Preliminary Engineering for Rail


By Guest Author


AEC Excellence Ramboll Sweco ANS

The paradigm shift requiring purely 3D model based project delivery instead of traditional 2D document based delivery provides the catalyst for this high speed light rail BIM project. The use of a robust data rich model for multidisciplinary planning, engineering and approval processes not only exceeded the stringent owner requirements, it also exposed countless other benefits realized from leveraging information modeling methods. Image courtesy of Ramboll Sweco ANS.

FIRM: Rambøll Sweco ANS

PROJECT: InterCity Sørli-Brumunddal


OWNER: Jernbaneverket/Norwegian Railway Infrastructure Managers (JBV)

Project summary

Norway is known for its natural beauty—fjords, lakes, mountains, and waterfalls. But the very terrain that makes it so famous can pose real challenges when it comes to infrastructure, as Rambøll Sweco ANS discovered when they were hired by the  Norwegian Railway Infrastructure Managers to contribute to a project to lay 75 kilometers of double track between Sørli and Brummunddal. Through the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), the  JBV-led project team was able to overcome terrain challenges—as well as the tall order of getting approval from more than 100 stakeholders.

Negotiating a challenging environment

When it came to challenges on the Dovrebanen section of the new InterCity line, the list was long. In some sections, Rambøll Sweco ANS needed to plan for entirely new track to be built; and still other parts were to have new track intersecting with old track. The rail lines also had to navigate roadways, either by crossing main streets over the railway, or vice versa. However, the terrain posed the biggest challenge. The railway corridors cross several valuable landscapes that have significant environmental and cultural restraints, including an important nature reserve that is protected by the Ramsar Convention—an international treaty for wetlands conservation. BIM made it possible to identify and plan for these areas early. Another special concern was that the Sørli-  Brummunddal line contained rail lines that would be placed close to the lake Mjøsa, necessitating flood plain analysis. BIM enabled simulations of 200-year flood events to see how corridors and station areas would be adversely affected. This simulation also helped to determine station platform elevations in the city of Hamar to limit, or even prevent, railway downtime during floods.

Connecting 120 stakeholders 

The InterCity-project planning also had to take into account the needs of local residents, an important factor in the work of the JBV. From the beginning, Rambøll Sweco ANS had to preserve elements that were of historical significance and to keep environmental impact to a minimum, with the help of local agencies. External communication was a key factor, given the strong interest from media and local community groups, and the need to gain public and agency consent. All of this required a system that could aggregate huge amounts of disparate data and present it in a format that was easy to view and understand. Changes needed to be comprehensible at all stakeholder levels, from the grassroots up to the most sophisticated engineering professionals. And the tight schedule meant that project acceptance and agreement by all stakeholders had to occur in record time. A total of 120 design and approval participants used BIM tools as a central platform to build, design, propose, analyze, share, and comment throughout the entire project.

All told, the new InterCity line will mean shorter travel times, doubled capacity, and more freight traffic, benefitting huge numbers of travelers, as well as the economy. For more than 300 participants on the  Sørli-Brummunddalproject, BIM provided significant benefits.

“Using BIM as a planning tool improved our process on nearly every front,” says Kristin Lysebo, BIM manager for the InterCIty-project). “With BIM, we could reduce the environmental impact of our project, optimize designs across disciplines, and increase democracy and transparency in our planning.”

Video information: Animation as the result of running a variety of simulation processes on the model was the benefit most realized for all participants.  Flyovers, drive thrus, and animations in the model helped stakeholders at any level to easily understand the impact of the project, and encouraged their engagement and participation to give valuable input, and again shorten the acceptance period.  The video clips accompanying this submittal are evidence of simple visual simulation of the movement of trains through different corridor options. Video courtesy of Ramboll Sweco ANS.

Project details

NNRA requirements

The project owner, NNRA required 3D model delivery is described in the following:

  •  “Manual for Digital Planning” which describes requirements, standards and workflows
  • Additional advisement to comply with “Recomended Practise for Modelbased Planning” which includes the overall requirements for all InterCity commuter rail projects
  • Requirements for including RAMS (Reliability, Availability, Maintenance and Safety)
  • Project to be delivered and approved in 9 months

Besides the general project challenges, numerous location specific challenges were overcome along the route. These challenges included:

  • Simulation of train runtimes so “on time” scheduling during peak commute times could be calculated
  • Optimization of new, existing, and abandoned routes for economic and environmental gains
  • Identification and clearance from impact of nature reserve and agricultural protection areas
  • Early identification of significant structural needs, such as bridges, tunnels, and technical buildings
  • Design of three separate corridor alternatives through the city of Hamar
  • Location of new transportation center and station in city of Hamar
  • Honoring the historical and culture sensitivity of the people, neighborhoods, and villages that are impacted
  • Geotechnical borehole analysis
  • Storm water and flood plain analysis for 200 year events

The large 3D model required a powerful software solution that could aggregate huge amounts of disparate data and at the same time present this data and the proposed design alternatives in an easy to view and understand format.  The short timeline required that project acceptance and agreement by all stakeholders had to occur in record time. This meant that community involvement and project understanding was essential. To do this a single dynamically updating model – along with extreme collaboration methods – was used.

In accordance with the NNRA’s mandates for 3D model based delivery, Autodesk InfraWorks 360 was chosen as the platform for the development, optimization, federation, and collaboration of the project. Based on the enormity of the model and the massive amounts of data needed to be both consumed and delivered, it was determined that there were few, if any, other software applications that could serve as a central platform for all disciplines and stakeholders.  A total of 120 design and approval participants used the features in InfraWorks 360 to build, design, propose, analyze, share, and comment throughout  the entire project.

The role of InfraWorks 360

The use of innovative tools and workflows to establish a trustful model based workflow for all stakeholders was key, not only to meet the owner’s demands and requirements, but also to go further and be at the very frontier of merging software, technology and knowledge to improve project efficiency, quality and environmental impacts.

The model became a single source of truth for the understanding and communicating of the design and intent of the project.  All connected processes for design, analysis, collaboration, and visualization for all participants and stakeholders, both internally and public, could easily access and use the model. A summary of the benefits are listed below:

  • Clear understanding of the design for all participants and stakeholders, both internally and public
  • Ability to reveal design issues and areas of critical engineering at an early stage of planning
  • Early identification of potential project blocking challenges
  • Better multidisciplinary coordination in both early and detailed phases
  • Improved basis for decisions in all phases
  • Ability to visualize and quickly change between multiple design alternatives
  • Acceleration of the design acceptance and community approval process
  • Optimized or environmental impact and cost reduction
  • Ability to compile enormous amounts of data into one single model

Watch the video below of the project modeling and the planning process with InfraWorks 360.

Video information: This project covers a vast area and huge amounts of disparate data that influence the project had to be considered.  The model not only had to be correctly geo-located, but it also had to accurately consume and utilize many types of graphic, attribute, and tabular data that was used for analysis. The use of InfraWorks 360 to compose the model, incorporate the data sources, and perform much of the required analysis was key to the overall project success. Few, if any, other applications could perform these same functions. Video courtesy of Ramboll Sweco ANS.

Visual analysis for all participants

The ability to see all project systems from any viewpoint and angle in an almost realistic view truly shortened the approval process. Most notably the visualization aided in the fast determination of station placements within the trackway corridors. In-depth integrated engineering analysis was accomplished using the unique round-trip link between InfraWorks 360 and Autodesk Civil 3D. This enabled the following analyses:

  • Detailed topographic analysis
  • 200 year storm water runoff analysis
  • Flood plain analysis
  • Geotechnical borehole analysis and sub surface modeling
  • Preliminary structural bridge design
  • Culvert layout
  • Coverage and buffer area analysis
  • Earthworks optimization
  • Easement and cadastral limits
  • Trackway grades, cants, and curve radii
  • Neighborhood and individual building and structure shape and massing
  • Transforming and including massive amounts of GIS data formats

Simulation for entire project model

Simulation studies for this project included the following:

  • 200 year flood simulation
  • Commuter capacity and time table scheduling
  • Flyovers and drive thru animations
  • Noise and sound modeling
  • Past, present, and future land use
  • Construction site impact

Video Information: Corridor visualization. Video courtesy of Ramboll Sweco ANS.

Project results

Benefits of model-based workflows

The ability to inter-operate the 3D model with engineering analysis software resulted in a more efficient and rapid design to approval process.

  • Common understanding of the design and connected processes for all participants and stakeholders, both internally and public
  • Good presentations of unique challenges to governmental agencies during the planning process.
  • Design feed to drive meeting agenda
  • IW model used continuously for project reviews every 14 days
  • The NNRA has direct model access, and they used it to share information with municipalities – single source of design intent
  • NNRA pushing to eliminate traditional documents and work from model based projects/information
  • NNRA using the model for the public approval process

Time/Money savings

Integrated Concurrent Engineering (ICE) was implemented as a tool to speed up processes for design, planning, decisions and approval. This, along with the model based workflows, has enabled us to simultaneously design and develop the model during each ICE-session. The effects by using these methods is difficult to measure, but is estimated to save up to 30 percent in calendar time compared to a traditional design process.

  • The use of model based workflows has reduced the need for traditional 2D-drawings. Compared to the production of traditional 2D drawings, this is estimated to a time saving of up to 20 percent.
  • The use of Integrated Concurrent Engineering (ICE) to shorten the time used for planning and decisions during the project
  • Model based workflows reduce the need for traditional 2D-drawings
  • Money estimates not available at this time, but the savings will come from the following:
    • Use of ICE for selected issues
    • Reducing need for 2D drawings
    • Reducing ineffective use of mail by ICE meetings and communication through design feed
    • Reducing the total time for planning overall by using model based workflows and ICE
    • Less change orders during the building period due to the model based planning methods
    • Better quality in the finished design by using model based workflows compared to traditional 2D paper design

Project performance and delivery

Schedule and cost performance has been highly  improved by maintaining the communication inside the model and using it as a tool for approval.  With a high multidisciplinary focus, the quality of the project delivery has been improved by using InfraWorks and ICE-methods.


Autodesk software 

  • InfraWorks 360 – visualization and communication tool
  • AutoCAD Civil 3D – detailed design and analysis
  • AutoCAD
  • Revit
  • Autodesk 3ds MAX – used with InfraWorks 360 models to support visualization


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