Tag Archives: Rail

Engineering Trek 2012

Twin Cities, MN

I had a few spare weeks recently, and decided to go on a cross-country trek to visit some friends. I also took the opportunity to take in some civil engineering landmarks along the way. First stop was Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. Had a great time visiting my college buddy Garrett, now a grad student at U of M. We passed by the Civil Engineering building on campus, a building residing almost completely underground. For it’s unique design it was awarded with the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award by ASCE in 1983.

I visited the new 1-35W Mississippi River Bridge, the replacement bridge on the site of the disastrous 2007 bridge collapse. Improper design as well as large loads from construction equipment and extra layers of pavement caused the original bridge to collapse. Nearby, I walked across the Stone Arch Bridge of Minneapolis, overlooking the only waterfall on the Mississippi river. Built in 1883 and named a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, the bridge served as a railway bridge but now serves as a pedestrian and bicycle path across the Mississippi. In the area are many parks that serve the historic district and showcase the history of the water-powered mills that put the Twin Cities on the map.

It’s always exciting to see public transportation improvement projects, and it was neat to see the construction of new light rail stations by the local Metro Transit in St. Paul. We also visited the Town Hall Brewery and attended the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival 2012.


Next stop was Colorado. Not too many civil engineering landmarks on this leg of the trip. Instead, I had the wonderful opportunity to have some family in the area expose me to some really neat experiences. I went ice-fishing, fed buffalo, visited Odell Brewing, and sat in on a volunteer-firefighting training seminar. For those most interested in the sciences, here’s a nerdy exposition: you can calculate the thickness of clear ice h (inches) that can withstand failure from a load of p (tons) with the following formula: h = 4√p

There’s all sorts of other factors you can throw in for safety, and if you plan on driving out on the ice, you should probably give these a good read:

Some more neat information:

Los Angeles, CA

My last stop was LA, visiting another NC State friend and former roommate, Joe. Much warmer than the previous stops, I enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather of Pasadena. I visited Venice Beach, the infamous Hollywood sign, Griffith Park Observatory, El Pueblo, Hollywood Boulevard, La Brea Tarpits, IO West Improv Club, In-N-Out Burger, and Point Fermin Lighthouse.

Of course, my visit to the locale wouldn’t do my “engineering” trek justice if I didn’t review local transportation resources. I rode both the Metro Bus and the Metro Rail, visited Union Station, and found it all to be exceptional for my use as a tourist. Joe commutes to and from work daily via Metro Rail and bicycle (which he can bring on the train) and finds them more than adequate. I was impressed with the timeliness, cleanliness, and usefulness. I only wish we had this kind of rail in Raleigh.

I also noticed the use of ramp meters both here and in Twin Cities. These are not a congestion tool we currently use in North Carolina, so I sent a quick email to Dr. Hummer, professor at NC State, with some questions on use cases and statistics. He responded rather quickly and gave me great information on the topic. They can keep the mainline traffic moving better than Level of Service “F”, preventing a 100-300 vehicles per hour per lane drop in capacity. They break up “platoons” of cars, and can decrease travel time up to 10%. In North Carolina, it’s been easier to add conventional capacity in the past, but NCDOT may need to look at ramp meters more closely for use on I-77 in Charlotte and areas around RTP.

All in all, the trip was very rewarding, and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to do a similar trip in the future. Special thanks to family and friends for taking time to spend with me and making my trip possible!

Bonus Footage

Railroad Grade-Crossing Hazards

Two weeks ago, an unfortunate collision occurred at a railroad grade crossing in Maine. Reuters reports that a dump truck was hit by an Amtrak train and the driver was fatally wounded. Four passengers aboard the train were injured as well. Terrible. At-grade railroad crossings are some of the most dangerous intersections we have on our road system and they should be avoided whenever possible. Fortunately, many public agencies are fully aware of hazards associated with them and are taking steps to fix them. Here is a list of policies in the United States associated with at-grade crossings, published by the Federal Highway Administration. If you live in North Carolina, rest assured that NCDOT can and will use its power to remove, abandon, close, or regulate all railroad grade crossings. That is, if politicians don’t try to stop the sensibilities of the engineers there.

You might also be interested to know that railroad companies are also very aware of these hazards. CSX, for example, is “firmly opposed” to at-grade crossings and supports policies in place by the USDOT and state agencies to limit their use. You can read more about their leadership in this area on their website.

It’s a shame to see collisions on train tracks. Look both ways when you have to cross tracks and don’t, under any circumstances, try to “beat” the train or drive around protective barriers. It’s not worth it.

Full story at Gizmodo.