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Letters to the Editor

November 14, 2000
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Letters to the editor for December.

“The Grammar Police” June 2000

I just read your article, “The Grammar Police,” which found its way to our office bulletin board. Surveyors and engineers must have all hatched from one egg. The engineers in my company, a large international engineering firm, know so little about grammar it’s pathetic. The proud ones resent having a “mere secretary” correct their grammar and punctuation.

With more and more engineers doing their own typing in our office, the problem grows. It was a company policy when I was hired nine years ago that everything sent out of the office had to be proofread by someone else other than the typist. Now, that is a rarity. The quality of our written word has dropped to an embarrassing level. It makes me cringe to see so many errors in correspondence, proposals, etc., especially those sent to our present clients and potential clients.

I say let there be a marriage—a marriage between engineering expertise and the English gurus. What an absolutely glorious child they could produce!

An Anonymous Secretary,

Charlotte, N.C.

“Working on the Railroad” September 2000

Mr. Baudendistel discusses typical railroad right of way widths stating that some surveyors assume a default width of 50 feet. While he correctly point out that railroads often increased right of way widths to accommodate roadbed construction and other facilities, there is not an accepted “common” or “typical” width in the railroad industry. There are some areas of the country where common widths were purchased, however, these widths varied from railroad to railroad and were dependent upon terrain and desired track elevations. No surveyor should ever make an assumption that there is a “common” or “typical” right of way width. And when surveying adjoining property, railroad rights of way should be treated as any other property no matter what type of document was used for the purchase. Most railroads were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, therefore, could have unwritten rights as well as those documented.

It has been my experience in 30 years of working as a surveyor in the rail industry, that the best place to look for records concerning railroad property is to the railroad itself. Granted this has become more of a problem in recent years due to mergers and downsizing of railroad engineering staffs, however, most railroads still do a good job of maintaining their property records. The quality and quantity of railroad records found in courthouses across the country vary. Some only have the deeds while others may have the deeds and a copy of the railroad’s property maps, known as valuation maps.

Also, the surveyor should keep in mind that the railroad’s right of way is private property and should treat it as such. Most railroads require a right of entry and will have to send a flagman to provide protection against train movements—this is not a free service. The flagman requirement is a result of a new federal law recently passed concerning safety on and in the vicinity of railroad tracks. The law is commonly referred to as “The Roadway Workers Safety Act” and covers railroad employees, contractors and others that work on or within four feet of a rail on an active railroad line. It is designed to prevent people from being hit by trains. So, before entering railroad property, a surveyor should contact the railroad and make arrangements for the required protection.

John E. Porter, PLS

via E-mail

I was a little worried about the railroad surveying photo on page 32 of the September issue. For over 20 years, since the advent of small, portable EDMs and total stations, it has been 90 percent of the time unnecessary to set up on railroad tracks or on highway pavements. In the old days, it was helpful to set up on centerlines in order to facilitate computations. Today, however, for safety's sake, crews should be taught alternative methods. Only on the rare occasion (perhaps when on-the-spot calculations are required) should highway or railroad set-up be necessary. Also, for railroad track locations, shots on the northerly, easterly, southerly, westerly, northeasterly, southeasterly, southwesterly, or northwesterly gauge of a standard gauge track are all that's needed. An office convention should be developed. Then, as long as the crew chief directs explicit notes for the CAD department as to where to apply the 4 foot 8 1/2 inch gauge, this method can improve accuracy as well as safety. That's because the gage is about the most well defined line a surveyor or engineer could ever want. I hope that highway and railroad engineering staff members realize this.

Wendy J. Woodbury Straight, LS

New York

Bob Baudendistel Responds:

The main thing with this picture on page 32 is that the train will ONLY operate if I say it does. I am the gentleman wearing the orange shirt in the picture, and all of the operating locomotives or rolling stock are safely secured behind locked derailers and switches with the hand brakes wound down tight. The railroad in the scene of this photo on page 32 and the cover both belong to The North Alabama Railroad Museum. All train movements along this railroad require that a track warrant be filled out and posted at the main depot, but if and only if there are NO other outstanding warrants that could in turn permit maintenance of way or perhaps a local land surveyor to do their work in the field. This all points to the “Safety First” policy as mentioned in the article sidebar.

The reader’s response is correct. Track Gauges on the major North American Railroads are indeed 4 feet 8 ½ inches. This, however, does not fit with how another reader responded in stating that in his experience with Southern Pacific (SP), rails may tend to sway or give when under the duress of intense heat. The true “centerline” in this instance would then be off regardless of the gauge distance/2.

The article originally included a section called, “Did You Know,” which stated that the standard pre-cut length for wooden crossties is 8 feet even, which could in turn offer an even better safety margin to the field surveyor. This would put the centerline of the track at approximately 4 feet inside of the outer edge of the tie. This section was not included due to possible space limitations.

The bottom line (or point of beginning) is that all surveying activities along any railroad should and do require that all outside parties involved seek permission BEFORE trespassing. In the case with the picture taken on page 32, they did. I know because it was my railroad, and I was with them. In this case, maybe a picture is worth 1,000 points?

Sidebar: Errata:

GEOPAK Corporation was omitted from the CAD Survey of the October POB printed issue. Product specifications for GEOPAK are present in the online version in the Product Survey section at www.pobonline.com. Detailed information regarding the company and its products can be found below and through the company website. POB regrets the omission.

GEOPAK, a Bentley strategic affiliate, offers field-to-field design solutions for transportation and site engineering. GEOPAK Civil Engineering Suite software is used at the Federal Highway Administration, 19 state DOTs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and thousands of engineering consultants worldwide. Several departments of transportation require that consultants use GEOPAK.

The software is developed and supported by professional civil engineers and land surveyors. It is based on MicroStation. GEOPAK offers a practical approach to design and can handle any design circumstance. The software’s flexibility enables users to explore many design scenarios and develop optimal designs. All information created— even during conceptual studies—can be used through the entire project. Multiple users work simultaneously yet independently, each referencing the work of others in real time.

Other products include GEOPAK Site, GEOPAK Survey, GEOPAK Bridge, GeoTerrain by GEOPAK and GEOPAK Rebar. Visit GEOPAK at www.geopak.com. There you’ll find information on the new GEOPAK 2000 release and information on GEOPAK User Group activities.

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