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Supervision and Administration of Locomotive Repair Contracts

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by sleepermonster, Jan 12, 2021 at 10:28 AM.

  1. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021 at 7:28 PM
  2. estwdjhn

    estwdjhn Member

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    I've not read much of the reports etc on this particular saga, and I'm rather loathe to appear to defend this bunch of bandits even slightly, but I think a great many non-boilersmith might be a rather horrified by how much a boiler can leak when you first fill it with water - it's not unusual for the tidal wave out of the bottom to be nearly keeping up with the hose going in. Obviously it depends a lot on your water supply.
    This in and of itself doesn't say much about how good or bad a job has been done. Often it doesn't take a decent boilersmith many hours to convert a fairly dire water feature into a reasonably dry vessel which holds test pressure happily enough. It's amazing what can be done by a bit of cruelty with a caulking chisel or two, along with a big hammer!
     
  3. LMS2968

    LMS2968 Part of the furniture

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    Indeed, all very true. The initial fill and possible pressurisation is to find and clearly mark the leaks. There is no question that it will or will not.
     
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  4. Steve

    Steve Part of the furniture Friend

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    In the short part of the other forum that I read, mention was made of using a pressure washer to provide the means of carrying out the hydraulic test. I'm aware of this being done on a boiler (many years ago, now) where it wasn't well controlled. The result was a rather high pressure and a collapsed main steam pipe. The rest of the boiler survived, though.
     
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  5. Cosmo Bonsor

    Cosmo Bonsor New Member

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    I've done plenty of this, it's quite satisfying.
    A stubby 2lb ball pein hammer was my weapon of choice.
    I've just remembered the eyeful of rusty water you get sometimes caulking round a stay.
    What fun!
     
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  6. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I never thought I would see someone with fewer interpersonal and communication skills than the WSR leadership. But now I have.

    But to go back to the OP, I think it is clear from some near misses that this could happen here. The Patriot project, the restoration in Australia where there were all the problems with the boiler and the Flying Scotsman report, all show how there can be problems with quality of work, oversight/management, admin and as @35B has pointed out the virtual impossibility for resolution.
     
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  7. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Hear, hear.

    One further observation, from the world of the large corporate. Disputes take time - often years - and cost a not very small fortune even to win. A well written contract is a great thing to have, but making it work is far more about having something you can use to work with during the job, rather than a stick with which to beat the supplier after they've failed. As a customer, I've failed if I get to a position with a supplier if their delivery is so far off that I have to go in tough after it's beyond fixing forward.
     
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  8. sleepermonster

    sleepermonster Member

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    The best contract is one which the parties understand so well that it goes into a drawer after signing and is never looked at again. I thank everyone who has contributed so far, but particularly Steve for his expert summary of contractual issues; I wonder if it would be possible for him to file an anonymised specimen document in the locomotive MIC section? I do caution that, while it would be an invaluable starting point, such documents often take into account the characteristics and abilities of the parties and should not be blindly copied. I suspect Steve's organisation may have the financial strength to see their projects through without a pause, and most of us don't.

    In my case, the overhaul of Bagnall No. 2746 has been the first one in which I have been directly concerned, and the most important thing I learned before I started was that I knew nothing of any real value about locomotive engineering and would have to go to as many places and ask as many questions as possible and check everything I was told, which I suppose was the one thing I had any professional qualification to do! The second was not to try and cut corners, but to go for a thorough and ruthless appraisal of the condition of the locomotive and the work required to make effective long term repairs.

    It has been a very interesting (if expensive) process, and a great pleasure to meet with real experts. If you keep asking questions and make it clear you are willing to learn, eventually a consensus seems to emerge among the right people, and you find out who they are in the process. Not everyone has the expertise which they claim. More than one person told me the tyres were so worn they could not be turned and would have to be replaced, until a certain retired shedmaster clapped on a vernier tyre root gauge. His finding was that one tyre was worn 1/32 from true profile and the other five were dead on ("so leave them b...y well alone).

    I have tried to share such knowledge as I got along the way, and hope to form the story into a book.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021 at 1:12 PM
  9. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    I disagree about the contract staying in the drawer. Most of it should, and it’s staying there depends on all understanding it well, but the actual statement of what’s to be done needs to be close at hand at all times to be able to be referred back to.

    If it’s any good, it’ll be an invaluable help. If it’s not, then it will help ensure that there is something to refer back to when customer and supplier don’t agree about who, what or how, and stop both making expensive, wrong, assumptions.

    That’s why, in my field, contracts are usually written with the scope set out in a schedule, so readers aren’t distracted with the legalese and financials - vitally important, but a distraction to those doing the real work.


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  10. sleepermonster

    sleepermonster Member

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    Perhaps I did go a bit too far with that comment, perhaps we could agree to the contract being used as a helpful guide to keeping the project on track rather than a weapon in legal arguments?
     
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  11. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Absolutely, which is what I was pointing to. One of the most important parts of my job is stopping those charged with delivering the services in a contract from obsessing about the terms of that contract, because I can then rely on them to get obsessed with the letter of the contract, and lose sight of what it was actually for in the first place.
     
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  12. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Mmmm. Our finance people were very keen on penalty clauses, which I never much liked, because if the project started to run into difficulties supplier focus went from fixing the problem to avoiding the penalty clauses, which at best didn't help at all, and at worst guaranteed that things would indeed go pear shaped. A big compensation cheque is all very well, but it doesn't actually solve anything.
     
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  13. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Typcial accountants, knowing the price of all and value of nowt - a true penalty clause would be unenforceable;)

    The cheque is useful - and Liquidated Damages are sometimes a good lever to ensure the right focus on time and quality. But you're right - the presence and use of those is frequently a distraction from the underlying business of getting a job done well and properly, which is what both customer and supplier should be focusing on.
     
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  14. Steve

    Steve Part of the furniture Friend

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    Ours is a cottage industry. Any suggestion of penalty clauses and you wouldn’t get any takers to do the job.
     
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  15. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Precisely my thoughts.


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  16. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    What strikes me (and also some of the other examples) is why weren't the problems spotted sooner and intervention quicker?

    It has been mentioned about contracts not being clear about what is expected etc, it strikes me that perhaps there is also the possibility of owners not being able to assess the quality of the work until it is too late.

    It is easy to blame the workers for poor quality work, but perhaps questions should also be asked of the people who were responsible for managing the project. This isn't just one piece of poor work but a whole body of poor work. Poor quality work but also poor quality management.
     
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  17. estwdjhn

    estwdjhn Member

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    I don't know how long this particular project took, but in my experience, even doing major works one often doesn't see a lot of your customer. Obviously it varies, depending on lots of factors, but in my experience we generally only see the customer between a couple and half a dozen times over the course of a major overhaul (I'm thinking of a job the size say of re-boxing say an Austerity).

    Some customers, particularly organisations, can be pretty content to leave everything between you and the boiler inspector, with the odd email with a picture or two to accompany invoices.

    I think the most extreme case of this was a boiler which came in from abroad. I never met the customer, we were just sent the boiler to repair as we saw fit. We wrote a schedule of works based on what we thought was required, ran it past the customer and his inspector via email (with a selection of accompanying pictures to explain what we were on about), we did the work and the boiler inspector flew over to witness a hydraulic test. To the best of my knowledge, that boiler went into service without anyone other than us ever even looking inside it through the washout plug holes. Based on the state it was in when it arrived with us (it wasn't long out of service), I can't say I had a high opinion of the competence of the inspector.

    Obviously not all customers are like this (some I suspect cost us as much in tea as they do in labour), but I can easily believe that there are UK based boiler jobs occurring with pretty minimal scrutiny of some of the critical bits.
     
  18. sleepermonster

    sleepermonster Member

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    Exactly. The competence and activity of the smaller firms in particular needs to be monitored. What is the phrase, "trust but verify".

    For example, Fred, the man in charge of Fredco, knows what he is doing. Fred is assisted by Jim, who can cut, weld, and operate a lathe quite well enough. Fred leaves and Jim is promoted to take his place. However, Jim does not have the specialist ability to measure and audit a set of locomotive frames, and assumes they are square to the front buffer beam; he may or may not understand working tolerances. He is now assisted by Sid, who has little experience, and in particular does not understand the need to label the parts taken off the locomotive and store them in their own special place away from all the other bits lying about. Fredco is no longer what it was. Suddenly the newly machined bits won't fit and which piece of pipe goes where is a bit of a mystery, if it can be found at all. Maybe Jim does not know the difference between caulking and fullering and is doing dreadful things to the firebox seams with a sharp pneumatic chisel. If the owner isn't watching the project can go to blazes very quickly, and he can't ask what he needs to ask until he knows what he needs to know!

    In our case, we, the owners, would still be scraping at the rust and scratching our heads over what to do next, or we might well have spent a ton of money in the wrong way, if we had not attracted the support of good friends who knew exactly what they were doing and had the track record to prove it: Alen Grice and the 48624 team. They organised some fundamental steps at an early stage. First, the mechanical audit. Once the locomotive was fully dismantled and the frames were off the wheels, they went over it from end to end with tape measures and micrometers and wrote everything down; Alen advised on the degrees of wear and what need to be done. About the first thing they did was to measure the frame diagonally between the corners, which showed they were perfectly square. Next, they introduced me to a boiler contractor with an excellent and proven reputation, and we had what amounted to a Boiler Conference on site, involving the contractor, the insurance inspector, Alen and myself. The boiler had been inspected before, but they gave it the most thorough inspection to date, including ultrasonic readings on all the plates. This found a lot more defects, but we were able to lay down the basic plan for the boiler repair work. We had to add a lot more to it later! The contractor keeps me fully informed, I get weekly reports, and I visit whenever I can, he makes a good cup of coffee and is justly proud to show off his work. Between us we keep records of everything done to the locomotive, who did it, to what tolerances and with which material from which source.

    In hindsight I think we were tremendously lucky to start off on more or less the right foot from a position of total ignorance.
     
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  19. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I think one of the ironies of working in a relatively cash-poor environment like in a heritage railway is that it is very difficult to cut your losses if things go wrong. The overwhelming temptation is to keep trying to rescue a project so as not to write off what was already spent. The irony being that that can become very expensive.

    For example, you send a boiler away and you have an indicative cost of say £200k, but subject to some variations. The boiler firm start off, they do some work, but after spending, say, £50k it is obvious things aren't going very well - some of those are unexpected things found, but some are where you are beginning to have misgivings about the contractor. But at that point your boiler is now missing two half sides and all its side stays and crown stays, plus the front tube plate has been taken out and the whole structure is a bit fragile. Really you want to stop at that point because you don't think the work is going very well - but you have already spent £50k much of which you won't get back, plus there's another £10k of work that the boiler contractor recommend needs to be done just to brace the boiler so it can be moved; and the transport to somewhere else if you do decide to stop there and then. At which point you are faced with carrying on with a contractor that you are starting to have doubts about; or going back to your stakeholders (members and benefactors) who have entrusted you with their hard-earned cash to report that £50k has been spent most of which you won't see back if you change contractor; there's another £10k of unbudgeted costs if you do move, and things are now 6 months behind schedule. Or else we can carry on. It is very hard in that scenario to recognise the difference between problems that can be recovered, and those that just represent throwing good money after bad. So you carry on, and a year later you have spent £100k, and now you are really starting to have doubts about the contractor - but look, we've already spent £100k some of which we won't get back if we stop now...

    In the present case, from reading up it seems the repair of the whole loco (including boiler) was somewhere in the region of ¾ million dollars and supposed to take 18 months. It ended up taking five or six years, which suggests that the client didn't have all the money they needed at the start. So the client was only releasing money bit by bit as they had it, and the contractor was working in fits and starts as money became available, which isn't the most efficient way of working, and at the very least needs a good client-contractor relationship to agree manageable, discrete chunks of work. So imagine you get part way through that process. The client is having serious misgivings about the contractor - but what do they do? If they pull out, all they have is a heap of parts and no money to do anything with them, plus they have to go back to their supporters and say "we've spent a lot of money and some of it we won't get back, plus the loco is now in parts." Or else they keep assuming against their better judgement that just around the corner things will get better ...

    Tom
     
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  20. toplight

    toplight Member

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    The thing is you have to do your research on the supplier before you give them the work. With a loco boiler for example, assuming the company has done other boilers recently then there is nothing to stop you contacting the owners who have had work done previously and asking them if they were happy with the work ? What issues did they have ? Even go and look at boilers previously done if you want to be doubly sure to see what the workmanship is like. They may even have boilers they are currently doing that you can take a look and see.

    Even if I buy a product on Amazon or ebay I still read some reviews on it before I buy, to help prevent buying a dud. Often just a quick google on the subject will uncover useful information.
     

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