Improving your internal operations

A case study on streamlining construction paperwork

Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back from the day-to-day progress on projects and evaluate internal processes. If you’ve ever thought “there must be a better way of doing this,” you have probably identified a potential process improvement project. The improvement we highlight below was initiated by frustration over copying data between forms.

On most construction projects, changes are usually made necessary at some point because of, for example, unforeseen conditions, material substitutions, delays or implementing contractor-proposed efficiency ideas. Because these changes affect the construction contract, documentation is required to capture the change.

The process

When a change is necessary, we list the affected items and use a work change directive (WCD) form and an associated engineer’s spreadsheet to capture the scope modification, associated cost increase or decrease and effect on the schedule, if any.

An example of a work change directive and its associated engineer’s spreadsheet.

On large construction projects, there can be multiple WCDs in a month. At the end of the month, these WCDs become part of the official contract by way of a change order. The charge order captures contract information and the resulting changes to price and schedule, attached to the WCDs and a summary of the WCDs.

An example of a change order and four related work change directives.

As the months progress and additional change orders are issued, our clients often request a summary of all changes to date, sometimes called a “change order log.” This log includes key information from WCDs and change orders as well as the new total contract amount.

An example of a change order log and four related change orders.

And just like that, within a couple of months on large, complex projects, we can have hundreds of pieces of information that must be accurately copied between multiple forms — a frustrating process with a high error potential for even the best contractor or engineer. 

There must be a better way!

The solution

The best approach to eliminate the frustration and errors caused by all the copying back and forth was a simple database. Microsoft Access, a database application, was selected because of its low cost and relative ease of use, but there are other software options that also would have been appropriate. Ideally, this solution would be paired with process changes to combine some of the forms and reduce the number of documents, but this is not an option when standard forms are required.

In the database created, all necessary information is entered ONCE. The database completes the calculations and creates the associated forms. After the database was implemented, calculation errors were eliminated and significant time savings were realized. Thanks to this new approach, creating a completed change order with summary forms, logs and multiple WCDs and engineer’s spreadsheets can be done with one click!

Do you have frustrations in your job that might benefit from process improvement? With a new year starting, there’s no better time to look at ways to increase efficiency and reduce the cost and potential for error.

If you would like to learn more or if you need support bringing your ideas to fruition, feel free to contact Lauren Schroedter at lschroedter@hanson-inc.com.

What we’ve gained in 2021


In almost all forms of media, reaching December results in reflections on the year that has passed. I am sure that a common thread for these recaps of 2021 will be the various challenges and experiences related to COVID-19. The railway team at Hanson is no different, except that our common thread is a focus on the benefits that came out of those challenges. The new technology we work with every day has improved our ability to collaborate with each other, our clients and other project stakeholders.

This first occurred to me on a status meeting with the client for a time-critical siding extension project. Using Microsoft Teams, our lead designer was able to share his desktop and review all aspects of the work. This didn’t involve reviewing printed pages, but we actually viewed the MicroStation files, looking at the track plan, profile and various cross sections. We discussed options for the structures on the tight right-of-way (sound familiar?) and how to best maintain the drainage paths seen during the previous field visit. The Hanson team was able to discuss each area of the project, present potential solutions for conflicts and collaborate with the railroad owner on the preferred answer. I remember feeling excited about this new approach and how much it would improve our ability to serve our clients. And our team had a sense of pride after recognizing the benefits of this tool and implementing it so seamlessly.

This same scenario is being repeated daily within our company as we improve our allocation of engineers, technicians and scientists and work to engage subject matter experts in various fields to help solve problems in real time. It has enhanced our ability to collaborate across the states we work in, thereby increasing the slope of the learning curve for many tasks. These tools are also used to attend virtual conferences — which I think is not the preference for many — but this approach has at least allowed our industry to share our stories and new lessons learned. And at the end of the day — or year — isn’t the love of learning and an interest in solving problems why most of us entered the field of engineering in the first place?

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and wish you a safe and prosperous new year. Please check out our holiday e-greeting, created especially for you, below.

Mat Fletcher, P.E., S.E., is a senior vice president and the railway market principal at Hanson.


Salamah joins Hanson’s railway team

sam salamahSam Salamah, civil/railway designer, recently joined Hanson’s Seattle regional office. He will provide geometric design, drainage analysis and design and construction management for railway projects.

Sam received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management, all from Saint Martin’s University, where he was a graduate assistant for the Office of Graduate Admissions.




Proper pavement prevents pricey problem

Pavement design lessons are costly. An inadequate pavement section will fail, and the owner is out the initial investment and likely faces an expensive solution. Conversely, the over-design of a pavement section will increase the initial capital outlay, which may not benefit the owner in the long-term. It is critical to find the right pavement section for a project. For railroad intermodal facilities and yards, good pavement design starts with a geotechnical investigation and understanding the yard operations, including the lift equipment and truck traffic required for the facility’s operation.

Intermodal facilities use specialized lift equipment to handle container movements between trains and trucks. This lift equipment includes side loaders, reach stackers and rubber-tired gantry cranes that transfer considerable loads to the pavement. This type of equipment can be very destructive to pavement that is not designed to accommodate that amount of stress. Understanding where lift equipment will operate within the facility and providing a suitable pavement section are crucial.

A reach stacker is used at a rail facility, with sunlight on the horizon in the background.
Lift equipment like this reach stacker can damage pavement that is not designed to handle the weight.

Hanson was recently retained to provide pavement restoration design services at a privately owned intermodal terminal that used a side loader operation. Our review of the original design provided by others determined that the facility’s pavement was considered for only truck traffic, not lift equipment. The pavement began to fail within two weeks of the facility opening, disrupting the operation. The pavement failures damaged the lift equipment and the storm sewer. Hanson’s design used the existing pavement as a base for the proposed pavement section. This reduced the required construction time and mitigated the potential for construction delays due to inclement weather.

Truck traffic and hostlers are also prevalent at intermodal and railroad facilities. It is important to consider hostler traffic within an intermodal facility, because the single rear axle transfers more load to the pavement than a typical over-the-road truck with dual rear axles. Good estimates of anticipated truck traffic volumes and selecting a pavement design life and material type are key to determining the right pavement for truck traffic areas.

Contact Max Rexroad at mrexroad@hanson-inc.com or Scott Opie at sopie@hanson-inc.com to discuss pavement design for your rail infrastructure.


On the right track: Mark Keller

Mark Keller, P.E., S.E., a structural engineer at Hanson’s Chicago regional office, designs bridge and retaining wall components for rail projects throughout the country.

Mark, who joined the firm in 2015, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a licensed professional engineer in Illinois and became a licensed structural engineer in that state at the end of 2020.

How I became interested in engineering: I was always interested in how things were built. I also enjoyed my math and science classes, so it seemed like a no-brainer to go into engineering.

What I do on a typical day on the job: I am usually running calculations for a bridge or retaining wall design or reviewing and marking up plan sets.

My favorite part of my job: My favorite part of my job is seeing photos or videos of the bridges I design or, on some occasions, visiting the bridge site. It’s great to see what I design come to life.

Mark Keller stands on a rail bridge on a sunny day
Mark inspects a Norfolk Southern Corp. bridge over a creek Oct. 28 in Baxter, West Virginia.

The biggest challenge I have faced on the job: The biggest challenge I have faced was studying for the structural engineering exam to earn my license. Because the exam does not cover railroad bridge design, I had to learn all the intricacies of the other structural engineering manuals. Also, the pandemic caused half the exam to be delayed by six months for me, which required me to study for a longer time.

Interesting projects I have worked on: Almost all the projects I work on are interesting. I enjoy the challenge of having to design railroad bridges that must be built within the short windows of time allowed.

What I like to do when I’m not working: I enjoy running and playing in my adult soccer league.


Springfield rail project’s transportation center underway

Fourteen people toss dirt with shovels in front of construction equipment displaying a banner at a groundbreaking ceremony on
Federal, state and local officials participate in the Oct. 12 groundbreaking ceremony for a new transportation center in Springfield, Illinois.

Federal, state and local officials joined project representatives and members of the public Oct. 12 for a groundbreaking ceremony for a new transportation center in downtown Springfield, Illinois.

Tentatively called “The Hub,” the center is a major part of the Springfield Rail Improvements Project, and Hanson is providing design engineering and project management for this $86 million investment. The center will connect to an Amtrak station and include a parking garage, a “county square” space, an upgraded Springfield Mass Transit District bus transfer center, a pedestrian bridge over the tracks and gathering areas. An exhibit about the 1908 Springfield Race Riots will be on the second level.

After dirt was tossed at the ceremony, everyone was invited to sign a steel beam that will be used in the facility’s construction.

People use permanent markers to sign a steel beam on a sunny day, surrounded by a small crowd
Attendees of the groundbreaking ceremony add their signatures to the steel beam.

Pinpoint your site requirements with railway facility planning

Railway facility planning is a strategic overview analysis of how to locate and develop a parcel of real estate based on projected business and traffic needs. Occasionally, the planning is done for a vacant site — a greenfield project. Far more often, the planning is done for the expansion and/or repurposing of railroad facilities.

Identify the functions

The first step is identifying the operational functions to be considered for a location:

  • Train operations: volume of trains, train types, car block swapping between trains, loose car classification volume
  • Intermodal operations: anticipated container and trailer lifts, which leads to quantity and lengths of working tracks, support tracks and switching leads; lift equipment selection; maintenance space for those items; and parking
  • Maintenance: locomotive resupply, fueling and repair; freight car repair; shifted load repair
  • Utilities: electric power, communications, water, stormwater drainage, wastewater, industrial wastewater
  • Administrative: railroad operations, engineering, maintenance and security staff. Is space needed for nonrailroaders, such as operations contractors or government inspectors?

These functions can be further broken down into what is absolutely necessary and what should be included if possible.

Opportunities and constraints

Next, one or more potential sites are reviewed for the rough locations of the needed functions. Each site will have opportunities and constraints.

Opportunities: site features or subsite areas that are compatible with one or more functions and/or improve the coordination between two or more functions. Examples:

  • The existing railroad main line(s) is along one side of the site: the adjacent land is a good location for receiving/departure or block swap yards or fueling tracks.
  • A stream is within the site: this will influence the location of stormwater detention and release.
  • A highway is adjacent to a site: the adjacent land is an opportunity for intermodal trucking access and/or the location of administrative buildings to limit most of the auto/truck traffic to one portion of the site.

Constraints: site features or subsite areas that are less- or noncompatible with functions and/or the coordination between functions. Often, features or areas that are opportunities for some functions can be constraints for other functions:

  • The area adjacent to the main line is poorly used for the location of most maintenance or administrative functions.
  • The low-lying land near a stream may require significant fill for yard tracks. There may be a flooding risk or permitting constraints for other functions.
  • The location of yards or other train operating functions adjacent to a highway could result in unacceptable conflicts between trains and roadway vehicles.

Reviewing a site’s opportunities and constraints for functions that are needed and desired starts the process for the preliminary engineering of the facility.

Want to learn more about railway facility planning? Contact Mike Pochop at mpochop@hanson-inc.com.

On the right track: Andrea Bugyis

Andrea Bugyis stands on the front porch of her house, holding a tumbler, with her dog at her feet.
Andrea proudly holds a coffee and poses with her dog, excited to start her first official day as a Hanson employee.

Andrea Bugyis joined Hanson as an intern in the summer of 2020 and was hired to be a biologist after she earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science earlier this year from Lafayette College. She provides clients assistance with environmental permitting applications, using mapping software and other applications for her reports.

Andrea works at Hanson’s St. Louis office. During her internship, she helped organize a virtual meeting between students in the St. Louis-based Vitendo4Africa’s mentorship program and Hanson employees. It was the first event for STL Next Gen, Hanson’s diversity initiative to encourage minority students in the area to pursue their interest in engineering and science careers.

How I became interested in engineering: I’m a biologist with Hanson, but I do have a background in some engineering. It intrigued me, because I am a problem-solver with a love for math.

What I do on a typical day on the job: While in the office, I’m typically filling out permits for railroad or airport improvements. This often includes making exhibits on Esri’s ArcGIS Pro to show the project areas and any potential sensitive environmental areas nearby.

My favorite part of my job: My favorite part, though physically demanding, is the field work when I go out to determine if wetlands are present in the project area. These trips require a lot of walking in high temperatures, but the chance to be out in nature is always fun for me.

Andrea Bugyis wears a large hat, T-shirt and cargo pants while standing in a field and holding a shovel on a sunny day.
“Water and a big hat are essential when carrying around a shovel in tall grass fields in June,” Andrea said about working outdoors.

The biggest challenge I have faced on the job: The biggest challenge for me was familiarizing myself with all the intricate permits needed for various types of construction in different environments. There are state, federal, water and species permits. Wrapping my head around them can be a challenge sometimes.

Interesting projects I have worked on: I’ve done species counts along old rail lines in Texas and delineated wetlands throughout Kansas and Missouri. My favorite part of these projects is seeing how efficient my coworkers and I can be with the help of ArcGIS Collector applications and plant identification apps that help us take accurate, detailed notes in the field.

What I like to do when I’m not working: When I’m not hiking out in the field, I’m either in the gym breaking a sweat or engaging in a fun craft project using paint and embroidery.

Overwhelmed by planning track maintenance? We have a program for that

railroad tracks being repaired
Knowing how to tackle your assets and where to put your money to make the most beneficial return on your investment is a struggle for anyone. With Hanson’s track management and inspection program, you can do just that. We have a fully integrated process to develop maintenance programs that allow continuity from inspection through current and future track repairs and expansion.

Mainline, shortline and industry rail can degrade in different ways. Every company or industry has different critical safety issues, commodity characteristics and facility conditions that must be integrated into the rail inspection procedure. Hanson has developed tools to present rail construction and maintenance programs and guidelines tailored to specific industries and each company’s desired approach. These tools have assisted clients in the petrochemical, oil midstream, food processing, grain, mining and intermodal industries to develop track maintenance plans, providing consistency across all their rail facilities.

Mainline, shortline and industry rail can degrade in different ways. Every company or industry has different critical safety issues, commodity characteristics and facility conditions that must be integrated into the rail inspection procedure.

It is essential that this process uses experienced track inspectors to gain a solid grasp of the track conditions. Knowing how to interpret track conditions and expected degradation is important. It is best to distinguish between straight, curved and turnout rail sections for review and analysis, because the degradation patterns on each of these sections typically manifest in different ways. Information for each should be documented as deficiencies that require immediate or near-term repair, and data should be collected to drive the development of a long-term maintenance plan.

Once all this data is collected and compiled, maps of the sections of track can be developed and the criticality of the facility’s tracks can be categorized and rated. This information is used in combination with the current conditions to begin to objectively rank and help target the maintenance dollars to be spent on the most critical items that need repair.

As the prioritized plan is implemented, it is a best practice to continue track inspections on a regular basis to verify the plan is being implemented and the desired results for track improvement are still true. Plan modifications should be made as conditions and traffic volume change.

To learn more about Hanson’s program, contact Tyler Kramer at tkramer@hanson-inc.com.

City proclamation honors Moll

Jim Moll, P.E., S.E., a vice president and a senior project manager who works at Hanson’s Springfield, Illinois, headquarters, was recognized by the city of Springfield last month.

Jim received a proclamation from the mayor of Springfield in appreciation for his work on multiple projects in the city, including the Springfield Rail Improvements Project, and for his mentorship to engineers and guidance. Mayor Jim Langfelder presented the commendation during the Aug. 17 City Council meeting.

Jim Moll is retiring after serving the engineering industry for more than 45 years, 41 of which with Hanson.

jim moll receiving a proclamation from jim langfelder
Jim Moll, P.E., S.E., right, accepts a proclamation from Jim Langfelder, the mayor of Springfield, Illinois, Aug. 17 in the council chambers.