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Railway Track & Structures 2024 Top Projects

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad’s (SKOL) Cow Creek Bridge
Courtesy of Watco

ATLANTA - Railway Track & Structures, June 2024 issue: Here are ten of the most impressive rail infrastructure projects across North America in 2024.

One of the top rewards working on Railway Track & Structures is exposure to the myriad of railroad infrastructure projects going on at any one time. One of the top challenges of working on the magazine is choosing ten of the many projects nominated for our annual Top Projects program as honorees. Capital budgets along with dollars from the federal infrastructure stimulus program resulted in more projects underway than usual this year, generating more nominations and making the selection process more difficult. The article can be read in our digital edition here.

UP Global II Capacity Expansion

Courtesy of Olsson

Union Pacific Railroad set out to simplify their Chicago intermodal operations and find ways to optimize the global supply chain. As part of this effort, the railroad invested heavily in upgrades to its Global II terminal located in Northlake, Illinois, while aiming to consolidate Chicago intermodal traffic from the Global I, Global III, and Canal Street facilities to Global II over a 4-year period from design to completion of construction. 

Global II is in a heavily developed area where open spaces for terminal expansion were non-existent. This presented a unique challenge for Union Pacific to redevelop the site while limiting impacts to existing terminal operations. Design teams from TranSystems and Olsson were selected to help strategically redevelop the site, increasing the terminal’s capacity and allowing intermodal consolidation. The effort saw existing warehouses turned into paved parking lots, runaround tracks relocated and grade separated, receiving and departure tracks turned into ramp tracks, portions of the hump yard turned into paved parking lots, relocation of maintenance facilities, and a new signalized intersection and out-gate to promote better traffic flow through the site. The transformation of Union Pacific’s Global II terminal embodies strategic planning, innovative solutions, and adaptability. Despite unique challenges, the collaboration between Union Pacific, the design teams, construction teams, and K-Five ensured these projects were completed allowing Union Pacific to reach their goal of simplifying Chicago intermodal operations and optimizing the global supply chain.   

Vista Canyon Multi-Modal Center

Courtesy of RailPros, Inc.

The City of Santa Clarita is the project sponsor and lead agency that built this new SCRRA/Metrolink Station. Project work on the City of Santa Clarita’s new Vista Canyon Multi-Modal Transit Center included the development of a new passenger rail station, a center platform, and a grade-separated pedestrian access under main track to the platform. RailPros, Inc. served as the prime designer, while Icon West was the prime contractor. The installation of the transit center involved the relocation of the existing Via Princessa Metrolink Station, and the new construction included new main track and extended and realigned siding track, extensive grading, a new rail bridge, large soil nail wall, retaining walls, soundwalls, and a new control point. 

Teams effectively handled challenges like live operating track, which required the phasing of work at an existing control point, to deliver the project on time and within budget. CP Humphreys Signal house and PTC cutover and movement of the existing control point to a new location was finished in a weekend while also shifting train traffic from siding to main track to complete the work. The project required close collaboration to plan and perform work concurrently during the weekend shutdown to successfully complete Metrolink’s Cutover, while also allowing the contractor to install platform footings, communications conduits, remove track and install new track underlaid with HMA.

PATH C-Yard Reconfiguration and Vehicle Storage Facility

The Port Authority of New York New Jersey PATH rail line provides daily commuters access between Jersey City, NJ and Manhattan, NY. The project is located at PATH’s Yard C maintenance facility, which is responsible for maintaining continuous operation of their railcars. This HUB is active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and poses one of the most significant challenges for the project.

This rail line is an electrified line which means there are no diesel-powered locomotives to pull these passenger cars around. All the cars are powered and propelled by high voltage electricity fed through a 3rd rail mounted alongside the running rail. This poses the biggest challenge and safety concern as the crews are working in around live high voltage 3rd rail the entire time.  All work must be coordinated with this in mind to ensure the safety of crews working, as well as PATH employee around. Access to the facility is required to be kept for PATH MOW forces and other contractors. The yard is also situated near residential homes, requiring special consideration to equipment and construction sequencing was required to minimize the noise impact on the public. 

Tracks Unlimited, as the general contractor, has the responsibility for reconfiguring the rail yard and constructing a new maintenance facility at PATH’s Yard C for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ). Tracks is responsible for planning, scheduling, and executing all work tasks throughout the project safely, and coordinating all communication with the Port Authority.

B-115.19 Conneaut Viaduct Bridge Replacement

Courtesy of Jackson Spaulding

In 2023, Norfolk Southern completed a bridge replacement in Conneaut, Ohio for one of its busiest bridges. The existing bridge was a 100+ year old, 1,320-foot-long, 28 span open-deck bridge which had reached the end of its useful service life and needed to be replaced in order to maintain safe, continuous service along this busy rail corridor. 

Norfolk Southern worked closely with project designer HDR, construction manager Michael Baker, and contractor Mascaro to navigate several complex challenges throughout the project. Among these challenges were minimizing impacts to rail operations and the public. The bridge is approximately 60-feet high and access was restricted near the bridge ends, in Conneaut Creek, and around another railroad.

Norfolk Southern worked with HDR to assess various options to replace the century-old bridge. HDR designed the new, 1,296-foot-long, 15-span ballast-deck bridge and provided geotechnical, hydraulic and environmental permitting services. The bridge design allowed for construction phasing to minimize track outages and operational downtime during construction.

The superstructure consists of four welded girders with a steel deck. It’s supported by cast-in-place concrete caps and pairs of cast-in-place concrete columns founded on drilled shafts. The main span of the bridge weighed over one million pounds alone, and 4.7 million pounds of structural steel was used in the bridge’s construction. The new substructure was installed prior to the superstructure without impacts to train operations and was located such that interferences with the existing foundation were eliminated to the extent practical. The superstructure was replaced incrementally in a series of short track curfews.

Mosaic Bone Valley Track 50 & 51

Courtesy of Mosaic

As part of the scope of work with  Mosaic and CSX in New Wales Florida, Road & Rail Services was tasked with replacing two sections of track which are used to clean empty railcars.  The track was in extremely bad shape.  Years of product buildup had covered the ties, to such an extent that CSX would no longer put trains on it.  Because these sections of track typically accommodated 80 railcars a day, six days a week at normal capacity, this was significantly increasing dwell time and the costs associated with it. The project involved the removal and replacement of 11,615 track feet on Track 50 and Track 51, with two switches to be designed, built, and cut in at each end.  The project was scheduled for spring, when demand for the fertilizer produced at this Mosaic plant is at its peak, with a very tight time frame for completion; work was performed in two phases to minimize impact to the plant’s production, each with its own deadline, so that the other half of this track could still be used during the project. With a detailed plan of work prepared in advance and a seasoned track crew onsite, Phase I was safely completed on time with Phase II ahead of schedule.  The result was a significant reduction in dwell time for Mosaic and CSX railcars at the Mosaic site.  As a result of the design work of Hatch Engineering and contracting services from Road & Rail Services, CSX will be able to set out trains on these two tracks, whereas the poor operating condition had previously prevented this efficiency.

Construction of Anaheim Canyon Metrolink Station Improvements

The Anaheim Canyon Metrolink Station Improvements improves the passenger experience for Metrolink riders in Orange County. The project included the installation of two new control points on the Olive Subdivision, construction of new siding and main track, construction of a new second platform, extension of the exiting main platform, installation of two new at-grade crossings, and other associated improvements. All work was completed while maintaining freight and commuter rail service through the area, requiring close coordination with stakeholders and careful planning.

The project required coordinating with a variety of stakeholders including project owner, OCTA and project designer, HNTB. The success of the project required not only coordination with each stakeholder but also an understanding of each stakeholder’s priorities and needs for the project.

The project was constructed around live train (freight and passenger), vehicle, and pedestrian traffic. Minimizing the impact of construction was identified as a priority for several stakeholder groups including SCRRA and the City of Anaheim. Stacy Witbeck was allowed four planned All-Work-Window (AWW) outages for installation of insulated joints (IJs), turnouts, and transition track. This project was constructed within the existing OCTA/SCRRA/City of Anaheim right-of-way and bordered on both sides by developed private property. The access through these properties was limited and restricted access to the project to the existing at-grade roadway crossings and one temporary access point. This created a linear project that required detailed planning and coordination to ensure that access for critical work was not obstructed by concurrent activities. To help avoid conflicts, Stacy Witbeck subdivided the project into four zones and all project schedules used these zones to help coordinate activities and ensure access-limiting activities were identified early to
avoid conflicts. 

“Stacy Witbeck was a great partner for OCTA. They have shown their ability to meet critical timelines and work throughout challenging supply chain issues, whilst maintaining a high workmanship standards on site, look forward to working with them in the future.” Salvador Munoz, Rail Program Manager said.

CN Mile 90.3 Aberdeen Bridge

Courtesy of CN

With the efforts of prime contractor PCL and prime designer AECOM, work on CN’s Mile 90.3 Aberdeen Bridge involved the rehabilitation of an active railway bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. The scope of work included the addition of eight new concrete piers founded on driven H-piles built in between existing piers which were originally constructed in the early 1900’s. Gravel roads were built on both sides of the river through private land to provide access to the project. Clay cofferdams were installed in the river over the course of two seasons during the time frames approved by regulation. These cofferdams provided access to complete the in-river bridge rehabilitation work.

Seven existing piers were modified with the addition of concrete extensions to support new deck plate girders which replaced the existing structural steel deck and through truss spans. Roughly 3m of concrete was cut off the top of the existing piers and hoisted down to the berm level elevation for three of the existing piers (two of which were redundant piers). This work occurred during specified track closure windows to facilitate the installation of the new deck plate girder spans, precast deck slabs and track panels. The bridge approaches were also rehabilitated on both sides of the river with the addition of new steel H-piles, structural steel bracing and new concrete box girder spans complete with track panels that replaced the original timber structure.

All construction work was completed on May 30, 2023, without interfering with the continued safe movement of rail traffic, except for the major span replacement work that was scheduled and planned for months in advance of the required track closures.

BNSF Sandpoint Connector

Courtesy of BNSF

In an era when supply chain issues and logistical challenges are commonplace, the Sandpoint Junction Connector project is a positive example of how Class I railroad BNSF took the initiative to construct a new second main track and bridges to increase its rail capacity while listening to the community’s needs and concerns, as well as protecting the environment. With prime contractor Ames Construction and prime designer Hanson Engineering, the project’s primary goal was to improve rail traffic in the region. This was accomplished with the design and construction of a 2.7-mile stretch of second main track, including a 4,875-foot-long bridge over the beautiful and popular Lake Pend Oreille. The new bridge runs parallel to the original, early 1900s mainline structure, which was repaired and updated to continue its operations and increase the rail network’s resiliency.

During construction, the team used innovative bridge-monitoring technology to detect track movement on the nearby original, operating bridge and gathered ongoing drone footage to monitor construction and progress. Because of Lake Pend Oreille’s environmental importance to the area and its recreational impact, the team focused on identifying regional best management practices and conducted extensive permitting to protect the lake, fish and other aquatic species. This included transporting construction equipment and materials on barges instead of building a temporary work trestle across the lake. 

The soil conditions in the lake also presented challenges and complexities. The soil was so soft and sensitive that installing a pile caused a short-term reduction in soil strength. The project team completed additional analysis and extended the pile length to nearly 240 feet in many locations, solving the pile capacity challenge. Hanson also limited the amount of cast-in-place concrete to avoid spills in the lake and lowered the number of strikes per pile to reduce vibrations and sounds to protect the fish in the lake.

The new bridge was completed ahead of schedule in November 2022.  Train traffic was shifted onto the new bridge as single-track operation in order to execute the maintenance project.  Following a successful replacement of all 1903 superstructure components from the original bridge, new double track across the Lake was cut over in August 2023.  A new double cross-over was installed near the Amtrak station, and BNSF now has two continuous mainlines through the area.  

SKOL Cow Creek Bridge Rehabilitation

Courtesy of Watco

Upgrading the South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad’s (SKOL) Cow Creek Bridge was a pivotal part of necessary infrastructure improvements to provide adequate rail service for a new soybean processing facility on the line. The Kansas weather refused to cooperate with the plan, but the coordination of the Watco team and contractors ensured the bridge replacement was completed on time and without incident.

The bridge, located just southwest of Pittsburg at milepost 59.6 on the SKOL’s Gorilla Subdivision, measures 385 feet across 12 spans. The original structure was mostly timber with steel spans over the river. Most components were over 100 years old. American Rail Engineers provided a design to eliminate the timber sections and ensure the bridge could safely handle 286,000-lb. traffic for years to come. The timber spans were replaced in phases, with the smaller, 3-span section being first. But only after access agreements with neighboring landowners were made, roads and staging areas built, and equipment and materials delivered.

Material began arriving on June 6, 2023. Kraemer North America then started driving steel H-pile, cutting it to the correct length, welding cross bracing, and installing precast concrete pier encasements below the existing timber structure. Demolition and reconstruction of the south section took place on July 11 within a 16-hour window. After completion, the equipment and remaining materials were transported to the north side of Cow Creek, and the process began again. During this time, rehabilitation and improvements of the center steel deck and concrete piers continued at night, when SKOL trains weren’t running.

The demolition and reconstruction of the north end began August 22, which coincided with one of the hottest days Kansas had seen in years. The temperature was 104 degrees, with the heat index reaching 125. This, combined with the surrounding trees and low-lying area near the creek turned the work site into an oven. The team responded by bringing in temporary shades, large fans, filling coolers with drinks and snacks, and shifting schedules so the most demanding work could be done at night when temperatures dropped to 90 degrees. This approach worked. With portable lighting, Kraemer assembled the final seven spans of precast concrete within the allotted 36-hour window. Kelly-Hill laid the ballast and surfaced the new track. B&L Trenching hauled and loaded the ballast and helped with dirt work. Martinus Bottom Line provided flagging services.

“I was really impressed with the lead contractor, Kraemer, in their ability to flexibly plan around all the challenges by using all 24 hours in the day and safely completing the project in the heat,” said Mike McDermott, Watco senior bridge manager. The SKOL didn’t miss a single Class I interchange or customer switch. The new bridge ensures a vital connection for existing customers and the new traffic that will come from the soybean facility and other large economic projects currently in the works.

“I was very impressed by the organization and safety coordination between Kraemer and their subcontractors during bridge construction and changeouts,” said Cameron Ginther, Watco director of rail infrastructure. “The professionalism and timeliness by Kraemer to work through project hurdles made it easy for us to continue safe and reliable service to our customers and Class I partners in southeast Kansas.”

Innovative Track Condition Monitoring Trial

Courtesy of Humatics

New Jersey Transit and Humatics engaged in an accelerated 8-week Proof of Concept (POC) through in May through July 2023 to prove that sensor solutions can be quickly installed on revenue service vehicles and that artificial intelligence software can be used to detect, determine and precisely locate track geometry anomalies, defects and other track conditions of interest in real-time. 

The initial trial outfitted two Kinkosharyo light rail vehicles with the Humatics Focus system consisting of an Edge Computing platform, an inertial measurement sensor, and a GNSS receiver, returning each vehicle to service in under an hour. Rapid prototyping and digital collaborative tools were used to instantly incorporate design feedback from NJT vehicle engineers to create mechanical bracketry for proper installation. The design and installation were both completed within a week. Track condition monitoring was provided for over 10 miles of the Newark Light Rail Line. 

Humatics Focus automatically collected and analyzed track geometry scans spanning a cumulative 6000 track miles over the course of more than 600 revenue service trips – collecting and processing over 1.9 terabytes of data. New Jersey Transit has invested in wifi connectivity along the majority of the line, allowing Humatics to leverage existing wireless infrastructure saving additional costs, setup/configuration time and allowing rich data streams to be sent to the cloud. 

The aggressive schedule required significant collaboration and coordination between NJT, Humatics and other third-party stakeholders which was successfully provided by the NJT innovation team who broke down barriers, coordinated meetings with the right people and moved quickly to make decisions and get the appropriate approvals. The POC showed specific track geometry measurements and monitoring capabilities in real-time with precise geopositioning (within 2 feet) that led to the awarding of a 1-year pilot contract between Humatics and New Jersey Transit in January 2024. During this 1-year pilot, Humatics will be installing Focus systems on 4 additional trains this summer and monitoring over 100 miles of track while providing a modern intuitive user interface for maintenance management. 

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