How Important is Surveying in Transportation Engineering?

One key to growing the national economy is by facilitating or speeding up movement of goods, services and people. As a result, efficient and reliable transportation is crucial to the current condition and growth of an economy.

For instance, huge financial losses could result from railway and train delays. These could affect several trips relating to business, career and leisure. The exchange of money, goods and services would also be affected because of the delays. Aside from delays, insufficient capacity means inconvenience and lost opportunities. Failure to meet rising demand also means lost income for different industries and sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and government functions.

Let’s discuss an opposite scenario. Imagine the positive ripple effects of the properly planned Sydney Metro. Its current operation and future expansion would make travels faster and certain areas to be more accessible. Infrastructure upgrades would increase the capacity (e.g. from about 120 an hour today to up to 200 services beyond 2024) and thereby meet rising demand. In other words, the Sydney Metro is crucial to facilitating and speeding up movement of goods, services and people from point A to point B. And this is only possible if the whole Sydney rail network is planned according to the demand of the people, economic priorities, unique features of particular sites and the availability of accurate data.

Role of surveyors in transportation engineering

That’s why surveyors have a crucial role in acquiring accurate data that are important in planning transportation infrastructure. In fact, surveyors are getting bigger roles in planning the project from start to finish. Even when deciding whether a project or proposal should be pursued, surveyors can bring their expertise for better decision-making and planning.

For example, each project site has a unique mix of natural and man-made features. Existing roads, trees, hills, rivers, landmarks, buildings and other structures could make construction of a new railway much more complex. The identities and locations of these structures should be accurately determined and visualised. It’s like getting the big picture first before focusing on the minute details. This information should be captured accurately and promptly so engineers and project managers can proceed with the planning.

How does the information assist with the planning? For instance, construction of a new railway line might be too costly if engineers follow a certain route. Perhaps that proposed route will take a lot of earthworks and ecological damages. As a result, alternate routes would be recommended that reduce costs and environmental effects.

On the other hand, the densities and locations of residential and commercial areas might also be accounted for before proposing a new route (this also applies to roads and bridges). Keep in mind that one of the main goals is to make priority areas more accessible. Perhaps the main objective is to make a tourist site easier to go to or to make a commercial area more accessible to employees and other commuters.

This is the case in the Sydney Metro West project (the city’s next underground metro railway) wherein it will connect the Parramatta and Sydney central business districts. This will make the commercial areas more accessible to one another. In addition, communities will be linked and new communities will also be established. This will unlock new opportunities especially in housing and employment (e.g. estimated of over 300,000 jobs will be created by 2036 in the corridor between Greater Parramatta and central Sydney).

Projects of this scale are rarely straightforward. Virtually there are infinite ways of connecting Parramatta and the Sydney central business districts. The lives of engineers and project managers would be a lot easier if the routes would be straight from point A to B.

However, people directly involved with the project need to consider several tradeoffs and constraints. Both natural and man-made features might present constraints to the project. When it comes to tradeoffs, project managers might prioritise the long-term economic benefits instead of the upfront costs of new rail line construction. The project might be more costly upfront (higher volume earthworks) due to long-term economic priorities (e.g. lower operating costs and greater accessibility of commercial centres).

Surveyors have a key role in this particular facet of the project. Their expertise will allow project managers and engineers to better analyse the tradeoffs and constraints. For instance, topographic or detail surveying will instantly provide an overview of the site. This will show natural and man-made features of the project site and thereby make route proposals much faster and more accurate. This can be accomplished by ground-based and/or aerial surveying methods (aerial methods are often used in surveying large sites).

Surveying is now more about setting boundaries

For much of human history, surveying (as we know it today) had been focused on determining and setting boundaries either for construction or taxation purposes. But now in modern times surveying has a key role in many facets of construction planning.

Surveyors now have more things to bring to the table because of the rising complexity of construction projects especially in transportation infrastructure. Modern projects now require kilometres of roads, bridges and railway lines. With that scale, more obstacles and challenges also arise. This then requires a more holistic approach to the project (getting both the big picture and minute details).

As mentioned earlier, the big picture involves the identities and locations of both the natural and man-made features on the project site (the topographical map of the site). On the other hand, the minute details might relate to gradients and curves. This could also include subsurface infrastructure and the opening up of new possibilities (e.g. development of new industries as a result of the new road or railway line). Surveyors might also pay special attention to the land availability, location and cost (e.g. easements, proximity to sanitary landfills).

As a result, surveying is now beyond the scope of just determining and setting boundaries. This traditional notion of surveying is still crucial for legal, economic and environmental purposes. But the scope has now become wider and deeper. This is especially the case in huge transportation engineering projects such as the construction or expansion of a railway network. There are several variables at play including uncertainty and ecological concerns. To successfully address these variables, surveyors use their expertise to bring the desired outcomes while still optimising the use of available resources (land, money, earthwork, inherent ecological features of the site).

Surveying in transportation engineering

The outcomes of transportation infrastructure are said to be more permanent than the manufacturing of chemicals and physical goods. Processes and equipment can still be modified or easily moved. In contrast, once a railway line is built it can be very costly to modify it. Each detail and millimetre of the project truly matters. A few millimetres error might mean millions of dollars of additional expenses, not to mention the permanent changes brought to the surrounding natural and man-made features of the project site.

Whether it’s for new construction, upgrade, expansion or even maintenance of the transportation infrastructure, surveyors have huge roles in the project from start to finish. One of their key responsibilities is in providing a coordinated spatial referencing system for the entire lifetime of the project. This includes survey works for engineering design, pre-construction, construction setting out and creation of As-built reports for quality assurance and future maintenance.

Aside from performing the required measurements, surveyors will also acquire a comprehensive understanding of what the project really involves. What’s the main purpose and what are the main priorities? Which survey requirements should be emphasised? Due to the uniqueness of each project site, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t be sufficient especially in huge scale projects. With those unique requirements and features, surveyors are then tasked to create customised approaches in handling each site.

That is what we do here at Geosurv. We thoroughly study each client’s requirements and project before we do the actual surveying. Our client-focused approach leads to optimised outcomes for the developers and other stakeholders. A one-size-fits-all approach rarely leads to optimised results. But with our client-focused approach and customised solutions, we can deliver the required information that best aligns with your project.

Contact us today and send us an online enquiry. You can provide the description of services required and you can also request a quote. Our experienced team will then study your requirements and promptly proceed with the surveying.

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