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Working lives - Underground leader

Mysore Nagaraja - Delivering New York's Subway improvements gives MTA president Mysore Nagaraja huge spending power.

Mysore Nagaraja probably has the best job in US construction procurement at the moment. As president of MTA Capital Construction he is responsible for delivering a massive £12bn series of major Subway improvements between now and 2020.

Over the next two decades, Nagaraja will deliver the £8.4bn Second Avenue Subway, the £395M Fulton Street Transit Centre, the £3.3bn East Side Access project, the £1bn extension of Subway Line 7 and the £213M redevelopment of South Ferry station, plus numerous other smaller projects.

Nagaraja's modest, calm persona belies the importance of his role, and his achievements at MTA. He was the Subway operator's chief engineer when two sections of line were wiped out in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and oversaw their successful reinstatement within 12 months.

This and successful delivery of a major refurbishment job at 63rd Street Station put him in a strong position to take on the newly created, externally advertised role of Capital Construction president, when the job came up in 2003.

But his recent achievements came after he instigated a major shake up in MTA's capital works procurement programme following his appointment as chief engineer in 1996. During his time there he managed to deliver £1bn worth of projects on time and to budget, accounting for 75% of the Subway's capital works programme. At any one time his department was running around 400 different projects.

Nagaraja, who studied engineering at Mysore University in India, joined the Subway operator in 1985 after a period as a major projects manager for MW Kellogg.

'When I came here [to MTA] 19 years ago they had almost closed down the capital works department, ' he says. The department was struggling to deliver projects on time and to budget and had a bad reputation within the contracting industry.

Nagaraja sought to change this. 'I did a lot of outreach work with the contractors. I found they had no confidence in the organisation, ' he says.

'I used to meet about 50 or 60 contractors every month to find out what we needed to change'.

At the same time the MTA has actively sought the involvement of foreign contractors, getting their input into procurement methods, especially for projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

'European consultants and contractors take more risk than those over here, ' he says.

As a result, MTA has become a much more industry-friendly procurer of capital works. Last year, as preparations to go out to tender on phase one of the Second Avenue Subway gathered pace, MTA held industry briefings to reinforce its newly evolved partnership approach.

This includes co-locating MTA teams with designers and contracting personnel and promises to pay within 30 days of being invoiced. MTA also takes out project insurance on behalf of construction teams.

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