Four things to keep in mind when a public project involves rail

A freight train crosses over a four-lane road that features walkways on either side
A new underpass on East Main Street in Galesburg, Illinois, was a complex project that needed close coordination with the railroad to keep track closures to a minimum.

Public agencies that improve their property sometimes face major stumbling block: the presence of a railroad track or two. It doesn’t matter whether the project is a culvert replacement, a pedestrian walkway, an underpass or an overpass — the coordination and planning steps with the railroad are the same.

Railroad specifics, timelines are guidelines

Each major railroad has some form of public projects manual and review process. This is where the specifics of the permits, contracts, submittals and timelines are stated. While these details are laid out in the manual, it is helpful to plan projects with the understanding that the review specifics and timelines are general guidelines, and timelines can extend beyond what is published. Don’t make railroad reviews, coordination and agreements be the critical path items.

Get a team member who knows the railroad’s preferences

One surefire way to make the railroad coordination process go as smoothly as possible on a public project is to have someone on your team who understands the railroad’s preferences. Railroads are typically very conservative about using new technology or methods during construction. This isn’t because the railroads don’t want to modernize; it is because running trains is their primary job. Anything that could pose a risk to trains is a risk to the railroad.

One common way this comes into play is the use of mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls. This type of retaining wall is commonly used on roadway projects, but railroads rarely let them near their tracks. The use of MSE walls can delay plan reviews and acceptance while the type of wall is weighed against the perceived risk to the railroad. It is often better to avoid the issue in the first place.

Get a designer who knows standards for rail

When a project involves constructing a new structure to support a railroad track, the project needs a designer who is experienced with the railroad’s design standards and the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association manual. Whether this structure is a culvert, bridge or retaining wall, the railroad will be more comfortable knowing that a designer who regularly does work for them is also the one who is working for the public agency. This can help the railroad take the public project seriously and could prevent the project from becoming lost among the many other projects in the queue for review.

Watch for construction constraints

Even after a project makes its way through the plan approval phase, there are construction constraints the project planners must be aware of. Any work that is done on railroad property will have to be done by contractors who have specific safety training and background checks. A contractor who has experience working with railroads will often give a more realistic bid and won’t be surprised by delays from railroad traffic.

Travis Painter can help you with your public project affected by a railroad. Contact him at

Plan removal of bat roosting trees along tracks carefully

Aerial view of train in forest in autumn fog at sunset

Many of you may be excited for the change of season as fall is now upon us. Bonfires, pumpkin spice and breaking out the flannel are all welcomed signals that we have made it through summer and are transitioning to winter. As we make these adjustments to cooler temperatures, so are our animal neighbors. Some are digging their burrows, some are eating and others are migrating to where it is summer year-round. For those creatures that remain here at home, their winter habitats and activities may affect how you plan your rail project. Two federally protected bat species are common species to consider in the rail industry.

The Indiana bat (federally endangered) and northern long-eared bat (federally threatened) may be found in most of the Midwestern and Eastern parts of the U.S., but populations have been declining across the country. During the summer, these bats use cavities and crevices in live and dead trees to roost. During these warmer months, many regulatory agencies have established that cutting down potential roosting trees is prohibited.

However, when temperatures begin to drop, the bats return to caves for winter hibernation. It is during this time that regulatory agencies allow the removal of unoccupied roosting trees. The timing of these restrictions may vary based on the state and location of the project but generally allow for tree removal from mid-fall to early spring.

Roosting trees are commonly found alongside railroad tracks. Planning tree removal outside the summer restriction can help avoid delays in your rail project. If you have questions about tree clearing or suspect your rail project may affect bats, please contact environmental permitting specialists Eric Stegmann at or Jennifer Sunley at

Rail corridor redevelopment open house draws residents, media

An open house about the future redevelopment of a rail corridor in Springfield, Illinois, attracted media coverage.

Mike Mendenhall, P.E., S.E.

Mike Mendenhall, P.E., S.E., a senior structural engineer in Springfield, was on hand Sept. 1 during the meeting for the public at the Bank of Springfield Center to gather opinions on uses for the approximately 5-mile-long, 60-foot-wide corridor on Third Street after the train traffic is moved to the upgraded 10th Street corridor. The 10th Street tracks are undergoing phases of construction for the Springfield Rail Improvements Project that are expected to be complete in 2025.

One idea for the Third Street redevelopment is to turn a rail bridge on Capitol Avenue into a viewing area for the Illinois State Capitol, which is a short distance to the west of that underpass. Other suggestions included a solar-powered trolley for part of the corridor and a trail for pedestrians and cyclists.

“This could have a historic impact in the city of Springfield,” Mike told the Illinois Times. “… Kind of the ultimate goal is really a lot of business-type development, residential-type development that could stem from a project like this.” The State Journal-Register also covered the open house.

Hanson is working on a feasibility study for the proposed redevelopment.

Hanson’s rail team members view progress of estuary project

Three people in hard hats, safety vests and safety glasses stand in front of a rail bridge under construction with Puget Sound in the background
From left, Hanson’s Travis Painter, Laura Schutte and Marcelo Suárez at the Meadowdale Beach Park’s estuary restoration project site.

Meadowdale Beach Park’s estuary restoration project near Edmonds, Washington, is coming along swimmingly.

Two people in hard hats, safety vests and safety glasses stand near the estuaryTravis Painter, P.E., S.E., an associate project manager from Hanson’s Peoria, Illinois, office, visited Snohomish County’s project site with our Seattle regional office employees Laura Schutte, P.E., a project manager, and Marcelo Suárez, P.E., a civil/railway engineer, on Aug. 28. Hanson prepared bridge design and civil work to replace the rail bridge built in the late 1800s. This project will help restore and enhance a 1.3-acre estuary for fish while updating park elements.

Read more about this project.

Consider these challenges when reusing bridge foundations

Sometimes, a bridge span has reached the end of its service life before its foundations have. In cases like this, it can be cost-effective to replace only the span, leaving the existing piers or abutments. This has been done successfully many times, but there are a few points to be wary of during planning.

Reducing cost is one of the main reasons existing bridge foundations are reused. The money saved from the reduced demolition and rebuilding of two abutments and a pier or two can allow another project to be completed with the same yearly budget. Not having to change a bridge’s length saves even more when you consider that site grading or embankment work will not be needed. Bridge length changes can result from constructing new abutments behind existing abutments or hydraulic permitting headaches can be introduced by reducing the waterway opening when constructing in front of existing abutments. Both of these options have construction staging and track outage constraints in addition to cost considerations.

There are key conditions on a reused substructure to look for during inspection. Any cracking or deterioration should be repaired. Superficial cracking or spalling is typical in old stone or concrete structures, but deep cracks can be a symptom of settling. Any rotation of the piers or abutments or noticeable elevation changes at the bridge seats are signs that there could be foundation problems that need to be fixed with the new construction. However, limited bridge seat or backwall deterioration do not immediately rule out reusing the substructure.

If the only foundation problems are in the bridge seats of the piers or abutment, or if the problems are found only in the abutment backwalls, these areas can be addressed when the superstructure is replaced. Once the spans are removed, the bridge seats or backwalls can be replaced with precast concrete pieces. Dowels are installed during the changeout window and held in place with fast-curing epoxy or grout. This ensures that the new components have a positive load path in the new condition.

A final possible concern is the extra dead load that will be placed on the existing foundations. Going from an open deck to a ballasted deck structure greatly increases the dead load. Precast, prestressed concrete spans are also much heavier than the steel spans they are likely replacing. This is a bigger concern with weak soils or timber piles. Spread foundations that rest directly on rock can typically support the additional load without concern. This is where inspecting for signs of settlement or tilting is important. It is easy to make a foundation problem worse with the extra load.

If you have questions about replacing bridge superstructures on existing foundations, please contact Travis Painter, an associate project manager, at

Bat roosting habitats can be encountered in summer

Summer will soon be officially here, and gone are the long, chilly nights of winter. With the warmer weather, you may find yourself spending more time outdoors, enjoying a relaxing day by the pool or heading to an exciting new destination for a vacation. But humans aren’t the only species that becomes more active when the weather warms up. Across the country, many members of the animal kingdom have ended their winter slumbers to resume their warm weather activities — and the habits of two federally protected species in particular may have implications for your rail project.

A map of the United States with a highlighted area that covers 37 states from the northwest to southeast regions.
This map indicates states where the Indiana bat or northern long-eared bat could be found.

The Indiana bat (federally endangered) and the northern long-eared bat (federally threatened) hibernate in caves in the wintertime but roost in trees during the warmer months. The populations of both species have declined, with a major threat found in white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease. The reproductive females of these species rely on spaces underneath peeling tree bark, as well as the cavities and crevices of live and dead trees, for roosting habitat. To help ensure these winged moms-to-be have a place to rear their young, many regulatory agencies have established windows of time when cutting down potential bat trees is prohibited.

A tree marked with an “X” in spray paint in a wooded area.
This tree was marked as a potential bat habitat.

Avoiding the summertime roosting habitat of an endangered bat species is common in the rail industry. Suitable roosting habitats are often found alongside railroad tracks. The Indiana bat may be found in 22 states, while the northern long-eared bat has a range of 37 states.

Unexpected project delays related to bat trees can grind a rail project to a halt and be costly, but setbacks can be avoided with careful planning. If you have questions about tree clearing or suspect your rail project may affect bats, please contact railroad permitting specialists Nate Badgett at or Jennifer Sunley at

Fish-friendly bridge project underway in Washington

An estuary restoration project’s rail bridge that Hanson is working on is in progress in Washington state.

Pile driving has started at Snohomish County’s Meadowdale Beach Park as part of the restoration of the 1.3-acre area that will deliver a rearing habitat between Lunds Gulch Creek and Puget Sound for chinook, chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout. The Puget Sound chinook is a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A 6-foot-wide culvert and 128 linear feet of railroad embankment will be replaced with a five-span rail bridge with a 100-foot opening, giving juvenile salmon access to a pocket estuary where they can grow.

Four workers use a pile driving hammer on a double-track rail bridge; a beach and waterway is behind them

A crew conducts pile driving May 18 for the Meadowdale Beach Park estuary restoration project in Snohomish County, Washington.

The site north of Lynnwood was last an estuary in the late 1800s, before the railroad was constructed.

Hanson is providing bridge design and construction management services for this project, which will cost an estimated $16 million.

One for all: Consolidation of design process documents can be worth the effort

In January, I highlighted how to improve internal operations through a case study on streamlining construction paperwork. There’s another way to improve internal operations: consolidating documents.

As we prepare plans for improved and expanded rail service, our design process generally follows these steps:

  • Design and prepare plan sheets in accordance with client-provided and industry standards.
  • Document key design decisions.
  • Perform a quality control (QC) review.
  • Prepare a design report that captures the key design criteria, key decisions and approved variances (if any) as appropriate, based on client and project complexity.

To facilitate the above, we rely on:

  • A folder of client standards (typically dozens of PDFs from a variety of client sources)
  • Meeting notes of key design decisions
  • An internal design QC checklist
  • A Word document design report template

This process and the use of documents and templates are very reasonable, but with the volume of projects we were trying to progress, we realized there was a potential benefit to having fewer documents that we need to reference, update and maintain. What if we could bring all of them together in one place?

Enter the consolidated design criteria, decisions and QC document. The intent was to create one document that captured almost everything related to our design process. It would help our newest staff members get up to speed, help designers working with clients they hadn’t worked with in the past and streamline things for our more experienced team members.

Although creating a document like this takes time, we decided it was worth the investment. The result was an Excel spreadsheet that contains key client design criteria, the source of the criteria (document name and revision date), QC checklist items and space for notes about these items (design decisions, variances, etc.)

Although the time investment to do something like this likely doesn’t pay off for one project (or even two or three, in our case), we are starting to see the benefits over time. In addition to the expected benefits I mentioned above, we realized it gives us an easy way to confirm that we have the most recent client design standards and serves as a great resource for getting our new client contacts up to speed when there are client staff changes.

a photo of lauren schroedter

If you have ideas for document consolidation in your role, weigh the time investment against the benefits (tangible and intangible) and decide accordingly. I can’t say all document consolidation efforts will be worth it, but I am happy to report this effort was!

Lauren Schroedter is an assistant vice president and Hanson’s railway discipline manager. She can be reached at

Fletcher a guest on AREMA’s Platform Chats podcast

headshot of mat fletcherHanson’s Mat Fletcher, P.E., S.E., a senior vice president and the railway market principal, was a guest on the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s Platform Chats podcast.

Mat, who works at the Peoria, Illinois, office, joined the podcast to discuss Hanson’s 2020 win of the Dr. William W. Hay Award for Excellence for the emergency repair of Norfolk Southern Corporation’s partially collapsed bridge over the Grand River near Brunswick, Missouri.

You can listen to the complete April 25 episode on the podcast’s website.

Cunningham discusses Idaho rail project at conference

Jason Cunningham, P.E., S.E., a structural engineer at Hanson’s office in Peoria, Illinois, talked about BNSF Railway Co.’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project during the Illinois Structural Engineering Conference.

The April 6 event was held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was hosted by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Sandpoint project will provide additional bridges to relieve rail traffic congestion in Sandpoint, Idaho, and includes a 4,800-foot-plus bridge over Lake Pend Oreille.

Jason Cunningham stands behind a lectern next to a projected presentation slide in front of rows of spectators
Jason Cunningham, P.E., S.E., discusses BNSF Railway Co.’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project during the Illinois Structural Engineering Conference.