June 12, 2015

Rail Project Helps Revive Detroit

In the shadows of Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play, and Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, a John Deere 333E Compact Track Loader (CTL) shows that it is the ultimate team player. It's working in tandem with a John Deere wheel loader and backhoe to install a stretch of the M-1 Rail project, a new streetcar line that is expected to transport an estimated 5,000 passengers per day when it is completed around the end of 2016. The CTL hauls railroad ties and pallets of other materials using forks, then switches over to a bucket to backfill and grade. It then changes to a broom attachment to clean up.

"Crews love the John Deere CTL," says Blair Christensen, equipment manager, Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., the main contractor on the project. "It's compact so it can get into tight, crowded areas along streets. And it's very versatile. With all the attachments, we can use it for so many different tasks."

A Streetcar is Desired

The M-1 Rail project is part of a larger development in downtown Detroit that will help spark the city's revival. Spurred by investments from Quicken Loans® Inc. founder Dan Gilbert and other entrepreneurs, there's a lot of energy right now in the renewal of downtown Detroit. The rail project has provided a catalyst for developing new shops, restaurants, and apartments.

"The project is going to be a real stepping stone to Detroit's recovery and revitalization," says Mark Gaffney, corporate equipment manager, Stacy and Witbeck. "This city deserves that. There has always been a real sense of pride in this city, and we're honored to be part of a project that helps restore that pride. It's really exciting."

When it's completed, the 3.3-mile circulating streetcar will run along Woodward Avenue through the heart of downtown Detroit. The line will include 20 different stations serving 12 stops, most of them curbside. Construction began in mid-2014, and the line is expected to be operational by late 2016.

Unlike light rail, a streetcar doesn't require an exclusive trackway. It can be integrated into the traffic flow and is more a part of street life, rather than just a segmented, separate system. That works well in downtown Detroit because the rail line will connect neighborhoods with the business district, shopping areas, the stadiums, the theater district, and Wayne State University.

Track Star

With its compact size, the 333E maneuvers with ease around the crowded jobsite. But Deere's most power CTL ever also delivers plenty of pushing power and breakout force. "It can get into some tight spaces," says Sean Furey, general superintendent, Stacy and Witbeck. "We use it for working on sidewalks and in other small areas. It really gets things done fast."

Operators appreciate the CTL's many refinements, including the quieter, more spacious cab. A large entryway and a flat floor allow easier entrance and exit, and provide plenty of foot and legroom. "Operators love the huge cab," says Furey. "It's just so comfortable. And they appreciate the highly efficient HVAC system." All-around visibility is second to none. And operators have a choice of controls with exclusive switchable electrohydraulic (EH) H-ISO-foot controls. "Visibility is outstanding," says Christensen.

"And it is just so easy to use. The switchable controls make it easy for operators to get up to speed. And that's important because we have multiple operators. An operator might be running a CTL today and a backhoe tomorrow. It's nice there is a variety of controls, so operators can choose a configuration they are most comfortable with."

More Uptime in Motown

One of the country's leading builders of streetcar systems and light and commuter rail, Stacy and Witbeck got its start 30 years ago restoring part of the historic San Francisco cable-car line. The heavy civil contractor has also completed projects in Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, and Houston.

The M-1 Rail project is located the farthest east the company has worked. "Our partnership with John Deere has really eased the transition through their exceptional equipment and service," says Tom Gilman, Stacy and Witbeck's project manager for the M-1 project. "They really take care of us." For the Detroit project, Stacy and Witbeck works with John Deere dealer AIS Construction Equipment. "AIS is an exceptional dealer," says Gaffney.

"Our main contact, Byron Miller, has been fantastic. He makes sure we get everything we need, whether it's sales support on new equipment or help from their full-service shop. Our relationship with Deere is more than simply transactional. They've really helped us to succeed. They are a part of our success — a true partner."

"It's so important that our Deere dealer is a partner on this project and a big part of its success," adds Christensen. "We simply can't have downtime. If a machine breaks down, we have a whole crew standing around. The project comes to a stop. It can throw off our schedule a week or more.

"Not that the machines are down much. "We simply don't have a lot of trouble with these machines — they are very reliable," says Ramon DeLeon, civil superintendent, Stacy and Witbeck. "But it's really nice that if something comes up, we have a John Deere mechanic we can rely on, and who is qualified to work on any of our equipment, not just Deere. And if the dealer can't handle something, they'll find someone who can. We can be confident AIS will resolve any issue in a matter of hours. If we don't have time to do an oil change, they’ll come out and take care of it for us. It's one-stop shopping with John Deere."