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.

On the right track: Matt Willey

Matt Willey, P.E., S.E., loves a challenge, whether on rail projects or a paddleboard. As a structural engineer working at Hanson’s Springfield, Illinois, headquarters, he has worked on bridges across the United States since he joined the company in 2001.

Matt earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Bradley University and from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, respectively. He is a licensed professional engineer in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina, a licensed structural engineer in Illinois and a member of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association and the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers.

How I became interested in engineering: The first time I can recall considering the profession of engineering was through the influence of my grandparents. My grandfather, who was a professional land surveyor, said I would probably make a good engineer one day because of my detail-oriented nature. My favorite pastime as a child was free-building with Legos. 

What I do on a typical day on the job: On a typical day, I design or prepare plans for railway bridges, foundations and retaining walls. Increasingly, I have become involved in assisting project managers and leveraging our experience on past projects to overcome new obstacles.

Matt Willey wears a safety hat, goggles and harness with a bridge truss behind him and trees and a parking lot with covered b
Matt Willey’s view from a man lift on top of a 305-foot-long truss while inspecting the Torrence Avenue Bridge over the Calumet River in Chicago in 2009 for the Illinois Department of Transportation District 1.

My favorite part of my job: The most rewarding aspect of structural engineering to me is being a part of a team on challenging projects and building structures that will benefit future generations. My family has worked in the construction field for the last three generations as tile setters, masons, electricians and construction managers. We take a great deal of pride in showing our children the work of our parents and grandparents.

The biggest challenge I have faced on the job: My biggest challenge in engineering is probably resisting the urge to further refine a design or search for an elegant solution, when an acceptable result has already been achieved. 

Interesting projects I have worked on at Hanson and innovations or efficiencies that were used on those projects: The Fifth Street and Sixth Street bridge replacements on the Springfield Rail Improvements Project has been a challenging and interesting project to be involved in. The four double-track, through-plate girder bridges carry the Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific lines over the roadway at a 30-degree skew. Each railroad and location had substantially different design requirements, including one bridge that required a bolted bottom flange. To meet the accelerated project schedule, we were able to lean on our experience and catalog of past through-plate girder bridges to design all four bridges in parallel instead of designing each one individually. The bridges were especially rewarding because they are located blocks away from the Hanson headquarters, and many of us drive under them every day.

What I like to do when I’m not working: When I am not working, I am the Cubmaster for my son’s Cub Scouts pack. I also enjoy bodybuilding, and graphic/web design and have recently taken to stand-up paddleboarding.

Matt Willey, wearing a wetsuit, gives a “peace” hand sign and stands on a paddleboard in the waters of Monterey Bay while hol
Matt stand-up paddleboarding in Santa Cruz, California.

Hanson’s rail team visits Denver for AREMA

About 15 members of Hanson’s rail team attended the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s annual conference last week in Denver.

Hanson had a booth at the event, which was held Aug. 28–31 and offered dozens of technical presentations.

Four people stand behind a table in Hanson’s booth, with four banners behind them.
From left, Hanson’s Matt Riechers, Greg Nichelson, Mike Buckley and Jennifer Sunley pose in Hanson’s booth Aug. 29 at the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s annual conference in Denver.

Mangieri joins Hanson as structural designer

Portrait of Rachael Mangieri, standing and smiling at camera, arms crossedRachael Mangieri, structural designer, recently joined Hanson’s Peoria, Illinois, office. She will work on bridge projects for railroad clients.

Rachael serves the U.S. Navy as a builder. She received an associate degree from Carl Sandburg College, where she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Bradley University, where she was a member of Chi Epsilon, a civil engineering honor society.

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

Visit Hanson at AREMA’s conference

Members of Hanson’s rail team will be on hand at the AREMA 2022 Annual Conference and Expo next month in Denver.

Hanson will be in Booth 741 during the conference, which is being held Aug. 28–31. For more information about the event, visit AREMA’s conference website.

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