Atkins Engineers Upgrades to Boat Tram, Improving Travel in Remote Southwestern Alaska

06 March 2014 – Tampa, FL — Atkins has engineered the reconstruction of the 420-foot-long Tevyar’aq Railway Tram in remote southwestern Alaska, working over a 16-month period to help upgrade a vital boat portage that has connected villages in the tundra of the Johnson River area and other coastal communities for more than 50 years.

The villagers of Atmautluak, Kasigluk, and Nunapitchuk rely heavily on the bridgelike wooden tram to transport small boats between Takslesluk Lake and Kavlgualik Lake for travel, hunting, and fishing. After more than 50 years of operation, the former structure had fallen into serious disrepair, with worn-out winches and highly deteriorated access points at both ends. In addition, low lake levels forced travelers to trudge through thick mud—with boats in tow—to gain access to the tram.

“This project involved collaboration on multiple fronts, namely between the federal government and residents of three Johnson River villages who use these waterways for their livelihood,” said Becky Rude, Atkins environmental compliance task manager. “We assembled Atkins experts from California, Colorado, Montana, and Texas, all of whom collaborated closely to complete the project.”

The Western Federal Lands Highway Division (WFLHD) of the Federal Highway Administration, in cooperation with the Alaska-focused federal Denali Commission, tasked Atkins with upgrading the tram as part of an existing multidisciplinary indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract.

The project scope included creating a more efficient system to transfer boats from the water onto the tram, improving the functionality of the existing tram structure, and providing a safer surface for travelers to walk on while pushing their boats down the rails.

The project presented several significant challenges, including the fact that the former tram was more than 50 years old. In addition, the project site is within a tundra ecosystem and the area is dotted with wetlands. The tram’s age and location required Atkins’ archeology, architectural history, ecology, wildlife biology, and engineering and design experts to provide extensive environmental and cultural-resource services.

Reducing adverse impacts to the tundra was a major environmental focus for the team. Research and field surveys were done to address the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guidelines for wetlands, and Alaska Statute 16.05.871 for protection of Essential Fish Habitat.

Atkins prepared a Categorical Exclusion (CE) to comply with NEPA. The CE included research results and technical fieldwork to demonstrate that no significant environmental impacts would occur from making tram improvements. Atkins also prepared an Environmental Commitment Summary (ECS), listing all CE and permit requirements and stipulations that would further minimize adverse impacts to the tundra. The ECS also ensured that commitments were carried into the plans and specifications. Additionally, Atkins helped WFLHD prepare a request for State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) concurrence with the company’s cultural resources findings.

Atkins next completed the plans, specifications, and estimates (PS&E) package for reconstructing the tram. The package included WFLHD comments, environmental requirements, and geotechnical and hydraulics design recommendations. The team analyzed the evaluation, design, and construction challenges posed by the remote site and the tundra, and developed simple but effective methods for upgrading the tram’s functionality and ensuring safe operation with low maintenance.

“Upgrading the tram was extremely satisfying,” said Rude. “We contributed to continuing a way of life that has existed in this remote area for hundreds of years.”

Atkins is nearing the end of its second 5-year IDIQ contract with WFLHD, and has executed a total of 47 task orders for WFLHD since 2005—all for projects in remote areas, but none as isolated as the tram project.

WFLHD is part of the U. S. Federal Lands Highway (FLH) Program and serves the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming. Atkins also works to meet the transportation needs of federal and Native American lands in FLH’s Central and Eastern divisions.

About Atkins
Atkins ( is one of the world’s leading design, engineering, and project management consultancies, employing some 17,400 people across the UK, North America, Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Europe. Our people’s breadth and depth of expertise and drive to ask “why?” has allowed us to plan, design, and enable some of the world’s most complex and time-critical projects.