Geospatial information is taking new roles in building and utilising transportation systems. It is being used to improve efficiency in the development, operation and use of transportation infrastructure.
Geospatial information has long played a key role in transportation. Historically, the applications for spatial data consisted of mapping and surveying for design and construction of transportation infrastructure such as roads and highways, rail lines, airports and port facilities. By leveraging advances in technologies for positioning and information management, traditional geospatial applications have expanded to include corridor planning and optimisation as well as construction inspection and quality control.
Today, transportation operators are leveraging communications technologies to make wider use of geospatial information. Spatial data is combined with a variety of information about fixed and mobile assets and shared via in-house and Cloud-based applications. Decisions and activities on maintenance, repair and life cycle management can be made using accurate, up-to-date information. And a new set of deliverables — asset performance — can provide the basis for improving an organisation’s financial and operational health.
Data for transportation infrastructure
Many of the traditional functions of geospatial information are centered around transportation infrastructure. Historically, surveys for roads and railways were often the first steps in a region’s economic development. That pioneering function continues, but the way it is done has experienced radical changes. For example, aerial photography has been extended to include airborne digital mapping systems that can combine digital photographs with LiDAR. Airborne sensors, which use precise GNSS and inertial measurement units to reduce the need for ground control, have become smaller and easier to operate. They can be installed in smaller aircraft, including fixed- and rotary-wing machines, enabling collection of dense, high-resolution images and LiDAR datasets. This information is used by desktop software for image processing and modelling.
With airborne data in hand, planners can assess potential routes for new corridors. It is a complex process that must blend physical issues of topography and environmental constraints with socioeconomic aspects including land ownership, historic preservation and urban constraints. By using alignment planning solutions, planners can generate alternative alignments and reduce the project down to a handful of options for review and analysis. The optimised corridor provides the best balance of technical and social issues as well as controlling costs for construction, operation and maintenance.
As transportation infrastructure moves into construction phase, geospatial technology takes a more active role. Advances in site positioning and data management have transformed engineering and construction as well sites. Aerial maps and pre-construction surveys are delivered directly to designers in digital format. Building plans and CAD files can be loaded into field computers for layout on site, where construction surveyors can conduct fieldwork using state-of-the-art instruments.
One of the most significant transformations has been in the earthworks and grading phase of construction. Digital designs created in the office can be used for accurate estimation. The designs can then be sent wirelessly to machines and surveyors in the field. On site, 2D and 3D grade control systems can provide important productivity gains. For example, automated machine control systems for earthwork and grading provide significant savings in time and fuel consumption. Similarly, machine control for excavation of pipeline trenches reduces fuel consumption and virtually eliminates costly over-excavation.
Contractors can track the progress of earthworks in near-real-time using fleet, asset and site productivity software. The ability to view updated surface models based on machine activity gives contractors the ability to make informed decisions about production efficiency. Scheduled reporting of information such as volume and quality assurance data can provide easier and more accurate billing, inspections and progress reports.
As work moves from rough earthwork to final grading and alignment, GNSS and total stations produce precise data for positioning and quality control. Automated machine control provides millimetre precision for concrete and asphalt paving machines. In railway construction, track-mounted systems support precise track placement, including slab track and high-speed railways. Throughout the construction processes, geospatial solutions can monitor buildings and landforms to detect motion or subsidence related to excavations and tunnelling.
In addition to heavy civil construction, geospatial technologies have moved into building construction. Design- build systems utilise building information management (BIM) and modern construction techniques for stations, maintenance facilities and support buildings. Tradesmen can use geospatial technology such as robotic total stations to ensure accurate layout and installation. The same systems can capture as-installed information for payment, quality control and facilities management applications.
Regardless of the stage or type of construction, contractors are turning to cloud-based information management systems. Taking advantage of an array of wireless communications technologies, contractors can create connected project sites that enable information to flow freely among project stakeholders. By using the cloud for information management and exchange, contractors can ensure that accurate, timely information is available for functions such as planning, layout and grading, quality control and inspections.
Managing the infrastructure life cycle
Faced with long life cycles, aging infrastructure and limited funding, transportation agencies must make complex decisions on repair, upgrades or replacement of their facilities and assets. Activities surrounding routine inspection and maintenance use geospatial systems to identify and document areas where repairs are needed. By using an array of geospatial information, planners can set priorities for repair, remodelling and replacement.
For example, bridge inspectors must follow established protocols to collect information that provide a consistent picture of a structure over time. Digital forms running on rugged field computers help gather accurate information, which can be quickly checked and recorded into maintenance and planning databases. Visual information is important for inspections as well. Imaging systems can capture high-resolution panoramic images that can be georeferenced using GNSS or optical methods. Office software uses the images and photogrammetric processes to produce the individual points, objects and dimensions needed for detailed analyses. For inspection or cataloguing of larger areas, geospatial professionals can use mobile mapping systems to gather images and LiDAR data to produce 3D information along transportation corridors.
The rapid growth of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) adds another dimension to aerial data for transportation corridors and infrastructure. Aerial imagery support projects from planning stages through the operations and maintenance phases. For example, a UAS can be used to photograph damage to railway tracks caused by a landslide. In addition to images of the track, the UAS can capture images of the entire slide area to provide valuable information for geotechnical analysis and mitigation work. Because the UAS flies at low altitudes, it can operate in cloudy or rainy weather. The small, autonomous UX5 can take-off and land in small areas and requires no special facilities or personnel for operations and fuelling.
Many infrastructure maintenance applications require specialised information. For example, railway operators need to maintain precise alignment of track, which often shifts under the load of passing trains. Trolley-based track measurement systems capture precise information on track conditions to be analyzed and output to tamping machines. The machines then adjust the track and ballast to meet design specifications. In addition to improving speed and reducing errors in track measurements, this approach reduces track downtime for inspection and tamping. On a project in Germany, the system reduced staffing costs for pre-and post-tamping measurement by 80%.
As transportation managers consider upgrades and improvements, they can use geospatial information throughout the decision and design processes. 3D laser scanning provides data on existing structures to help facilitate analyses on clearances, encroachments and constructability. Land administration systems provide cadastral information in areas where road or rail alignments need to be moved or expanded. Environmental data can be managed using GIS to protect sensitive areas and avoid encroaching into hazard zones. And 3D geotechnical monitoring systems provide data on the behaviour of bridges, retaining walls, cut slopes and tunnels.
Geospatial info & transportation enterprise
While the creation and life cycle management of transportation infrastructure is essential, one must remember that transportation infrastructure exists to enable the movement of people and goods. In addition to the general public, this ‘user segment’ includes public and private organisations such as bus lines, trucking and freight companies and railway operators. These organisations increasingly blend geospatial information into their operations management and enterprise resource planning.
While large differences exist among transportation companies, they share a number of common challenges. Companies must manage fleets of assets such as rail cars, delivery vans or long-haul trucks that may be spread over large geographic areas. By using geospatial information with data from on-board sensors, fleet managers can track the location and status of a mobile asset. Routing and scheduling systems have demonstrated the ability to improve asset utilisation while reducing fuel consumption and overall transportation costs. In addition to route optimisation, fleet management solutions can manage information ranging from scheduled maintenance to the emergence of mechanical problems. Data from vehicles in the field can be gathered and managed to reduce breakdowns and unexpected downtime.
A trolley system captures precise information on train tracks in Germany. The data is fed to the
Mobile mapping systems provide data on roadway alignment and condition as well as adjacent objects. The systems can collect image and LiDAR data while moving at highway speeds
In many cases, efficient operation depends on the performance of individual drivers or operators. Mobile fleet solutions such as the PeopleNet system use GPS, real-time communications and onboard engine diagnostic information to monitor the movement of long-haul trucks. In-cab systems provide route guidance and automated communication, eliminating manual paper processes and reducing fuel usage from out-of-route miles. The PeopleNet system has shown to improve fuel economy by 5 to 15%, while also reducing accidents and compliance issues.
Geospatially enabled fleet management extends to service industries as well, including organisations such as telecommunications (cable providers), waste management, construction, utilities and HVAC and facilities maintenance. Using real-time information, cloud-based systems support faster response times and easier dispatch, communication and coordination. Fleet vehicles are equipped with onboard in-cab displays that route mobile workers and field technicians to customer sites for service calls. In addition to improving response times, the systems help reduce fuel consumption and emissions while vehicles are in the field, ultimately lowering operating costs and ensuring optimised vehicle utilisation.
In the rail sector, railway operators are working to meet new requirements for train safety. For example, new laws for positive train control (PTC) in the United States require real-time monitoring of a train’s location and speed. In addition to position sensors on trains, meeting the requirements will call for equipment to determine the status of signals, switch positions and operating conditions. To fully implement the system, railways will need to develop accurate spatial information of all tracks and facilities and keep upto- date information loaded in the computers that will be onboard each PTC-equipped train. Gathering and managing this information is an enormous task that will require both airborne and ground-based geospatial technologies.
RoI: the value of measurement
When discussing geospatial technology as a measurement tool, most people think of it as measuring positions and dimensions in two or three dimensions. But geospatial systems support other, equally tangible types of measurement as well. By combining position with other data such as time, driver logs, inventories, vehicle information and customer feedback, an organisation can develop a detailed picture on the activities and productivity of its assets and human resources. This ability to measure performance is one of the most important new deliverables of geospatial technology.
Many organisations may not understand the myriad of sources that contribute to operating costs. With detailed data in hand, an organisation can gain a deeper understanding of its cost structure. In an era of rising costs and constrained revenues, even small improvements in performance can affect the bottom line. This ability to quantify details of business’s operations illustrates a unique capability of geospatial technology — it can measure the impact it has on an operation.
Geospatial information can be used to improve efficiency in the development, operation and use of transportation infrastructure. Data from the same systems that helped facilitate the improvements can be used to determine how well they are working. By serving as the hub for this cycle of measure-improve- remeasure, geospatial technologies become the driver for continuous improvement in the transportation sector.