending a couple more days filling it all in with concrete? Nevermind testing it some more, and inspecting it all carefully?

I understand seeing that price tag and, not really having a sense of how much or little $3M actually is, thinking this is corruption or excess. The video's title certainly contributes to this framing. But when you compare this to how much other infrastructure projects cost in the US, particularly how LONG they take, this was pretty much win.

I'm looking for a cite right now, seeing comments elsewhere say that $3-6M per mile of rail, and $20M per mile of constructed highway, are normal.
posted by danny the boy at 1:56 PM on October 14, 2010

There's a comment in this thread by Norgeboy that I thought was helpful. Still no cites yet, and no itemized bill, sorry.
posted by danny the boy at 2:01 PM on October 14, 2010

This is pretty cool, I'm gonna wear my J Church shirt today in honor.

Waitaminute. They make J Church shirts now? I waaant one.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:18 PM on October 14, 2010

I was completely mesmerized by this video when I saw it a couple days ago. Time lapse+construction+trains = AWESOME!
posted by rtha at 2:41 PM on October 14, 2010

Re: sleepers - I ride the J Church occasionally and I'm pretty sure that the section between Randall St and Balboa Park, where the trains have their own right-of-way and the tracks aren't embedded in the street, uses concrete sleepers. Maybe there's something about having cars and trucks driving over the sleepers that makes wood better - maybe it's more compressible and doesn't crack the way concrete would?
posted by Quietgal at 2:47 PM on October 14, 2010

Longer blog post about the construction.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:58 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

That must have been one hell of a noisy clusterfuck. Church/30th is a really busy intersection in really tight quarters in a fairly hilly area. The intersection itself is flat (for SF) but has steep hills and narrow roads surrounding it. I once watched a semi truck with a car trailer try to navigate the neighborhood and he managed to jack knife it and lock it up trying to turn around, completely blocking 30th up the hill from Church, totally shutting it down. The traffic backed up so fast it tied up the whole neighborhood for most of the day, including buses.

What exactly is it about road work that costs so much? $3M for what? A few guys with some backhoes, steel, concrete, and what ten other guys doing some 'stuff'. Couple of dump trucks.

It's not even close to ten guys. That's more like a crew of 30 or more per shift, running 3-4 shifts a day non stop for three days with a lot of them probably (rightfully) earning bonuses and overtime for fast, accurate work. There's equipment operators, electricians, welders, concrete cutters, steelworkers, rail engineers, foremen, planners, architects/engineers and more.

It's not a couple of dump trucks, either. Two or three tracked shovels with various concrete demolition tools, rollers, compactors, probably a front end loader or two for the debris, trucks to deliver sand, stone aggregate and concrete.

Not featured in the video, and this is not a complete list:

Insurance in various forms, for public safety, for the workers, for the leased/rented equipment, for the trains in case something goes wrong during testing. Environmental studies. Traffic and other impact planning. Lots of overlapping engineering domains from road/traffic engineering to rail and electrical engineering.

As you can see they didn't actually spend three million in three days. At least half of it was probably spent long before they ever blocked off the street and started work.

A million dollars doesn't go very far these days. Three million for that kind of breakneck pace, in that insanely busy environment and doing that kind of work is probably cheap and rather affordable all things considered. You probably couldn't build a new, small house in that neighborhood for less then a million, not including the property price.
posted by loquacious at 3:04 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

What exactly is it about road work that costs so much? $3M for what? A few guys with some backhoes, steel, concrete, and what ten other guys doing some 'stuff'. Couple of dump trucks.

I'd love to see a breakdown of the costs.

I am a civil engineer that has a couple of public works projects and more private development projects completed. The big thing that usually costs a road project in a city is land acquisition costs (probably not a big factor in this case) to make the road wider, improve intersections and so on. The second big factor in high prices for public works projects is the laws in effect that say you have to pay prevailing wage. This is a union protection measure and says that you have to pay HIGH wages for labor regardless of the actual free market rate for that (what a worker would be paid for private development). I do want to say that a good construction worker is not an unskilled shovelor but rather a highly skilled operator of very expensive equipment and gets paid to reflect this, but what is called prevailing wage is usually just ridicoulous and I have no idea how the burea of labor statistics come up with this. That cost also includes engineering costs (designing it all and planning the work-and good planning is why this only took 3 days). It may have included costs of detour routing and other unseen costs that really occur offsite.

From watching the video (and I saw it first yesterday on Jalopnik) I woulds say the biggest driver for cost on this project was the tight work space (when you are working in tight spaces your equipment is really constrained on how fast it can work) and possible utility conflicts. The demolition reqiured welding crews to periodically stop the work and cut rebar/tracks and took a very large precentage of the job time and everything had to be hauled off and not reused on site.

As for material costs the railroad track is not cheap and it was mostly premade offsite. BTW the sleepers or deadmen are probably some kind of high density plastic which is currently state of the art for light rail systems and do last forever. High strength fast curing concrete is not cheap at all and the skill to pour it and finish it this good this fast is even more.

There were likely very expensive damage clauses in the contract (if they take to long they get a fine essentially) that drove up the bidding price for this job. When you are working in an established urban area you almost always hit unknown utility lines or something unexpected that cause delays and raise costs so the contractors added this unknown risk to what they thought it would cost to build the job.

It all adds up quick. For another example-The city I work for just finished a simple sewer job in an established neighborhood with no utility conflicts and decent room to work and it took 1 month to put in 1900 feet of 8" pipe at about $125 dollars a foot. This is during some of the lowest costs I have ever seen for construction during the recession. Three years ago the sewer job would have cost 200 a foot. Which is also a great argument for the government to go into debt for public works infrastructure jobs-it will never be this cheap and interest rates will never be this low for probably a generation or longer.
posted by bartonlong at 3:06 PM on October 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Thanks bartonlong for the insight - if this job has gone out to bid at $3M would it not be cheaper for a city to simply have salaried people on staff to do this kind of work? There seems to be such a huge backlog of work to be done that having it all done by vendors is just too expensive.
posted by zeoslap at 3:51 PM on October 14, 2010

After reading the blog post I see that this cost $1M and was indeed done by Muni themselves - $1M seems a much more reasonable number.
posted by zeoslap at 3:53 PM on October 14, 2010

Although this is only marginally related when they replaced the streetcar tracks along King St in Toronto they had a track welder that was the size of a railroad engine and when it welded the tracks was like having a tiny star at street level. It was insane in its size and power.
posted by GuyZero at 4:13 PM on October 14, 2010

I used to live at 28th and Sanchez and caught the Muni at that corner many times. (the coffee shop on the corner visible throughout the entire video has amazing pastries, by the way). As for the noise of the J - let's hope that the God-awful screech has been mitigated somewhat. I talked to one of the J drivers and he said that it's tough to get people to take that route - supposedly they grease the tracks to keep the train quiet - which adversely affects the brakes and makes it extremely stressful to drive on that line. They have a lot of absenteeism and transfers on the J line and that's why it is always...always late.

That was cool - nice to see it from the perspective of a former resident with a lot of time spent on the J Church - and I know that I have probably spent many a minute staring idly at the exact house that this video was taken from.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:20 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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