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Southeast Rail Extension: Setting a path to opening day

How can it take three years to construct a little over two miles of track?

RidgeGate Bridge pier and column construction

This question often arises when talk turns toward RTD's Southeast Rail Extension—the construction project that is adding 2.3 miles of light rail track and three stations, which will connect passengers to the E, F and R Lines by 2019.

While it doesn’t sound like much of a project, there are multiple moving parts involved in building a rail line like this.

The Southeast Rail Extension broke ground in May 2016, at the site of the future Sky Ridge Station, which is located north of the Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree. This publicly attended groundbreaking signified the beginning of civil construction, but it was not where the project story begins.

Before the first gold-plated ceremonial shovel turned dirt, there were several phases that needed to be completed.

A project of this scope takes years of planning and close coordination with multiple agencies that did the following:

  • Determined its viability
  • Identified the best location for the expansion based on stakeholder input
  • Determined the availability of land
  • Identified funding sources

Over the next few years, RTD and its selected contractor for the project, Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. (BBII), will coordinate construction activities.

While one would think that positioning crews along every section of the project would speed construction along, there are key factors that dictate how to build and schedule the Southeast Rail Extension project over the next three years:

Center pier forms for the I-25 light rail bridge

Availability of Land Parcels: The project alignment is identified during pre-construction phases, but purchasing or acquiring access to the right-of-way (ROW) on which to build the tracks, can take up to 18 months or more, in some instances.

Construction Sequencing: When areas of ROW sections become available determines when construction can proceed and in what areas. After land is available, utilities for electricity, water and communications lines must be relocated. Plus, depending on what services feed into an area, utility relocations could be ongoing throughout the duration of construction.

Availability of Crews: BBII will hire the services of several sub-contractors that specialize in work such as electrical and traffic control teams. Along with scheduling the sub-contractors, BBII must schedule its own teams to perform the appropriate work at the right time. In other words, we can’t put the train before the track.

Material Availability: Although teams can determine what materials are needed on the project, some larger components like steel rail and concrete girders cannot be ordered too early. Otherwise, materials have to be stored unnecessarily. Alternatively, some materials require longer manufacturing times.

Testing and Commissioning: Once construction is completed, the new system must be tested, including electrical, signal and communications systems, as well as operating train vehicles under their own power on the new rail line. For the Southeast Rail Extension this process is currently estimated to take 6-9 months.

While crews install foundations, walls, concrete, track and connect utilities, success will be achieved through coordination among many different construction disciplines working together.