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 lschroedter@hanson-inc.com.

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.

Peoria Public Radio talks to Corso about proposed passenger rail station sites

Headshot of Anthony CorsoPassenger rail is being studied in Peoria, Illinois, and Hanson’s Anthony Corso, AIA, AICP, LEED AP®, spoke with WCBU-FM about sites that each have the potential to become a rail station.

Anthony, a senior urban designer/planner who works at Hanson’s office in Peoria, and Mark Vrba of Muller2 were interviewed by Tim Shelley of Peoria Public Radio about three properties along the riverfront that are candidates for the station: the areas around the Gateway Building, the former Rock Island Depot and a U.S. Post Office. Anthony and Mark are studying the sites’ benefits and challenges for a preliminary planning study.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study on a proposed passenger rail route from the city to Chicago. Peoria is the largest Illinois city that lacks a commitment for passenger rail.

Read the full story on WCBU’s website.

On the right track: Tristan Rickett

A curiosity about railroads was sparked in Tristan Rickett, P.E., at a young age. His desire to become a train engineer as a child ultimately led to his pursuit of civil engineering degrees, receiving a bachelor’s from Gonzaga University and a master’s from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he studied railroad engineering. Between earning his degrees, he joined Hanson’s Seattle regional office in 2011.

Tristan, an associate project manager, provides civil design services for railway projects in the state of Washington and beyond. He is a licensed professional engineer in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

How I became interested in engineering: At an early age, I was always interested in the light and freight rail around Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. My family, especially my grandpa, fostered this love by taking me on train rides around the local zoo and building a garden railroad for me and the other kids in the family. Playing in the garden railroad with the tracks and water features sparked my imagination on how these elements could interact with each other. This imagination and continued interest in rail and infrastructure inspired me to pursue a career in civil engineering with a specialization in railroad transportation engineering. 

Tristan Rickett, as a child, plays with a model train and Troll dolls outside.

Six-year-old Tristan Rickett plays in the garden railroad built by his grandparents.

What I do on a typical day on the job: A typical day for me consists of developing track and civil designs, quantities and specifications for railway capacity improvement projects as well as assisting the project management, design teams and local government clients on fish passage improvement projects under freight rail lines in the Pacific Northwest. I also help other members of Hanson’s railway technical discipline overcome rail design tasks and challenges.

My favorite part of my job: I really enjoy helping people accomplish their goals and tasks — whether it is other Hanson team members or clients.

The biggest challenge I have faced on the job: Lately, my biggest challenge is finding better ways to help local government clients collaborate with freight clients on projects. 

Tristan Rickett, as a child, has a snack outside among the model buildings and track.

Tristan at his home office in Keizer, Oregon.

Interesting projects I have worked on at Hanson and innovations or efficiencies that were used on those projects: The BNSF Sandpoint Junction Connector and Meadowdale Beach Park bridge projects have been the most interesting to me. On Sandpoint, Hanson’s design team helped develop a multiphase project aimed to minimize impacts to local highway and bike/pedestrian traffic and Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho while paving the way for bridge construction. On Meadowdale, Hanson’s Pacific Northwest team members used our understanding of BNSF railway to help our new client, Snohomish County in Washington, design and construct a fish passage railway bridge that accounted for site access challenges and minimized impacts to freight train operations.

What I like to do when I’m not working: In my off-hours, I like indoor gardening, baking, playing board games and exploring nearby towns and cities.

Professors needed for railway engineering education, research

The high rates of retirement, combined with a projected growth in the railway industry and renewed interest in high-speed passenger rail research and deployment across our communities, have considerably raised the railway industry’s need to hire new civil, electrical and mechanical engineering graduates.

Since 2008, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) has responded to this need by hosting the biennial Railway Engineering Education Symposium (REES).

The first four symposiums focused on introducing professors of civil engineering to the railway industry and its needs for engineering graduates and research. Professors from universities with established railway engineering programs presented class-period-length modules intended to be inserted into existing introduction to transportation engineering classes. A keynote presentation and tour of a major railway facility reinforced the importance of this industry to the economies of North America.

While the previous three symposiums have introduced users-group features and networking, professors from colleges and universities without railway content in their engineering programs are still recruited. They gain access to the class modules and are introduced to professors with established railway content or programs, allowing them to identify opportunities for railway engineering education and research at their institutions.

After being cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, REES will be held June 15–16 at the University of Illinois Chicago. It will be a combination of networking for railway engineering programs and outreach to professors looking to start or expand programs in teaching undergrads and railway research. The first day includes presentations by industry leaders on the future needs for railway engineering graduates and in railway research. The second day will feature tours of the Chicago Integrated Rail Operations Center and Canadian National Railway Co.’s facilities in Homewood, Illinois.

I am the project manager for REES, and this will be the sixth symposium I have managed for AREMA. The last REES event in 2018 was hosted by the University of South Carolina. Dimitris Rizos, a professor at this university, attended one of the early REES events as an instructor new to the railway industry and has since developed a great railway engineering program. AREMA now has 25 student chapters, many at institutions that have attended REES.

a photo of Mike PochopFor more information on REES or to nominate an engineering professor to attend REES in June, please contact me at mpochop@hanson-inc.com. Thanks to generous railway and engineering consultant company sponsors, the event is free, meals are included and a limited amount of stipends are available to offset travel costs.

Mike Pochop is a vice president, a senior project manager and the railway operations lead at Hanson.

Railroad projects capitalize on reality capture technology

Historically, surveying and railroads have been closely related. Many of the techniques and methods developed during the rapid development of U.S. railroads in the past are commonplace in survey practice and calculations today.

However, over the past decade, the art of collecting data in the field has changed dramatically with the development of newer technology — specifically, 3D scanning and reality capture. This uses a 3D lidar scanner and integrated cameras to collect large amounts of point cloud data safely, quickly and accurately. It can be deployed to a stationary position — such as to collect data from better vantage points for a bridge replacement — on a hi-rail vehicle to collect information on a larger corridor or via an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, to capture information from above. Typically, one or more of these methods are used and combined with conventional survey control and field data to process and model the conditions.

Point cloud image of a complicated railroad bridge
A point cloud image of a complicated railroad bridge

The benefit to the railroad client and design team is that the survey data is captured safer and faster than previous survey methods. Using this technology, the data is typically captured from a point outside the operational corridor, which minimizes or eliminates the time the surveyor has to be on the track. The data is processed, analyzed and extracted to produce the computer-aided design features and surface models the design engineers need, along with additional imagery and point cloud data to visibly assist with the existing site conditions and assessment of their proposed design for the entire team and client.

The added value we have discovered during past projects includes fewer return trips when more site details are requested or additional data is needed, delineating and locating masonry joint lines, detecting structural imperfections, locating high water lines and scour holes, indicating overhead utility connections with vertical clearance details and providing more data for corridor analysis tools. We have also minimized construction schedules and material delays by confirming and comparing the proposed design with the existing conditions using clash detection tools and staging analysis for structural reconstruction projects.

Reality capture technology brings the project site into the office for the entire team to capitalize on, producing a high-quality design and deliverable for the railroad client. Learn more about its benefits by contacting Matt Schrader at mschrader@hanson-inc.com.


Presentation about Springfield rail project delivered to hundreds of conference participants

Mike Mendenhall, P.E., S.E., a structural engineer, and Kevin Seals, Hanson’s chief environmental scientist, gave an overview of the Springfield Rail Improvements Project during the Illinois Transportation and Highway Engineering Conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kevin Seals speaks while standing behind a lectern as Mike Mendenhall watches while sitting behind a table, with a large proj

Mike Mendenhall, left, looks on as Kevin Seals discusses the Grow Our Own Minority Participation Program during their Illinois Transportation and Highway Engineering Conference presentation.

Mike and Kevin, both from Hanson’s Springfield, Illinois, office, talked about each segment of the rail project in Illinois’ capital and the challenges that have arisen during its process, including the discovery of the foundations of homes burned down during the 1908 Race Riot.

They also covered the Grow Our Own Minority Participation Program in their March 2 presentation. Grow Our Own, which is sponsored by the city of Springfield, Sangamon County and Hanson, with support from the Illinois Department of Transportation, was launched in 2013 in response to community desires for an increased involvement of minority and disadvantaged businesses in the rail project. It offers mentoring, education and training opportunities to Springfield’s minority youth to foster interest in careers involving science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics, or STEAM. Kevin is Hanson’s STEAM outreach coordinator.

More than 1,100 people registered for this year’s two-day conference, and hundreds attended Mike and Kevin’s presentation.

Is your nationwide permit about to expire?

Nationwide permits are a type of general permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for project activities in U.S. streams, wetlands and other waters. They authorize a category of activities under Section 404(e) of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. This permit program is intended to provide timely authorizations and help protect the aquatic environment by providing incentives to reduce impacts on jurisdictional waters and wetlands while authorizing certain activities that have no more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.

Under Section 404, permits are required for discharges of dredged or fill material into jurisdictional waters of the United States, including wetlands. Under Section 10, permits are required for any structures or other work that affect the course, location or condition of navigable waters, such as piers, dredging and aids to navigation. Nationwide permits authorize about 40,000 reported activities each year, as well as about 30,000 activities that do not require reporting to USACE districts.

Fifty-two nationwide permits were issued in 2017. For many rail projects, such as capacity improvements, siding extensions and bridge or culvert replacements, the most common nationwide permits used are:

  • Nationwide Permit 14: Linear Transportation Projects
  • Nationwide Permit 3: Maintenance
  • Nationwide Permit 33: Temporary Construction, Access and Dewatering
  • Nationwide Permit 13: Bank Stabilization

Because nationwide permits are issued on five-year cycles, all the 2017 nationwide permits expire this March. If your project has a current 2017 nationwide permit authorization, the following options may apply:

  • If your project is under construction or under contract for construction, a one-year extension of the permit authorization is automatically granted, meaning it will expire in March 2023.
  • If your project will not be complete by March 2023 or you are not under contract, you will need a reauthorization for your project. If nothing about the project or regulations has changed, a reauthorization should be straightforward and easy to obtain.

The USACE has issued new nationwide permits that will go into effect Feb. 25. For the nationwide permits listed above that are commonly used on railroad projects, no significant language changes have been proposed from the 2017 nationwide permits to the 2022 nationwide permits.

If you have questions about your rail project, any currently held permit or how to obtain a 2022 nationwide permit, please contact railroad permitting specialists Jennifer Sunley at jsunley@hanson-inc.com or Doug Dorsey at ddorsey@hanson-inc.com.


On the right track: Andy Rucker

Andy Rucker sits in a chair at his desk, smiling at camera, with railway facility maps in front of him
Andy sits at his desk at Hanson’s Kansas City office.

Andy Rucker, P.E., has focused on civil engineering for more than 15 years. After earning his bachelor's degree in the discipline in 2006 from the University of Missouri – Rolla, he joined Hanson’s Kansas City, Missouri, office, where he has worked as a civil/railway engineer on projects for several rail companies.

Andy, who is a licensed professional engineer in Arkansas, Missouri and Nebraska, has applied his design skills to rail projects in over a quarter of U.S. states and in Mexico.

How I became interested in engineering: Growing up, I always took things apart to see how they worked, even though I may have not always put them back together. I enjoyed my math and science classes and was always good at problem-solving, so engineering seemed like a good choice.

What I do on a typical day on the job: A typical day ranges from conceptual layout to advancing design for projects. I also help mentor co-workers on engineering design and project decisions.

My favorite part of my job: I enjoy the problem-solving as well as interacting with my team.

The biggest challenge I have faced on the job: The biggest challenge I have on jobs is keeping rail yards operational at an acceptable capacity while building new components to increase capacity.

Andy Rucker, holding project documents, stands in a grassy area of a railroad’s intermodal terminal on a sunny day
Andy visits the Union Pacific Railroad Co. East Los Angeles intermodal facility in Commerce, California, on June 22, 2021, as part of a parking expansion project. Hanson is providing geotechnical services, hydrological and hydraulic assessments, permitting and design for this addition.

Interesting projects I have worked on: I have worked on a variety of projects, ranging from capacity improvements, yard modernization and improvements and roadway projects. Intermodal yards have always been interesting, because you are planning movements for trains, trucks and cranes or side loaders along with the maintenance needs for the equipment.

What I like to do when I’m not working: I enjoy cycling, off-roading in my Jeep and visiting national parks.