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Routing the Optimal Path to High-Speed Rail

Sweden’s transport infrastructure is bursting at the seams. Its roads and railways are clogged and an estimated 16 percent population growth by 2040 is forecast to bring about a 30 percent increase in passenger transport. In addition, the movement of goods is expected to grow by 50 percent, further straining its aged infrastructure. Bearing the initial brunt of this high volume will be the railways. 

To meet this demand as well as climate objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2045, the Swedish Transport Administration (STA) committed to building the country’s first-ever high-speed railway (HSR). Connecting Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö, the 440-kilometer dual-rail network will support trains at speeds of 250-320 kilometers per hour, cutting by half today’s journey times between Stockholm and Malmö and increasing sustainable travel and freeing more space for freight transport on the existing railway.

Choosing where to place the new tracks and stations is the job of Atkins Sweden, a global design and engineering consultancy that is a recognized leader in sustainable business practices. 

Since 2019, it has been conducting a feasibility study for the East Link Project (ELP), the first 160-km section of the HSR that runs from Järna, south of Stockholm to Linköping. Atkins’ role is to develop design alternatives for track routes and station locations in Linköping based on a host of factors such as safety, geometry, costs, and environmental impacts.

Historically, feasibility studies required teams to pore over maps and both manually draw potential alignments and calculate costs. For the ELP, Atkins streamlined that process through the expertise of Mark Lidback, a railway designer, and one piece of software—Trimble® Quantm, an alignment planning solution that integrates engineering, environmental, social and economic factors into a simultaneous analysis of alternatives.

“Quantm not only automates the laborious and costly manual feasibility process, it provides a more in-depth analysis with high precision in a fraction of the time,” said Lidback. “I can input my start and end points, along with factors to consider such as cost and geometric parameters, protected nature areas, military zones, and CO2 emissions, and it will automatically generate optimal alignments, corridors and estimated costs. I can then compare and test the different scenarios to determine the best option. It’s a totally different game.”

A significant challenge for Atkins is designing an optimal connection from one station to the next.  Where the station is placed In Linköping will influence different exit and entrance routes to the next station. All the possible entrance/exit points need to be assessed for each station and equally compared. With Quantm, Lidback can quickly determine possible corridors and line alignments, identify if those options will require bridges or tunnels, and calculate construction costs. He can also quickly change any analysis parameters and run new tests and comparisons—a valuable advantage given the fluidity of the project scope and tight deadlines. 

“I’ve generated about 250 different scenarios for the project so far,” said Lidback. “And the corridors I’ve produced are also optimized based on that CO2 factor. There’s no way I could’ve produced that magnitude of analysis myself without Quantm.”

As the STA speeds toward the end of its design consultation phase in 2022, Atkins will be on board to help them determine the most favorable and sustainable route from point A to B.