Jacobs/Zephyr Maps 42 Miles of California High Speed Rail Corridor

Jacobs/Zephyr Maps 42 Miles of California High Speed Rail Corridor

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Rail Track Design Plans Delivered in 78 % Less Time with Bentley Software

Making High-Speed Rail a Reality in the United States

The California High Speed Rail Authority is planning the first high-speed rail system in the United States that will enable passengers to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour. Two segments of high-speed rail track need to be laid for this project, 12 miles from Burbank to Los Angeles and 30 miles from Los Angeles to Anaheim, for a total of 42 miles.
The California High Speed Rail Authority knew that the environmental and infrastructure impacts of this project would be considerable, with consequences for right of ways, waterways, traffic, overhead structures, and other infrastructure along the corridor. Therefore, they engaged Jacobs/Zephyr UAS to develop preliminary engineering design plans to support an environmental assessment of the potential impact of this USD 3 billion project. Given the project’s tight schedule, the need to collect data in live corridors, and the constant survey interruptions due to traffic, creating the plans was not an easy task. Yet, the team developed a way to safely and efficiently survey the corridors – and deliver an accurate and complete assessment to support the environmental assessment—by using innovations developed by Bentley Systems.

Capturing Point Clouds of Busy Railroad Corridors

One of the major challenges Jacobs/Zephyr’s team faced was obtaining accurate, up-to- date aerial mapping of both rail track segments because they both lie on densely populated regions along an active railroad corridor that carries up to 100 trains per day. The design team had hoped to use aerial mapping collected several years earlier, but this data was incomplete and lacked satisfactory resolution. As a  result, Jacobs/Zephyr needed to find a way to capture data that would keep survey crew safe, minimize interruptions due to train traffic, and avoid the hassles of obtaining permits to access the railroad right-of- way.

To overcome these challenges, the engineering team decided to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to obtain aerial mapping of the rail corridor. UAVs could fly at lower altitudes than manned aircrafts and would require only 82 ground control points (GCPs) for all 42 miles of mapping. Equally important, the data collected would provide an extremely rich color ortho aerial at one-inch per pixel resolution supporting one-foot contours and actual observed accuracy of better than two inches for digital terrain models (DTMs). This approach allowed the survey team to determine right-of- way impacts with improved accuracy while reducing the time, cost, and environmental footprint of the project. The project was completed within eight weeks, resulting in a staggering 56 percent reduction in time, an 86 percent reduction in costs, and a four times increase in aerial imaging quality compared to traditional aerial mapping. Finally, UAV mapping produces point cloud files, which the team imported into Bentley software to create 3D models quickly.

CAPTION: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were used to provide aerial mapping of the rail corridor.

Using Bentley Software to Efficiently Develop Engineering Plans

Once the mapping data was collected from the UAVs and processed, Jacobs/Zephyr prepared the base maps for the track plan and profiles using Bentley's MicroStation® and Power Rail Track. Using the point cloud files, the project team used cloud capabilities and the powerful POD format within MicroStation to immediately check the aerial data produced from the UAVs. MicroStation’s unique functionality enabled the team to interactively work with native point cloud data referenced directly into the DGN and run Power Rail Track alignments interactively,  resulting in significant efficiencies. For example, Jacobs/Zephyr eliminated several conversion steps using embedded Bentley capabilities, which reduced a week off the design process. In addition, the organization utilized ProjectWise® to facilitate secure, efficient file sharing, distribution, and version control across a geographically distributed team and set of stakeholders. This was essential, as Jacobs/Zephyr had to engage geographically distributed teams to meet the aggressive deadline. With ProjectWise, everyone worked together seamlessly, sharing files and ensuring version control effortlessly and around the clock.

CAPTION: The project team was able to interactively work with native point cloud data in MicroStation, boosting efficiencies and trimming a week off of the design process.

One Step Closer to Bringing High-Speed Rail to the United States

MicroStation, Power Rail Track, and ProjectWise were essential to the success of this project, all of which helped Jacobs/Zephyr establish a workflow that expedited the project’s delivery and improved its quality. When coupled with the innovative UAV technology data collection process, these technologies delivered major benefits for Jacobs/Zephyr, most notably, accurate preliminary engineering plans developed faster and at a much lower cost. In addition, the results have been positive. Not only was the California High Speed Rail Authority appreciative of the innovative and expeditious manner in which Jacobs/Zephyr produced the plans, but Jacobs/Zephyr is now a recognized as a leader in the integration of UAVs with infrastructure design.

Project Summary

Organization : Jacobs/Zephyr UAS

Solution : Rail and Transit

Location : Burbank to Los Angeles to Anaheim, California, United States

Project Objectives

  • Create preliminary engineering design plans for the California High Speed Rail Authority’s first high-speed rail system in the United States from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
  •  Map 42 miles of busy railroad corridors in high resolution and developing engineering designs in a short time frame.

Products Used 

MicroStation®, Power Rail Track®, ProjectWise®
Fast Facts

  • The high-speed rail system will enable passengers to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour.
  • The engineering team used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to quickly and efficiently obtain aerial mapping of the rail corridor.
  • Embedded capabilities within MicroStation and Power Rail Track helped the design team deliver the engineering design on time, despite after having capture new aerial data.


  • Combining the use of UAVs with Bentley technology allowed the mapping to be completed in eight weeks, as opposed to 18 weeks using manned vehicles, for a 78 percent reduction in delivery time and an 87 percent reduction in costs.
  • MicroStation’s unique functionality enabled the team to interactively work with native point cloud data referenced directly into the DGN and run Power Rail Track alignments interactively, , which reduced a week off the design process.

Images Courtesy of Jacobs/Zephyr UAS

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