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Rail accounts for 19% of all statewide freight flows in Alabama. The Norfolk Southern Railway is a major U.S. freight railroad company that operates 21,500 route miles of track across 22 eastern states including more than 50% of Alabama’s Class I track.
In tandem with priorities and goals outlined in the Alabama Department of Transportation’s “Alabama Rail Plan”, Norfolk Southern’s modernization and expansion initiatives targeted three vertical lift bridges in Alabama and the Norfolk Southern Lake Pontchartrain Rolling Bascule Bridge in Louisiana, the longest rail bridge in the country at 5.8 miles, for upgrade, rehabilitation, and remote control operation. These four bridges are not only critical to Norfolk Southern’s transportation grid, they are integral to the management of Alabama’s nearly 1500 mile system of navigable inland waterways, part of a network connecting 24 states.
O’Connell Electric is one of a select few electrical contractors in the country qualified to bid on this type of work. Norfolk Southern awarded our Transportation Division contracts totaling $5.9 million to rehabilitate the electrical and operating systems of the four bridges—rail and waterway—and upgrade them for remote control operation from a central site. O’Connell coordinated and supervised all machinery replacements for the bridges including new motors, brakes, span locks, and switches as well as installation of new generator platforms and numerous structural repairs.
Innovative project management and construction measures were key to O’Connell’s success and efficiency across the four remote bridge sites. A combination of well-planned prefabrication measures and deployment of custom fabrication trailers fully outfitted with tools and office communications greatly reduced lost job site time. O’Connell ingenuity was responsible for onsite rigging and hoisting systems as well as machinery and equipment replacement practices that eliminated the need for employing barges and cranes or for necessitating marine and rail traffic interruptions. In one instance we were able to place a 4000-pound 125KW generator through a machine room floor hatch more than 100 feet off the ground and rig it over the top of existing equipment within a one-hour rail traffic window.
When centralization of bridge remote operational systems was changed from Norfolk Southern’s Birmingham control center to the Decatur, Alabama, Norfolk Southern Tennessee River Bridge site, O’Connell designed and implemented all necessary modifications and additions for the site including new buildings and building amenities, service and power generation systems, and expanded electrical and communications infrastructures. Working closely with our IT subcontractor, O’Connell developed data logging systems across the four bridge network with remote access capabilities, via Norfolk Southern’s intranet, allowing instant review of all bridge operational data for diagnosing potential faults and to determine override measures in emergency situations.
Norfolk Southern’s Signals and Communications divisions contracted with O’Connell later in the project to design and construct a series of new signal and communications buildings, electrical and data wiring, and camera, intercom, and antennae systems.
All work for the four bridge project was completed on time and without disruption to marine or rail traffic. O’Connell has also worked on Norfolk Southern projects in Ohio and Chicago.