Branscome on Track at Railway Relocation Project

Thu February 14, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Angela B. Hurni



The Virginia Port Authority will find that moving freight trains will be quicker and safer as soon as December 2009.

That is when the Commonwealth Railway Mainline Safety Relocation Project (CRMSRP), consisting of the relocation of 4.5 mi. (7.2 km) of urban railway in the cities of Portsmouth and Chesapeake, Va., is scheduled to be completed. The new rail lines will be placed in the medians of the Western Freeway, which extends from Route 164 to Interstate 664, in Suffolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake.

Branscome Inc. is the general contractor on the roughly $55-million project, which began construction in July. Two new Cat dozers, a D6N and a D6K, are speeding up production on the job because they each have been equipped with a Topcon 3D Machine Control Package for dozers. These GPS systems have been supplied by Chesapeake-based Atlantic Laser Supply, a Topcon distributor.

With approximately 300,000 cu. yd. (229,000 cu m) of earthmoving to be done on the project, the Topcon systems have proved invaluable.

“The two new Cat dozers equipped with the GPS speed production,” Buddy League, Branscome’s vice president, explained. “We typically would use a motorgrader to grade stone — now we just use a dozer.”

Since the relocation is a design-build project, construction has started on parts of the project where the design has been completed and permitted. The engineering and consulting firm, Moffat & Nichol, headquartered in Long Beach, Calif., with an office in Norfolk, Va., is providing the design.

“The nature of the contract has sped the project along,” League explained. “Rather than waiting for the complete design, we started the job. It would have been another year if the contract was other than design-build, and the [Virginia] Port Authority needed to get the job started.”

One aspect of this project that League thinks makes the job easier is that when Route 164 and Interstate 664 were built, they were initially designed for a rail line to go in the median. The bridge structures also were built with a railway in mind.

“It has always been anticipated that the rail line would go through here,” League said.

Branscome has hired subcontractor, R.R. Dawson Bridge Company of Powhatan, Va., to build the Route 17 bridge, which is being designed to create a grade separation at Route 17 and will carry traffic over the rail line. Construction of the Route 17 bridge is tentatively scheduled to begin April 1.

So far, Branscome has completed most of the grading and drainage along Route 164. Major utility relocation work is under way at Route 17 while retaining walls are nearly complete at the Town Point Road overpass, which crosses over Route 164.

Grading along I-664 is underway as well, and retaining walls near Pughsville Road off of I-664 are being built. Guardrails, warning signs and site safety measures are in place all along the project too.

The actual rail work should start in mid-2008 after the earthwork and retaining walls have progressed throughout the project.

Numerous advantages of the relocation project include eliminating 14 at-grade rail crossings, in effect limiting noise levels and pollution from vehicles idling at crossings as well as from trains passing through.

Also, the new rail lines will service the APM/Maersk Terminal, a vital port on the East Coast, and the future Craney Island Marine Terminal. Furthermore, since the railway will be moved out of densely populated areas and away from congested highways, the cargo trains will be able to travel at faster speeds thereby getting the freight to their destinations sooner.

The CRMSRP, part of the Heartland Corridor rail project, is the first time that the private freight rail industry has worked together with the U.S. DOT to finance a rail improvement project.

Randy Blain, the 3D Machine Control Specialist with Atlantic Laser Supply, said, “Virtually every company that invests in their first GPS system realizes the benefits in a very short time.”

In addition to dozers and excavators, the Topcon system can be installed on graders, pavers, milling machines and scrapers.

Blain has been selling, installing and supporting Topcon Machine Control systems for eight years.

The Topcon system uses a digital version of a construction site plan and the location of the machine and then determines the elevation of the blade. The 3D GPS system is accurate to within a few hundredths of a foot. There is hardly any staking or restaking needed because the system works directly from the site plans and the satellite positioning data.

“In essence,” Blain said, “the system cuts to the correct grade by itself. When used properly there is no rework. It is correct the first time and virtually eliminates mistakes.”

The operator can use a hand-held GPS survey rover for grade verification and stakeout. The Topcon system works with a GPS base station on each job site or can work from a GPS RTK network, which is a series of permanently mounted GPS reference stations linked together to provide a region-wide area of coverage. Atlantic Laser Supply has implemented an RTK Network System for use with both Survey GPS units and GPS Machine Control Systems. CEG