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.

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.

Language

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.