South FL Rail Shaves Project Timeline
Rail officials working on South Florida’s $2.7 billion, 170-mile Brightline high-speed rail extension have said that they'll see the construction of a train tunnel in two weeks, thanks to the use of Italian company Petrucco’s box-jacking system,
Previously, general contractor Granite Construction (Watsonville, California) estimated that using conventional methods to construct the tunnel would have detoured motorists for approximately 10 months.
South Florida Rail
Dating back to 2008, Wes Edens, spokesperson for train parent entity Fortress Investment Group, noted that when he and others had first started establishing the idea of bringing European-style train service to the U.S., specifically South Florida, the endeavor was faced with extreme doubt. Six years later, however, the first round of funding was secured. The South Florida line opened in 2017. Although, the Orlando line has come with various legal opposition for five years.
Previously, there had been plans for a train station at the Orlando International Airport around 15 or 20 years ago, plans that were approved before 2010, but the project was later canceled by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, Jeff Fuqua, former chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, told Florida Politics.
Eventually, it was decided by Central Florida leaders that Virgin Trains USA would lead the project’s construction. Carried out as a private endeavor, the double-track rail plans to connect Orlando with South Florida, but also plans to incorporate the company’s existing rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with Orlando.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the rail route from the Orlando Airport to Cocoa will help bridge the connection between Cocoa and Miami, with the 235-mile ride from Miami to Orlando taking around three hours. As a result of the project, which can run up to 125 mph when the Orlando International Airport stop is added, 3 million cars are estimated to be removed from Florida roadways between those two points.
The Florida line will have a total of 10, seven-car trains running between Miami and Orlando, each carrying 356 passengers.
During construction, 225 million pounds of American steel, along with 2 million spikes and bolts will be used, all of which is being moved by $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. Around the time of the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in June 2019, it was noted that work had already began on clearing space at the Orlando Airport for a 200,000-square-foot maintenance building.
Virgin Trains, formerly known as Brightline, noted that it plans on investing $4 billion in the state projects.
"We will change the mobility in this state forever,” said Virgin Trains President Patrick Goddard. "The most visited city in the world will now be connected to the cruise capital in the world.”
Utilizing the Box-Jack System
For the second time in the United States, a box-jack system has been employed for a train project, thanks to the suggestion made by Granite Construction. The system is reportedly more common in European countries for rail projects, having been used since the 1970s.
The first time the system was used in the U.S. was on the Long Island Railroad expansion project in New York City, where similar precast concrete boxes were installed under roadways. The decision to construct underneath reportedly eliminated the need for at-grade railroad crossings.
In the South Florida rail project, however, Richard Brown, project manager for Granite, reported that tunneling wasn’t an option due to the existing grades of the roadway and the proposed track grades.
Since precasting two concrete boxes onsite—one 146 feet long and the other 126 feet long and both with 42-foot-long sidewalls—Granite employed the box-jacking system earlier this month to install the boxes underneath a roadway east of the airport. The system uses 20 special hydraulic jacks to push the boxes into place in eighth-inch pulses. The jacks can move a combined 12,000 tons (the precast boxes weighing in at 6,874 tons) at an optimal cruising speed of three feet per hour.
While the system is moving the precast boxes, an excavator has also been digging out a path from inside the box and from the opposite side. During construction, the system requires a 40-person crew working 12-hour shifts around the clock.
Although the push began earlier this month, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the first half of the box has been moved into place, and plans to fuse the second half using additional concrete. According to Brightline spokesperson Katie Mitzner, Granite's $557 million portion of the project is a 37-mile-long section in Zone 3 that runs from Cocoa to the Orlando International Airport.
The project is expected to reach completion by late 2022.