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.

What to scrutinize when applying hydraulic problem-solving to design

A fallen tree lies on a rail bridge as water rushes below it.

Aging infrastructure is a hot topic in the U.S. We see the federal government working to pass a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure bill. While most of the focus is on roadway infrastructure, the railroad industry is also dealing with this issue. It has been estimated that up to 60% of all bridge failures result from either scour or other hydraulic causes. Streams and rivers are dynamic and can be unpredictable, when considering bridge design lives of 50 or 100 years. The capacity of a bridge to convey flow has a significant influence on a stream’s ability to transport sediment and can increase shear forces on the channel bed, causing hydraulic instability. As runoff increases with expanding development, and the aging railroad infrastructure is often more than 50 or even 100 years old — a problem has developed. Throw in climate change with larger, more frequent flooding, and the issue is now critical.

Improving the hydraulic capacity of bridges serves to relieve hydraulic pressure on bridge embankments, reduce the potential for scour — when currents move sediment away from or against bridge piers, which changes the flow around the piers — and promote the passage of debris. The size of a bridge opening must ensure that stable hydraulic conditions persist. An accurate depiction of stream stability and scour potential is critical in the design of proposed foundations and determining if the existing structure foundations are susceptible to undermining.

When designing bridge crossings, it is imperative to take a comprehensive approach, looking beyond present-day stream conditions. Historic migratory patterns can provide a window into the stability of the stream and help inform potential future conditions. Long-term channel degradation can occur in vertical and horizontal directions, often requiring separate approaches for mitigation. Unstable stream slopes, natural and artificial knickpoints and the sinusoidal pattern of streams can all contribute to long-term stream degradation and hydraulic instability.

Hanson recognizes the importance of addressing not only the physical restrictions of a bridge but also the balance in the upstream watershed. A hydrologic analysis using rainfall data, stream gages and regional hydrologic equations can provide insight into climate trends and inform sustainable design. Watershed development can often lead to increased runoff into rivers, influencing the future capacity of the structure.

We have an extensive background in finding hydraulic solutions that provide a balance between cost, constructability, minimizing track downtime and long-term sustainability. Our experience in bridge hydraulics spans stream restoration, river training and diversion using natural and hard armor techniques, sediment transport, detailed scour analysis and countermeasure design. We use advanced hydrologic and hydraulic modeling techniques to develop the optimal design for existing, proposed, temporary and emergency replacements, including the forensic analysis of failures.

Contact Garrett Litteken at glitteken@hanson-inc.com to discuss hydraulic concepts for your rail infrastructure.

Zweig Group selects Schroedter as Rising Star

Lauren Schroedter, P.E., an assistant vice president and Hanson’s railway discipline manager, was selected as a 2021 Rising Star in Multidiscipline Engineering by Zweig Group.

Rising Stars recognizes younger professionals whose exceptional technical capability, leadership ability, effective teaching or research or public service has benefitted the design professions, their employers, project owners and society.

This year’s Rising Stars were recognized in the August issue of Civil + Structural Engineer magazine.

Get ready for AREMA’s virtual conference

The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s (AREMA) annual conference is virtual again this year. The five-day event offers multiple sessions on topics including track, structures, communications, engineering and maintenance-of-way.

A presentation by Jennifer Sunley, Hanson’s natural resources discipline manager; Michael Sondles, P.E., from HDR; and Ruth Brown, P.E., from Norfolk Southern Corp., will delve into the environmental permitting challenges surrounding a newly listed threatened species that was encountered during a bridge replacement. “Navigating Permitting of Newly Listed Threatened Species, Big Sandy Crayfish, for Replacement of Norfolk Southern Bridge N-462.01,” is scheduled for 1:45–2:15 p.m. EST Sept. 30. Jennifer wrote about the project on this blog — check out “Small crayfish delays rail bridge replacement in West Virginia.”

Find out more about the virtual conference, which will be held Sept. 26–30, at the conference website.

What you can do when complications with buried utilities surface

Not every railroad construction project involves working with utilities. When a project does affect utilities, they usually do not delay the construction schedule. But there are some occasions when utilities deserve more attention and forethought.

Who is responsible?

The utility owner plays a large part in the level of difficulty in addressing utility conflicts. The owner may be the same as the project owner, in which case moving utilities typically goes smoothly and can even be included in the construction project. It may take more effort to find the current owner if the original company has been sold and tracking down the current ownership is difficult. Some situations have a clearly defined agreement that states which party is responsible for moving a utility if a conflict arises. Even if an agreement is clear, it does not mean the responsible party will adhere to the construction project’s time frame.

Know the size

Utilities come in many different sizes. A line on a survey or record drawing can be anything — from a single direct burial telephone cable to a multiconduit duct bank encased in concrete. Knowing these details as soon as possible means that utility coordination can be scheduled appropriately. A gas line servicing a building is different from a major pipeline supplying an entire city. In the same way, a water service line or sewer lateral is different than a water main or force main. Relocating large utilities may require months of planning and weeks of work. The utility may even stay in place with an additional bridge constructed around it to keep additional forces from pressing on the utility.

Time of year

To a project owner, one month may be the same as any other. This is not the case when it comes to moving utilities. Natural gas utilities might be reluctant to modify their systems during times of peak usage, like in the winter. Likewise, a telecommunications company does not want to touch its fiber lines during peak internet shopping season (November and December). For similar reasons, railroads may not want the risk of any construction projects interrupting service in the fourth quarter of the year.

Always something new

Sometimes after the basic utilities are cleared, something unexpected shows up. Utilities that are not marked in typical utility one-calls may still be present. Be sure to pay attention to odd local signs that could lead to interesting finds. A simple sign at a nearby manhole could lead to discovering a 30-foot-diameter stormwater storage tunnel directly under your planned bridge pier!

Are you facing utility work complications with your railroad construction project? Talk about it to Travis Painter at tpainter@hanson-inc.com.

Hanson’s Schroedter named one of Women in Railroad Engineering

Hanson’s Lauren Schroedter, P.E., is one of 10 women who have been named to Railway Track & Structures magazine’s first Women in Railroad Engineering list. Profiles of each of the women who have made impacts in their fields and within the firms they work for are featured in the magazine’s July issue.

Lauren started her career at Hanson in 2006 as an intern. She became a full-time employee in 2009, began leading Hanson’s Seattle regional office in 2016, was named the company’s railway discipline manager in 2019 and was elected an assistant vice president in 2020.

“Based in our Seattle regional office, Lauren is an essential member of our railway team in the Pacific Northwest, helping us serve our railroad clients, including several Class I railroads, there and across the country,” Mat Fletcher, P.E., S.E., a senior vice president and Hanson’s railway market principal, said in the nomination.

She has worked on numerous track, bridge and telecommunication projects over the years for BNSF Railway Co., including a $130 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded capacity improvement project in Kelso and Kalama, the expansion of the Orillia Auto Yard in Renton and additional bridges to relieve rail traffic congestion in Sandpoint, Idaho, which includes a 4,800-foot-plus bridge over Lake Pend Oreille.

Several elements different in international projects compared to U.S.

The development of railroad infrastructure is occurring globally. When a rail project is in another country, there are multiple differences for Hanson’s railroad engineering team to consider, compared to working on a project in the United States.

System of measurement

While the United States has not yet adopted the International System of Units (SI), also known as the metric system, we design in SI for projects in other countries. However, many railroad components are still in imperial units in these countries. Track standard gauge is exactly 4 feet and 8.5 inches or a derived metric equivalent, the distance along the track may be marked by historic mileposts and the prefabricated concrete components and other track material are often in imperial units.


Hanson’s clients expect plans and specifications in the official language of their country. We have taken different approaches for plans and specifications or other text-heavy documents. The text for plans is initially translated with online software. For specifications and reports, we have used technical translating services. Both translations are then fully reviewed by a Hanson engineer fluent in that language.

Construction document expectations

Other countries often have expectations for plans and specifications different than those in the United States. Many contractors are used to seeing most of the design content in the plans and less in the specifications. The local custom for construction documents may be for highly detailed plans with few or no opportunities for contractor-design or performance specifications.

Availability of materials

Good railroad engineering includes the use of subgrade, subballast and ballast materials that are on-site or economical to transport to the site. On international projects, the availability of components and manufactured materials is considered. Certain steel reinforcement bar sizes are preferred, and other sizes may be more expensive or not available. Electrical components should be locally available; otherwise, allowances must be made for import time and cost.

Availability of construction methods and equipment

In certain countries or with a project farther from a major population center, certain construction equipment or methods may not be available. Contractors may not have equipment available to drive pile with impact or vibratory hammers. Manual labor may be used instead of mechanical trenching or directional drilling. Contractors may use wheeled equipment that can be driven between projects, rather than tracked equipment that must be transported with the added challenge of hauling permits.

It is critical to establish strong communication between Hanson, our client and the supervision or inspection team hired locally by our client.

Construction services

Hanson frequently provides office-based engineering support services during the construction phases of our international railroad projects. It is critical to establish strong communication between Hanson, our client and the supervision or inspection team hired locally by our client. We attend regular weekly construction meetings and have well-defined procedures for managing submittals and requests for information. Hanson can then confirm that the construction is proceeding in conformance with the plans and specifications.

Learn more about how Hanson serves its international rail clients — contact Michael Pochop at mpochop@hanson-inc.com.

RT&S Top Projects list includes emergency bridge repair in Missouri

The emergency replacement of Norfolk Southern Corp.’s collapsed bridge in Missouri is on RT&S magazine’s 2021 Top Projects list. 

The Norfolk Southern, Hanson and Massman Construction Co. team was recognized for its work to help Norfolk Southern quickly rebuild the bridge over the Grand River near Brunswick, Missouri, after the rails were cut in 2019 to relieve pressure caused by flooding and debris and to prevent further damage to the rail line. Four spans and three piers were swept away in minutes. The work was finished in 27 days — half the time of the originally estimated 56-day schedule. 

Read about the project in our September 2020 blog article, “Urgent Engineering.” 

This year’s Top Projects list recognizes a dozen winners in nine categories. Check them out in the magazine’s June issue.

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.