Lightening the Load for Union Pacific Railroad

Lightening the Load for Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific RailRoad Western USA
Since 1995, CDM Smith has delivered environmental services that help the railroad maintain operations, comply with regulations and keep workers safe.

With 8,500 locomotive cars carrying critical goods each day to communities along more than 32,000 miles of track, Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) delivers on its motto: “Building America.” Connecting 23 states and spanning across two-thirds of the nation, UPRR’s railroad network is America’s largest and serves a variety of customers. Maintaining a such a large network of tracks through varied terrain and across regional authorities has complex­i­ties and challenges. Since its inception in 1862, UPRR has thrived by maintaining a strong vision to uphold the railroad’s safety, envi­ron­men­tal stewardship, and reliability against phenomena such as floods, blizzards and landslides. 

CDM Smith is proud to have partnered with UPRR since 1995, helping the railroad maintain operations while also protecting the environment, complying with all regulations and keeping workers safe. Our team helped UPRR build a national program to effectively respond to natural disasters and track outages and other envi­ron­men­tal issues. Our integrated approach combines permitting, design and construc­tion to promptly restore rail service while complying with all regulatory demands. Today, our technically diverse staff are at the ready to assist UPRR with envi­ron­men­tal emergencies ranging from a small derailment in a Nebraska cornfield to drainage water contamination issues at the Moffat Tunnel. 

Working on a variety of projects, CDM Smith has teamed with UPRR to deliver services that have helped restore or keep rail lines operational through a variety of envi­ron­men­tal challenges, as described below.

Pulling Flooded Rails out of the Water in Nevada
Record high river flows in early 2005 sparked widespread flooding in Southeast Nevada as persistent, heavy rains caused a state of emergency. UPRR’s railroad tracks were heavily impacted by the flood’s force. Approx­i­mately 85 miles of track and more than 200 sites were in need of immediate repair. CDM Smith provided engineering design, permitting and construc­tion management support to the recovery effort. Our team advocated for UPRR with regulatory agencies and coordinated resolution with the agencies. By carefully coor­di­nat­ing all engineering and permitting efforts, CDM Smith was able to help UPRR restore key infra­struc­ture while also maintaining envi­ron­men­tal compliance.

Filtering Fine Partic­u­lates in Colorado
Cutting through the Continental Divide and connecting Denver with western Colorado, the 6-mile-long Moffat Tunnel lies adjacent to the popular Winter Park resort and has been facilitated train traffic for a century. Today, it is a critical passageway for UPRR freight rail cars and Amtrak passengers. Recognizing that water draining from both sides of the tunnel was picking up naturally occurring uranium from the mountain, as well as other particles from ballast under the train tracks, UPRR sought a smart water treatment solution. Its goal was to both improve effluent quality and to protect the nearby Fraser River.

In coordination with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, UPRR hired CDM Smith to produce a top-quality water treatment system to meet existing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit require­ments. While navigating challenging project conditions, including a 9,000-foot elevated project site with limited access roads and no onsite utilities, CDM Smith tapped into its complex fractured rock, water treatment engineering and construc­tion expertise to design and construct a new water treatment system at the west end of the Moffat Tunnel. The collab­o­ra­tive design-build approach helped UPRR to expedite project delivery and maintain its commitment to envi­ron­men­tal stewardship while minimizing impacts to rail operations.

Project Details

Digging Out in Oregon
2008 saw one of the worst natural disasters in the railroad industry in modern times. The Frazier Mudslide buried the Interstate 5 corridor in Oakridge, Oregon, interrupting the daily routines of 15 daily UPRR freight trains and Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. CDM Smith answered the call to assess the situation with permitting, stormwater engineering and general design services and immediately prepared the necessary permits for UPRR to begin repair work. For more than three months, 200 workers and 150 pieces of equipment worked to dig the track out from under the earth before the route could be reopened and service reinstated. CDM Smith’s speedy response time enabled UPRR to expedite the rehabilitation of the tracks and resume normal operations.

Stopping Sliding Slopes in California’s Plumas County
Heavy rains in California’s Plumas County provoked earth, rock and debris out of its rightful resting place, triggering a landslide alongside UPRR’s railroad tracks. Without delay, CDM Smith began collecting data to produce a solution to restore service quickly and created design and construction plans for a retaining wall. Providing geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, civil design, survey and environmental permitting services, CDM Smith helped repair the affected area in an efficient manner by re-establishing proper roadbed width and fully restoring rail service. Quick action and early involvement of permitting specialists eliminated the need to seek permits, significantly accelerating the reparation process and restoring service in a timely manner. CDM Smith’s broad range of capabilities eliminated the need for multiple consultants, accelerating the project’s schedule considerably.

Dodging Falling Rocks in Idaho
A looming near-vertical, 100-foot tall rock face in Northern Idaho’s Boundary County caused safety concerns to the tracks below. This chronic rock fall site, along with similar areas of concern, called for an innovative solution to manage the steep slope safely. CDM Smith alleviated the hazard of falling rocks by developing plans to scale the rock face and lay back the slope to a more reasonable, stable angle to provide long-term stability. The construction of a cantilevered soldier pile retaining wall delivered additional safety measures to the area directly below the vertical rock face. Other high-risk locations were identified and scaled appropriately, helping keep the need for future work to a minimum.

CDM Smith stands ready to support UPRR with whatever environmental challenge nature serves up next. By applying a proven, integrated approach to natural disasters and unforeseen environmental circumstances, our team supports URPP with fast, safe and compliant solutions that enable them to deliver on their mission and meet their client expectations.

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