Lots of design options? Rapid concept development brings best ideas early in process

In March, we highlighted the use of a data-based assessment to determine a new track alignment (article: “Data-Based Analysis Can Help Direct You to the Right Track”), an approach that is great when there are numerous constraints to balance and it is unclear which option will provide the best overall value. But what if you have a project where the reverse is true? What if the space you have available has numerous potential options with relatively few constraints, and you need to narrow them down? Say, for example, a track expansion in an unused portion of a yard. For this type of scenario, rapid concept development may be a good fit.

The idea behind rapid concept development is to create one or more high-level designs so that they can be discussed and adjusted before progressing to 30% design. This process is different from a typical concept design submittal. Less emphasis is put on the sheeting effort: fewer callouts, fewer dimensions and less time making everything look just so. The concepts could even be presented in Google Earth KMZ files or sketches sent in an email.

The idea behind rapid concept development is to create one or more high-level designs so that they can be discussed and adjusted before progressing to 30% design. This process is different from a typical concept design submittal.

Ideally, portions of the rapid concept process would be done live, with stakeholders giving their thoughts and ideas and someone in the meeting immediately turning those thoughts and ideas into sketches or modifications to the design. When there are lots of options to be considered and lots of stakeholders, rapid concept development puts the focus on progressing the underlying design to a point that everyone’s needs are met (or at least balanced when there are competing priorities), without spending a portion of the design budget on making the printed versions of multiple concepts look great.

It may seem like a minor item to print a design to paper with a nice border and labels, dimensions and callouts, but all those steps take time, and time translates to money. The process of creating multiple iterations of concepts for review also tends to bring things to light — stakeholder priorities that weren’t brought up in the initial list of project criteria. Integrating this information into the design early in the process saves on potential rework later.  

As designers, we can come to the table with knowledge of client and industry standards and lots of great ideas, but there are a limited number of “right” ways to do things, and part of our job is to figure out the client’s goals for the project and their design preferences. Rapid concept development is one of the ways we can do that. We present our best ideas and then collaboratively work with all project stakeholders to make sure needs and preferences have been identified and integrated. While not right for every project, rapid concept development is worth considering. For more information on how this approach to plan development could fit your project, contact Lauren Schroedter at lschroedter@hanson-inc.com.

Thorough planning, post-construction assessment delivers solid rail bridge

The new BNSF Railway Co. bridge over the Coweeman River in Kelso, Washington, relieves traffic congestion by adding a third track.

BNSF Railway Co.’s bridge over the Coweeman River in Kelso, Washington, is shared by freight and commuter rail lines and runs along the Interstate 5 rail corridor. The 1908 Warren truss double-track structure was no longer able to accommodate the amount of rail traffic — it was part of a larger congestion issue that included a major bottleneck for trains traveling in and out of the Port of Longview. To reduce the congestion, a coordinated effort between the Washington State Department of Transportation and BNSF designed and constructed a new bridge that expands the rail capacity over the river.

Workers perform the concrete core drilling operation through the full depth to the drilled shaft.

The new 246-foot-long, single-track structure features a 164-foot through-plate girder main span and two double-voided box beam approach spans. Each pier was founded on a row of four 54-inch-diameter drilled shafts, which are permanently cased through surficial loose soil and were extended into the medium-dense sand using wet construction methods. The new bridge was part of a larger triple-track project that allows the traffic to be separated into freight and passenger lines.

Hanson supported BNSF in this project with civil/structural design, geotechnical investigation, environmental permitting and construction support services. Early in the project, several risks associated with the drilled shaft construction methods — including environmental concerns and that the casing installation’s vibrations could affect the Warren truss bridge — were identified and contingency plans were put in place prior to excavation. As part of our quality assurance measures, we provided full observation and documentation throughout the excavation and concrete placement.

A core hole is drilled so the grout can be injected.

But the work wasn’t done after the shafts were installed. Our team conducted a post-construction assessment using crosshole sonic logging and tomography. The interpretation of the initial post-construction assessments supported that four out of the eight drilled shafts could contain anomalies, such as an inclusion of sand or slurry in the concrete. In response, the contractor submitted a plan to core-drill, camera-inspect and remediate any flawed concrete through pressure grouting.

When the core samples were extracted, it was confirmed that there was a substantial anomaly near the tip elevation at one of the drilled shaft locations. To repair it, a pressurized tip grouting procedure was used: grout was injected under pressure through the core hole to improve the bearing conditions at the shaft tip by consolidating the disturbed material, strengthening the weak concrete and reestablishing the contact between the drilled shaft and suitable bearing soils to meet design specifications.

Grout is injected under pressure through the core hole to improve the bearing conditions at the shaft tip by consolidating the disturbed material.

With effective planning and adaptability before and during construction and with a careful evaluation of the new structure, BNSF has a new bridge that helps improve rail service in the Pacific Northwest. Contact Matt Willey at mwilley@hanson-inc.com or Mike Buckley mbuckley@hanson-inc.com to learn how our services can help with your next structural rail project.

Look of rail project’s new transportation center unveiled during virtual meeting

This screenshot from the March 25 virtual public meeting shows Hanson’s Jim Moll, P.E., S.E., discussing the planned Springfield-Sangamon County Transportation Center.

Members of Hanson’s team for the Springfield Rail Improvements Project gave the public the first look of the planned Springfield-Sangamon County Transportation Center, which will be constructed starting in 2023 in downtown Springfield, Illinois, as part of the rail project.

Details about the new center were presented during a March 25 virtual meeting for the public. The center will connect and cover an Amtrak station, a parking garage, a “county square” space and the existing Sangamon County Complex. There also will be an upgraded Springfield Mass Transit District bus transfer center and a pedestrian bridge over the tracks. Two grand staircases will serve as gathering areas at the transfer center and in the county square between the garage, county complex, Amtrak station and pedestrian bridge. On the center’s second level, an exhibit will display information about the 1908 Springfield Race Riots. The remnants of homes burned during the riots were discovered in 2014 during the rail project, and a memorial is also planned for the site of those homes.

The full virtual meeting, which included an update on the overall rail project, can be viewed here.

Technology monitors active track during massive construction project

When construction projects happen close to an active railroad mainline, there is frequently a heightened concern regarding how the construction may affect the track’s integrity. This is especially true when the work involves boring and jacking a pipe through and under a railroad embankment or building a bridge adjacent to the active track. In these cases, it is critical to know that the mainline’s integrity is intact and it is safe to continue running trains.

This was the case for a major railroad when it was planning how to monitor its track during the construction of a new parallel bridge spanning over 4,000 feet across a lake. The railroad wanted to monitor the top of rail frequently enough to quickly identify any changes that could impact traffic. Typical assessments are done with visual inspections and geometry car analysis and include values related to cross-level, twist and dip to determine the viability of the track surface.

Usually this would fall to conventional survey crews to collect data on a set schedule, then process and compare that information to historical positions to tell if the construction is moving the track. However, this construction is expected to span three years. Considering the sheer magnitude of the site and a very heavy traffic corridor, deploying a survey team to monitor the entire bridge on a set schedule would have been impractical and incredibly expensive.

Triaxial sensors placed on the active track capture data to monitor displacement while a new, parallel rail bridge is constructed across a lake.

Tilt and vibration sensors can be placed on the structure to monitor movement; however, these typically monitor the X and Y directions, and translating that movement to the running surface would require detailed measurements and calculations on all the readings.

Working with the railroad, the Hanson team proposed and implemented a high-tech solution to this problem: a system that uses triaxial sensors placed at regular intervals directly on the rail ties. The tilt information (along with other variables) is streamed via a radio mesh network in the sensors to cellular data gateways that transmit this raw information to the internet. This data is processed on the sensor vendor’s servers and converted to actual displacement values for the three variables that are monitored for track geometry.

In addition, Hanson developed a webpage that pulls the information through an application programming interface and assigns each displacement a performance condition of red, yellow or green. If an area moves into high alert (red), emails about the displacement are sent to the appropriate individuals. All of this happens in 15-minute intervals, and data is collected around the clock.

Technology like this enables railroads to quickly and accurately receive crucial information and save money, compared with traditional methods. For more information on how this solution can serve your needs, contact Matt Schrader at mschrader@hanson-inc.com.

See bird’s-eye view of steel installation for new underpass

Watch the construction of a new Norfolk Southern Corp. bridge over Sixth Street in Springfield, Illinois, progress in the video below.

This drone footage was captured in December during the nine-day closure of Sixth Street as the contractor worked day and night to erect 1.4 million pounds of structural steel and install 18,600 bolts for the new bridge. Structural steel plate girders that are 13 feet, 2 inches deep were held in place by cranes during the installation. The round-the-clock work led to the roadway reopening to traffic one-and-a-half days early.

The work is part of the Springfield Rail Improvements Project, for which Hanson is providing services, including design and construction engineering. The structural steel for a new underpass at Fifth Street is being installed this month.

Suárez becomes licensed professional engineer in Washington

Marcelo Suárez, P.E., a railway engineer at Hanson Professional Services Inc.’s Seattle regional office, has earned his professional engineer license in Washington.

Marcelo, who joined the firm in 2015, performs design and construction oversight of infrastructure improvements for rail projects. He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador and a master’s degree in transportation engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a member of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Our AREMA involvement can benefit your projects

The mission of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) is to facilitate the development, advancement and curation of “technical and practical knowledge and recommended practices pertaining to the design, construction and maintenance of railway infrastructure,” according to the organization’s website.

Hanson is committed to furthering this mission, with 38 of our employee-owners as members and 14 serving on technical committees. Four, including myself, are in leadership roles. I am the chair of Subcommittee 3: University Course Curriculum of Committee 24: Education and Training, and in my 18 years of involvement with AREMA, I chaired Committee 24 and was a member of the Functional Group Board of Directors. Our other AREMA leaders are:

  • Terry Bodine, P.E., chair of Committee 1: Roadway and Ballast
  • Shawn Goetz, P.E., S.E., secretary of Committee 8: Concrete Structures and Foundations
  • Charley Chambers, P.E., Scholarship Committee chair, honorary member, former chair of Committee 24, former member of the Functional Group Board of Directors

Being active on technical committees is how Hanson contributes experience to the rail industry, and these leaders agree on the importance of our firm being active in AREMA. “Many engineers within the industry have taken geotechnical courses using the ‘Foundation Engineering’ book co-authored by Walter Hanson, our company founder,” Terry said. “Hanson is one of the most experienced companies to offer services needed by railroads.”

Hanson’s involvement in AREMA benefits our clients. “I’ve learned things at the AREMA conference or at committee meetings that I’ve been able to directly apply on projects,” Shawn said. Charley noted that our clients notice we are active in AREMA, and Terry said, “The knowledge gained through relationships, services offered in our company, railroad experience and Manual for Railway Engineering development make us one of the premier consultants in the industry.”

As a member of AREMA and its predecessor, the American Railway Engineering Association, for over 50 years, Charley has met “some amazing railroaders, made lifetime friends and learned a lot about the technical side of railroading.”

“You really get to know people when you work with them, especially when you are all doing it voluntarily,” Shawn added.

I’ve made good friends in the industry through AREMA, and when we have the opportunity to work together on a project, there is familiarity and trust from the start. Through Hanson’s AREMA leadership, we share our expertise with the railroad industry and develop solid relationships with our clients.

Michael Pochop, P.E., is a vice president, senior project manager and the railway operations lead at Hanson. He can be reached at mpochop@hanson-inc.com.

Keller earns structural engineer license in Illinois

Mark Keller, P.E., S.E., a structural engineer at Hanson’s Chicago regional office, recently earned his structural engineer license in Illinois.

Mark, who joined us in 2015, designs bridge and retaining wall components for rail projects throughout the country. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is also a licensed professional engineer in Illinois.

Step up bridge inspections with simple solution of access ladders

When planning bridge replacements, railroads are increasingly looking at ways to inspect the underside of the structure with a minimal disruption to rail traffic. A traditional inspection means using Snooper Trucks that reduce or even halt traffic for extended periods of time. This can create a scheduling conflict to balance rail traffic, and it is challenging to request more time to finish inspecting the structure. Hanson design teams have been working with railroads to deliver simple systems that employ ladders to access bridge undersides and require minimal, if any, disruption to rail traffic.

Ladders have become the typical means used to access the bottom of the bridge to inspect the components of the structure, including the bearings, caps, deck, bracing and beams. Safety, ease of access, maintenance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and comfort are important considerations for access ladders. Ladders can be designed with rungs for environments that get ice and snow, but steps may be preferred where these conditions do not exist. Anti-slip coatings on the ladder are key to prevent the inspector from losing their footing or grip.

From left to right: an inclined ladder; access provided at each pier; and a vertical ladder (at the middle pier) and inclined ladders, all at a rail bridge in Media, Illinois.

Whether to use a vertical ladder, an inclined ladder or a caged ladder must be considered when meeting OSHA’s required guidelines. A ladder with an incline is preferred for the comfort of climbing. It is important to discuss how fall protection will be used when selecting a system with a retractable cable, a vertical safety cable system or the use of fall gear with pelican hooks. The vertical safety cable system with a tie-off device becomes troublesome with where it clips to the safety harness and when somebody leaves the tie-off clip at the bottom, because the only way to pull it back up is with a rope. The type of harness required for this system is different from a normal fall arrest harness.

The transition from the top of the ladder over the handrail is a tricky location. Depending on the setup, the inspector may have to awkwardly stretch from the ladder over the handrail to access the catwalk. The best design has a platform at the same level as the top of the handrail, which allows the inspector to remain facing the ladder and maintain three-point contact while stepping down to the catwalk.

Contact Jason Cunningham at jcunningham@hanson-inc.com or Drew Dragoo at ddragoo@hanson-inc.com for details on Hanson’s bridge inspection solutions.

Design speeds up bridge replacement, reduces traffic shutdown

A replacement bridge that Hanson designed for Norfolk Southern Corp. was quickly installed last month by using part of the existing structure.

The 60-foot, three-span bridge over Jordan Creek near Fairmount, Illinois, was deteriorating and had to be replaced. To expedite construction and return the rail line back to service as soon as possible, Hanson designed a new, single-span bridge that positioned the concrete abutment caps, which were supported on drilled shaft foundations, inside the old bridge abutments. The precast abutment backwalls helped shorten the impact to rail traffic when the substructure was constructed, and the 50-foot steel through-plate girder structure that spanned between the abutments maximized the bridge’s hydraulic capacity. Hanson’s team also worked around some temporary shoring placed against one abutment. By using a precast abutment cap, the shoring stayed in place until the bridge replacement was completed.

The track panel is installed on the new steel span of the replacement bridge near Fairmount, Illinois.

The bridge changeout started in the early morning and finished in the early evening Oct. 25. “The span replacement ran smoothly and was completed four hours ahead of schedule,” said Matt Willey, P.E., S.E., a structural engineer at Hanson who worked on the project.

Hanson’s rail team also surveyed the site, evaluated the subsurface soils and recommended the foundation type, analyzed the hydraulic conditions and prepared, coordinated and submitted environmental permit applications for this project.

Backfill is placed behind the new abutments.