Construction continues on Florida high-speed rail

By Mary Kanian and Julian Leek13 September 2021

Julian Leek and Mary Kanian report on the Brightline high speed rail project to Orlando International Airport.

“Everything old is new again” goes the oft-used phrase applied to people, places and things that have had to reinvent themselves to maintain relevancy in a world of change or disappear. People and materials have moved from here to there in a dizzying maze of conveyances – on foot, across bodies of water by wind and engine-driven ships, by horse and wagon and all manner of trains, planes and automobiles.

The construction phase between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport has required Brightline to build a new set of tracks through the Florida swamp parallel to State Road 528. PHOTOS: Julian Leek

Ultimately, when we raised our eyes and aspirations to move toward the planets and stars, it was Florida, by its mere geographical location, that found itself smack-dab in the center of every challenge and opportunity presented by all this movement. It offered refuge from harsh climates, relatively calm seas on its lengthy coastlines and flat topography. Florida offers a smorgasbord of opportunity.

The latest local reinvention of an industry, apart from the space industry, appears to be that of passenger train service via Brightline, one of the first high-speed rail projects to break ground in the nation. With a plan to open in late 2022, Brightline already has operations and stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The company has blazed through the halfway point of adding a major 235-mile corridor between Orlando International Airport and Miami, which will link south and central Florida.

Most of the beams are 9 feet 10 inches tall and 2 feet 10 inches wide stretching 137 feet in length and weighing 98,038 pounds. 

The hope is to encourage people to leave their cars and use the rail and transportation hubs to streamline access to cruise lines, theme parks and other recreation destinations. It will also add thousands of jobs to the state.

With 50 percent of the project already completed from Miami to Orlando, the construction phase between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport is the most challenging phase. It has required Brightline to build a new set of tracks through the Florida swamp parallel to State Road 528.

Tunnel construction

One of the more complex sections of this part of the project must be accomplished by creating a “shoofly” (go-around) along another section of the Highway 528 to move the highway to the north so that a tunnel could be constructed on the existing roadbed. The massive 125-foot sections of panels of the curved tunnel are pre-cast onsite and lifted into place using a crawler crane. After the tunnel’s completion, the roadway will be rebuilt over it, a massive undertaking requiring tons of fill and precision compaction.

The massive 125-foot sections of panels of the curved tunnel are precision pre-cast onsite and craned into place using a crawler crane to obtain the required curve while requiring minimal distance to move and place each element.

As the tracks head west over I-95, five cranes ranging from 120 tons to 800 tons, along with the accompanying support equipment, fly I-beams over the roadway each night between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. when the roadway is closed.

For the largest beam, two crawler cranes work in tandem using huge grabber clamps.

Crawler cranes on the job include a Kobelco CK-2500 and a Liebherr 1800. Other cranes assisting on pier and span work are a Terex Demag AC700, a Terex HC285, a Terex HC275, a Terex HC230 and a Grove GMK 5120.

The cranes onsite are owned by ALL Erection, Beyel and V&M Erectors.

Twenty-four sections of I-beams will be placed, one of which weighs in excess of 146,000 pounds and requires a tandem crane lift to set the beam. The beams are 9 feet 10 inches tall and 2 feet 10 inches wide stretching 137 feet in length and weighing 98,038 pounds. Total weight with rigging is 122,038 pounds. The beams are made from recycled steel and manufactured in Fort Wayne, IN.

As the train tracks head west in an area where the train will travel at its maximum speed, it is significant to note that there will be no crossing gates requiring it to make a stop. Brightline is building bridges, flyovers and tunnels to get to the airport. The Orlando expansion project currently has more than 44 cranes working six days a week to meet next year’s completion deadline. To the south, railway river bridges and road crossings are being upgraded to the two-track system needed for passenger rail service.

Seven cranes ranging from 120 to 800 tons capacity are performing pier and span work. The I-beams as well as powerful beam grabbers on spreader bars are used to fly I-beams over the roadway.
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