The Baltimore area, because of improvements to its Inner Harbor area and its proximity to our nation’s capital, has experienced tremendous growth over the past 20-plus years.
To help handle the burgeoning traffic problems, which generally accompany such growth, the city implemented a light rail system in 1998. Today that system features 33 station stops and boasts average riderships in the 27,000 per day range.
To improve the line’s efficiency, reliability and flexibility, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has contracted with several area contractors to add 9 mi. of double track at strategic points along the line. To do so and minimize impact upon the area’s ridership, one of those contractors, Jessup, MD-based Cherry Hill Construction Inc., has committed to a tight schedule and is utilizing specialized equipment to help it meet its goals.
Just Another Phase
The job, titled the Light Rail Double Track Project, is the final portion of a three-phase endeavor to make light rail work for commuters in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
According to William “Rocky” Jordan, Cherry Hill’s project superintendent, the firm’s $19-million project — out of the total Double Track price tag of $150 million — offers a number of challenges.
“The MTA is adding 9.4 miles of extra track in eight separate sections over a stretch of 29 miles,” he said. “When completed, more than 90 percent of the entire line will be double-tracked. We are contracted to handle Sections One through Four — about 5.7 miles of new track. We started this particular facet of it, 1.4 miles of track in Ruxton, in October 2003.
“While the job’s title says, ’double track,’ there is far more involved than simply adding sections of track. We are actually building noise walls, adding retaining walls, rerouting signalization, and adding or moving catenary poles, the structures that hold the high-voltage lines that power the trains. The majority of these actions centers around quickly and efficiently getting holes dug for subsequent work to proceed,” said Jordan.
“Initially, we worried that was an area that would cause a bottleneck in the operation. However, we have recently relied upon a specialized piece of equipment, a LoDril [Bay Shore Systems Inc., Rathdrum, ID], that has allowed us to maintain an excellent pace and, over the course of the project, might just prove to be the most valuable piece we have on site,” he explained.
A Hole-y Cause
Jordan can hardly be accused of overstating his case. Its portion of the project calls for drilling no fewer than 530 holes, with a real likelihood of adding at least another 100 as things progress. Hole depths along the project’s route vary, with the centenary poles’ depth being generally in the 14-ft. range to the noise walls and retaining walls, which are 20 ft. deep. He said the company initially started with only a traditional piece of drilling equipment but made a decision to augment it with another unit.
“We started off with a hydraulic Kelly bar auger mounted on a Caterpillar EL300 tracked excavator,” he said. “However, we felt we needed a second unit both as a backup and to increase our productivity.”
The company contacted the Lafayette, NJ, office of Construction Equipment Service (CES), a supplier of tools for the foundation and geotechnical industries and, after consultation, chose the LoDril for the project. According to Cherry Hill’s equipment operator, Doug Dickensheetz, the fit was perfect.
“The LoDril is a godsend for a project like this. We are up against a tight schedule. We have a huge number of holes to drill and this unit allows us to do that far more easily than anything else we’ve ever used. With the older machine, we have to put a level on the drill every time we swing over to enter the hole; not a big deal, but time-consuming. This unit has a gauge for fore and aft levels so it automatically ensures that the holes are plumb,” said Dickensheetz.
“More importantly, however, our older machine is limited by the fact that the Kelly bar is only 28 feet long. This machine has 60 feet of self-contained, telescoping Kelly bar. That means I can drill 60 feet into the ground, without changing a thing. Comparing our old drill with this one is like comparing a VW with a Lamborghini. That’s how much different this is,” he explained.
In the planning stages for a number of years, the Double Track project will, according to the MTA, provide a wealth of benefits to both users of the light rail system and the MTA itself.
Riders will benefit from the fact that rail service can operate in either direction of either track if one track is not operational, thereby enhancing service reliability. They also can appreciate the fact that they will no longer have to be shuttled by bus between stations when track sections are out of service.
The light rail system, in turn, will see a greater efficiency, particularly in the area of service and repair. For example, with the added track, repairs can be made during the day without disrupting service, instead of at night, which increases cost and disrupts residents.
According to MTA sources, the Double Track project will require installation of more than 20,000 8-ft. wide concrete railroad ties. Approximately 50,000 cu. yds. of dirt will be either excavated or trucked in — enough to fill all 53 light rail vehicles operating on the line more than three times.
Eighty percent of the project’s funding comes from federal funds allocated by Congress under the Federal Transit Administration’s Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The remaining 20 percent of the project is being funded by the Maryland Department of Transportation.
One of the Baltimore-area’s largest heavy contractors, Cherry Hill Construction is not stranger to tight deadlines and responds in kind to the challenges they present. In this case, according to Jordan, equipment selection might prove the difference.
“Having the right equipment for the job is key on the project like this,” he said. “The LoDril is a perfect case in point. In addition to the drilling-based performance it offers, it will prove beneficial in areas with limited overhead clearance — bridges, for example, which are 28 to 30 feet in height. The LoDril operates with only 24 feet of overhead, so it will tuck nicely under any bridge along the line.
“Without it we’d have to resort to using an auger on a backhoe or something similar and, again, we would have to plumb every hole, which takes valuable time. Having the LoDril is ideal because we can just move along without any change of equipment. We don’t have to break stride,” Jordan explained.
Additional features of the unit cited by Dickensheetz are its power and ability to enhance the operation.
“It’s an invaluable piece of equipment on a project like this,” said Dickensheetz. “The down pressure is 14,000 pounds, which is phenomenal, as is the 36,000 foot/pounds of torque. I really like the fact that, unlike the older machine, the LoDril doesn’t grab its down pressure until it actually hits ground and encounters friction, allowing the Kelly bars to lock up. I also like the unit’s integrated 8,000-pound service winch that, when necessary, allows us to quickly and easily set steel once we’ve drilled a hole.”
Construction of the Light Rail Double Track Project is expected to run through August of 2006 but Cherry Hill’s Jordan believes it will be done well before that.
“We are making great progress now and will really pick up the pace in January when they shut this part of the line down entirely and shuttle the riders on buses. That will allow us to make some headway. There’s no denying, however, that the LoDril also is keeping us moving along. I feel it is easily 60 percent faster than our other equipment — over the course of 500 to 600 holes that can make a huge difference. We are confident that we can be wrapped up here well before the MTA’s deadline.”