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Route planner

Savings of up to 25% in the cost of building a new road can be achieved by getting the route optimisation right. Margo Cole reports on positioning technology firm Trimble’s latest offering.

Trimble has launched a desktop version of its successful Quantm alignment planning system after two years of development. The new tool - on sale in the UK and Ireland through surveying equipment specialist Korec - is aimed at consulting engineers. It can be used to identify the best horizontal and vertical alignment for small road schemes.

The original version enables users to find the optimum vertical and horizontal alignment for major road and rail schemes, or to compare options and identify which would be the cheapest to build.

It has been used on projects over 1,000km long.

Complex algorithms

Access to the complex algorithms that compare thousands of potential alignments is sold as a service, with users buying a licence that enables them to send their information to the Quantm server for computation. The licence price is calculated as a function of the length of the proposed scheme.

This has been immensely popular with owners and promoters of major infrastructure projects around the world, including the Portuguese government, which has been using it for route optimisation on the Lisbon-Madrid high speed rail project, and the Louisiana department of transportation during planning of its I-69 corridor project.

But, while the pricing scheme is viable for massive projects like these, it puts the system out of reach of many consultants, who tend to invest only if mandated by their clients.

It is this market that Trimble now hopes to tap into with the desktop version, which is sold as standalone software that runs on the user’s own PC. Unlike the service version, the new software is only designed for road alignments, and the firm is aiming at consultants who design small schemes such as bypasses.

Lazaris is keen to emphasise that Quantm should be seen as a decision making tool, not a replacement for engineering judgement

The processing power of the average PC is not sufficient to do the massive computations that enable 1,000km of route to be analysed in just 10 minutes. Instead, the desktop version is able to look at a 20km x 20km area in any single study - “more than enough” for most bypass and road improvement schemes in the UK, according to Trimble Quantm channel manager for Europe Bill Lazaris.

Data control

The software - just like its more powerful sibling - allows the designer to enter the start and end points of a new road and all the factors that might affect the horizontal and vertical alignment, including ground conditions, existing buildings, no-go areas (eg SSSIs), power lines, rivers and topography. You can also choose the type of materials to be used in the road construction and the design of the pavement, as well as your preferred construction method for road, rail and river crossings.

Costs can be entered for all of these parameters, and Quantm then works out the most cost effective options for the alignment and displays them all visually, with all the costs broken down. “Its purpose is to catch everything in one system,” says Lazaris. “At the moment designers can come up with a route, but the costs are on a separate spreadsheet, so it’s quite a task to compare the cost of different routes.”

It can be used either to start from scratch on a greenfield site or to compare different alignments within a pre-existing route corridor. Or, says Lazaris, “if the horizontal alignment is fixed you can just do vertical optimisation”.

Value engineering

The software can also be used during value engineering on a road project, as the operator can add construction criteria such as the location of material sources along the alignment, or adjust the vertical geometry to ensure a cut and fill balance is achieved.

While the system can tell you the cheapest option for any new road, Lazaris is keen to emphasise that Quantm should be seen as a decision-making tool - not a replacement for engineering judgement. “The cheapest route is not necessarily the best,” he says. “Design is an iterative process - it’s not just about putting a line on a map.”

However, Quantm’s speed allows designers to reach a decision on which routes to focus on far earlier than they do at the moment.

Lazaris also envisages the system will have great potential during public consultation, because designers and highways authorities will be able to demonstrate the relative cost of each proposed route, and also show that they have considered the various stakeholder interests in reaching their decision. They would also be able to respond very quickly to any stakeholders who suggest an alternative route during the consultation or planning stages.

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