Sustainable rail engineering

Posted: 15 September 2006 | | No comments yet

Today’s relentless pace of change is driving an ever growing demand for fast, safe and reliable travel. But resources are shrinking. Mike Jenkins, PB’s Director of Rail, explains why the world is turning to rail as the key element in an integrated transport solution.

Today’s relentless pace of change is driving an ever growing demand for fast, safe and reliable travel. But resources are shrinking. Mike Jenkins, PB’s Director of Rail, explains why the world is turning to rail as the key element in an integrated transport solution.

Today’s relentless pace of change is driving an ever growing demand for fast, safe and reliable travel. But resources are shrinking. Mike Jenkins, PB’s Director of Rail, explains why the world is turning to rail as the key element in an integrated transport solution.

As Chief Engineer of the original New York City subway, PB founder William Barclay Parsons helped launch the city’s subway system more than a century ago. Determined to bring to New York the best of subway design, General Parsons toured the European capitals in which rapid transit was either a reality or a proposal, returning with the belief in the desirability of electric traction rather than steam, a popular option at the time. He provided the city with the beginning of a transit system around which it could grow and thrive.

One hundred years later, PB continues to advance his vision, bringing together land use planning and urban development skills, and linking them with the company’s core business of transportation engineering to make communities better places to live, work and play.

“Engineering requires two abilities – first, the technical skill and second, the mind and the knowledge to conceive that which is useful and will be for the convenience of mankind in the long run… it is not [only] the design that governs [a project] but its adaptability to the economics and social needs of the time.” William Barclay Parsons, founder: Parsons Brinckerhoff

Certainly, rail and transit meets the economic and social needs of our time by providing people with affordable, efficient transportation while reducing the environmental impacts associated with highways and air travel. Developing sustainable rail solutions is central to creating an integrated rail industry of the future, and the key to achieving this is ‘global reach and local knowledge’. An industry leader, PB is able to call on the multi-disciplinary expertise of over 9,700 PB professionals around the globe in 150 offices who have been intimately involved with many of the world’s great transit and rail systems, including Dublin’s Luas in Ireland, the UK’s Edinburgh Tram and East London Line, Atlanta’s MARTA, San Francisco’s BART, the Taiwan High Speed Rail and Turkey’s Marmaray Bosphorus Crossing to name a few. It’s about giving clients the confidence of working with an in-house project team whose profile fits the brief precisely, leading to greater efficiency, better value and consistent quality.

Delivering the second generation

Automobile congestion still frustrates travellers in many metro areas. But in a growing number of communities, transit riders can step aboard a new generation of light rail vehicles and smoothly cruise to their destinations without a worry about traffic or parking. Light rail transit, or LRT, is a descendent of the streetcar and today it is a cost-effective choice for communities that cannot support heavy rail but clearly need an alternative to the car.

Today’s light rail vehicles are versatile; they operate on city streets, in separate rights of way, through tunnels and in active or abandoned railroad corridors. Floors are low for easy boarding and traction power arrives via overhead electric catenary lines. Yet urban design is also essential, and PB designs LRT facilities that promote denser, more varied land use near stations, a practice known as transit- oriented development.

PB has participated in every LRT project in the UK and Ireland. One of these, Dublin’s LUAS trams, reduces the street congestion and includes ‘stops’ within walking distance of many popular destinations.

Edinburgh Tram

Previously, trams in Scotland’s capital city ranged from a horse-drawn system in 1871 to cable trams in 1899, followed by electric trams in 1919 that ceased service in 1956. The new 29-kilometre (18-mile) light rail system, scheduled to open in 2010, will enable new development and continued growth in a sustainable way and provide high-quality, high-capacity, frequent, reliable and fast public transport that has environmental benefits over more traditional transport modes.

Under a six-year contract with tie (transport initiatives edinburgh limited), a private company owned and established by the City of Edinburgh Council to deliver strategic transport projects, PB is providing comprehensive systems design services.

“Our main challenge is designing the tram network to fit the unique character of Edinburgh,” says David Hutchison, PB’s Project Director. “Our goal is to ensure that we satisfy all stakeholders by providing an essential transport solution while enhancing Edinburgh’s cityscape.”

One of the key challenges for the systems design services team is to produce a design that is in keeping with Edinburgh’s status as a World Heritage Site. Added to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s List of World Heritage Sites in December 1995, Edinburgh is known for its highly contrasting historic areas—the medieval Old Town and the geometrically neo-classical New Town.

Being built in phase’s, phase 1a of the new tram system will run from Edinburgh Airport to Ocean Terminal at Leith connecting Leith, the main shopping district of Princes Street, a key transport interchange at Haymarket along with the business centre at Edinburgh Park and the Airport. Phase 1b connects phase 1a at Haymarket with the waterfront area.

PB will deliver fully detailed design and specifications for overall system functionality, technical requirements for system components and the infrastructure to support the system. The firm is evaluating the integration of the tram with other transportation modes and developing a detailed traffic management plan to minimise disruption during the construction phase, scheduled to begin in 2007. Enhancing Edinburgh’s public realm while working on a World Heritage Site is not new to PB. The firm has been serving as engineering designer on the Edinburgh Capital Streets project. This urban streetscape renewals project interfaces closely with the tram project in one of the most sensitive areas in the city centre.

Upgrading systems

East London Railway

The c£1.0 billion project, being built by Transport for London (TfL), will extend and upgrade the existing (London Underground Limited) East London Line, converting it into a new metro-style train service. Since May 2005, PB has served as programme manager for the extension that will run north to Highbury & Islington and south to West Croydon as part of the Phase 1 Extension. Phase 2, that is currently unfunded, will extend the line west to Clapham Junction.

“The extension is a very high-level, critical project. It was a key part of London’s 2012 Olympic bid, and embodies the principles of urban regeneration and sustainability,” says PB’s Programme Manager Ashok Kothari. “It’s also the cornerstone of TfL’s five-year investment programme.”

PB has focused, since the beginning of the contract, on ways to ensure the 2010 completion date is met – with room to spare. To this end, Ashok is transferring the integrated management style that he implemented on San Francisco’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Extensions Programme, where he served as programme manager for 15 years.

In upgrading 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) of the existing line, PB is working with the client TfL and London Underground, which is the infrastructure controller and operator for this line, to clearly define the scope of work, identify which assets, from bridges to track, need improvement and to what extent. While not providing direct access to Olympic venues, the extended East London Line will complement the 10 rail lines, including the new high-speed Channel Tunnel line, serving the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London. During the Games, trains will run every 15 seconds, carrying up to 320,000 passengers per hour.

But long after the athletes have gone home, London, and especially East London, will continue to reap the benefits of the new East London Line extension. Not only will it reduce congestion on the city’s existing rail network – particularly on trips to London Bridge, and to Waterloo, Victoria and Thameslink stations – it will enhance mobility in east London, an area currently underserved by transit.

More than 35 million passengers a year are expected to travel on Phase 1 – and 50 million annually with the operation of Phase 2.

High-speed rail is coming

PB has worked on the Taiwan High-Speed Rail (HSR) since 1997, assisting the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation in obtaining the concession to build a line to accommodate growing traffic between Taipei, the capital in the north, and Kasohsiung, a key port in the south.

HSR has changed intercity travel elsewhere. Bullet trains have sped along in Japan for more than three decades. Other countries with well-developed HSR systems include France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, China and the UK. HSR expert, PB’s Tony Daniels, points out: “Every major industrial nation has or is building high-speed rail connections. With fuel prices increasing and availability of fossil fuel decreasing, HSR with its own right-of-way is the most cost-effective, safest way to move people, especially between 650 to 950 kilometres.” High-speed rail is coming and benefits include having little or no delay due to weather, as well as a ‘beautiful ride’.

Using tunnel vision

A team of rail and tunnel specialists from Avrasyaconsult, a Joint Venture of which PB is an associated partner, got the job of dredging a trench in 50m of water across one of the world’s busiest seaways to create Istanbul’s first rail link between Europe and Asia, lending expertise to the Marmaray Bosphorus Immersed Tube Tunnel Crossing Project.

A long-awaited rail crossing beneath the 1.8km Bosphorus strait that has challenged engineers with its unique construction difficulties for many years, it’s the third Europe-Asia crossing in the heavily congested metropolis of Istanbul (the other two are bridges) and will cost about US$3.0Bn in total. The project is being jointly financed by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and The European Investment Bank (EIB). The EIB is initially backing the project to the tune of €200m, that’s the first tranche of a larger facility worth up to €650m that will be phased over the project’s construction. EIB vice- president Wolfgang Roth commented: “The Bosphorus tunnel is of crucial importance for the integration of Turkey with the European Union and the development of the EU’s transport network. It’s not just the largest and most important infrastructure project to be undertaken so far in Turkey, it will also be a stimulus to the Turkish and European economies”.

The immersed tube tunnel will be constructed over the next couple of years, with each tunnel length measuring about 130m in length and 16m in width. A significant milestone was achieved on 8 June 2006 when the Contractor (Taisei, Gama and Nurol JV) floated the first long tube out of the dry dock to a jetty, where it will be completed and sunk into the dredged trench. The tubes will then be completely buried and covered with earthen fill-without affecting the bathymetry of the seabed.

As PB’s project manager Daniel Horgan says: “This project is difficult, extremely challenging and pushes the limits of technology; however, the great improvements that it will bring to Turks is one of the project’s unifying and driving forces.”
As might be expected, the two-level flow system in the Bosphorus provides a diverse marine habitat and supports a wide variety of marine life. Precautions will be taken to mitigate the environmental impact during the dredging and disposal operations and essentially keep the water clean. Balancing any short-term adverse effects are the following benefits:

  • Vehicle Pollution slashed – along with the road congestion in metropolitan Istanbul
  • Sustainable development – mass transportation facilities such as this tunnel are considered as such, particularly in highly developed urban areas. Here, sustainable features include the use of prefabricated tunnel elements and the CDF for contaminated dredged materials
  • No Permanent Impacts – the Bosphorus’ rich aquatic habitat won’t be affected, neither will currents nor salinity
  • No Negative Visual Impacts – the spectacular views over the Bosphorus and Istanbul’s historic skyline will be preserved.

More than engineering

Sustainable rail development

A more careful balancing of social, environmental and economic concerns is a principal component of PB’s corporate fabric. And part of the weave is having an environmental management system in place to improve performance while meeting the increasing need for sustainable infrastructure.

With ISO 14001 certification, environmentally sound transportation systems are a hallmark of Parsons Brinckerhoff. Involvement in rail projects on every continent has earned PB a reputation for responsible, thoughtful approaches to engineering, detailed design and programme management, recognised in 2005 by winning the New Civil Engineer and ACE (Association for Consultancy and Engineering) award in the international firm category.

Rail projects demand innovative engineering and construction techniques, but these should no longer be isolated or exceptional: on the contrary, progressive practices are becoming commonplace to meet ever more stringent environmental and regularity criteria. As civil engineers, we’ve chosen a profession that can both serve the public good and enhance the quality of life – sustainable design provides a means to accomplish that mission.

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