Automated Monitoring Helps Keep Rail Transportation Project on Track

Navarro & Wright Adopts New Technology to Troubleshoot on Site From a Remote Location

The Delaware Claymont Regional Transportation Center needed an upgrade to increase passenger safety, greater accessibility to the station and trains, passenger convenience and regional rail service. The $54M design-build project—a collaboration of the Delaware Department of Transportation (DOT), Pennsylvania DOT, Amtrak and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)—includes construction of a new train station and parking center near the existing Amtrak rail line.

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An automated Trimble S9 monitoring total station measures high-accuracy displacement of active railway tracks during nearby construction activities at the station.

The new station and garage will feature a multi-modal transportation center and state-of-the-art amenities, with improved access for bus transit, bicycles and pedestrians.

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An automated Trimble S9 monitoring total station measures high-accuracy displacement of active railway tracks during nearby construction activities at the station.

To maintain the structural integrity of the train tracks, current facility and surrounding area, the four Amtrak rail lines needed to be monitored for movement throughout construction. Project owners and general contractor Wagman teamed up with Navarro & Wright, a consulting engineering firm with extensive experience on large transportation projects in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, for the monitoring portion of the construction.

Automated Technology Overcomes Challenges of Scope, Power, Connectivity and Weather

Navarro & Wright has completed numerous manual monitoring services for transportation projects, although the firm had never ventured into automated monitoring campaigns—until now. When the firm’s project manager reviewed the Claymont scope and site conditions, he knew it needed an automated monitoring campaign for safe, efficient, timely and cost-effective execution. Knowing there would be many moving pieces for this high-profile automated monitoring project, Navarro & Wright turned to the Trimble Monitoring team for additional input.

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The AMTS are powered by solar systems to ensure long-term operation and sustainable power generation.

“We recently completed a rail project using conventional monitoring for SEPTA, which included 30 targets,” recalls Greg Gress, survey manager in the King of Prussia office for Navarro & Wright. “Our surveyors worked 10:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m. monitoring shifts, sleeping in their trucks between measurements. Automated monitoring is a vast improvement from this process, not only from a safety standpoint, but also because we can make efficiency and cost improvements with an automated campaign.”

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This evening time photo shows the locations of prisms placed on the rail track used to measure any displacement that could occur from nearby construction activities.

The primary challenges for the project team included power and connectivity at the site, as well as positioning three automated monitoring total stations (AMTS) for ideal coverage of the track. Of course, the Mid-Atlantic weather patterns also factored into this project.

The Navarro & Wright site team, led by Matthew Sannik, utilized the following instruments and tools:

  • Trimble S9 AMTS, to accurately measure distances and angles. The project required three total stations, considering Amtrak requirements included:
  • Measurements in 12-hour increments
  • 0.03 feet tolerance for alarm
  • Coordinate positions of prisms
  • Prisms installed every 15.5 feet on each rail of each track
  • 0.01 feet measurement accuracy required
  • Settop M1, a total station controller that’s a combination of a field computer, device server, router, cellular modem and remote switch, which controls and powers the total station enabling 24/7 data collection and transferring the data in real-time to the office software.
  • Trimble 4D Control Software (T4D), to collect data and post to a web interface that allows Navarro & Wright to view the data remotely at any time.
  • Trimble Monitoring accessories, for total station enclosure, wall mounts and prisms.
  • Solar power system with solar panels to charge numerous batteries that power the system during low-light times.

The instruments and tools made it possible for Sannik and his team to overcome many of the challenges presented by this project, including:

  • Power and connectivity. The site needed a power source for solar and generators to ensure the monitoring instruments could measure continuously without interruption. With those systems up and running, the team used the Settop M1 with cellular SIM cards to connect data and instruments to the Navarro & Wright office for remote visualization, reporting and alarming of the monitoring data.

Monitoring measurement coverage. The monitoring system needed to measure movement data over 1,000 feet for four separate sets of train tracks. To get the proper coverage and redundancy, three total stations were placed along the track for monitoring. The monitoring team mounted total stations up to 40 feet high on the parking garage to achieve proper site lines for all prisms mounted on the track. Coverage of total stations overlapped so that if one measurement was missed, it would get picked up by another.

  • Weather patterns. Mid-Atlantic weather, notorious for cloudy and dark winters, meant solar power would be limited. The team installed generators to use on days where solar exposure was not strong enough to power the system.

A Smooth-Running Project with AMTS on the Job

Although this is the first automated monitoring project for Navarro & Wright, it certainly does not show. All instruments and tools were set up and running smoothly on the Claymont Regional Transportation Center project, which is expected to be completed in fall 2023.

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Taken at night, this photo highlights the position of one of the AMTS relative to the large amount of prisms deployed on the rail track.

“The Trimble Monitoring team has been a huge help in getting the system set up and running,” said Gress. “This is new technology for us and having the Trimble team available to assist us through the process was crucial.”

The automated monitoring campaign for this project offered the following benefits over a manual monitoring process:

  • Efficiency of time and cost. Having targets every 16.5 feet, and three AMTS working together to get the monitoring time down to 60 minutes, saved significantly on stakeholder costs for this project. Human surveyors simply cannot do that amount of monitoring in such a short time span.

In fact, the automated monitoring campaign was roughly half the cost of running a manual monitoring process, considering labor hours. And, the project gained even more efficiencies because Navarro & Wright could utilize those survey crews for other essential work necessary at the project site or other projects.

  • Real-time project assessments. By reacting to instances in real time, the team can prevent issues that would otherwise impede the project.

“I love that I have the ability to troubleshoot the system live,” said Gress. “If there is a concern on a section of track, I can immediately look at the system, take additional measurements, push a button and receive a report with all the data to review and distribute immediately to the stakeholder.”

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A concrete foundation was built to ensure long-term stability for the AMTS setup.

Gress said he’s recently seen an increasing number of project specifications that will require the need for automated monitoring, and he expects Navarro & Wright will utilize AMTS on many future projects.

Rowland Chen is the monitoring sales manager at Trimble. For the past five years, Rowland has been supporting and installing automated monitoring systems around the world. He received a Bachelor of Science in Geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines and is based in Denver, Colo.