When new pipelines are constructed, they often cross existing major infrastructure, such as railways. To reduce potential service disruption, it is a common practice to complete these crossings using trenchless technologies. Without proper methods and oversight in planning and construction, there may be serious safety and financial implications to the operators of the railways and the public due to unacceptable settlement or heave. If movement tolerances are exceeded, the schedule and financial loss to the railway operators could be in the millions of dollars per day.

Recent construction of a new pipeline across the Canadian prairies implemented ground movement monitoring plans at 19 trenchless railway crossings in order to reduce the potential for impact to the track and railway operations. The specifics of the plan varied for each site and were based on the expected ground conditions, as well as permit requirements from the various railway operators, but typically included ground movement monitoring surveys, observation of the cuttings, recommendations for a soil plug at the leading edge of the bore casing, and frequent communication with both the railway operators and the contractors. For all crossings, the expected soil and groundwater conditions were obtained from pre-construction boreholes and confirmed during excavation of the bore bays. Based on the expected ground conditions, appropriate soil plug lengths, if required, were recommended. In general, fine-grained clay/silt-dominated soils needed minimal to no soil plug in order to minimize the potential for ground heave, while coarser-grained sand-dominated soils needed a longer soil plug in order to reduce the potential for “flowing soil” which would cause over excavation along the bore path. Prior to boring, surface monitoring points were established along the tracks to monitor for changes in the ground surface elevation. Additional subsurface points were installed for crossings where the potential for over excavation was higher. These monitoring points were surveyed before, throughout, and following completion of construction, and the frequency of the surveys was increased when the movement was nearing or exceeding specified tolerances. The effort to monitor and reduce the potential for ground movement was a coordinated effort between the geotechnical engineers, railway operators, and construction contractors.

The purpose of this paper is to present the lessons learned from the 19 trenchless railway crossings, including the challenges and successes. Recommendations for ground movement monitoring are also provided to help guide railway operators, design and geotechnical engineers, and contractors during the construction of future trenchless pipeline crossings of railway infrastructure.

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