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Making high-speed rail design faster

AEC Excellence Awards // 2018

Innovative BIM process accelerates bridge and tunnel design

The Wuhan to Xi’an high-speed railway project includes the Wudangshan Station to Wangjiazhuang Tunnel segment—a passenger line spanning 8.3 kilometers (approximately 5 miles). At an expected cost of $160 million, the line required the collaboration of experts in tunnel, bridge, station, and rail-line design. More than 50 design and engineering professionals from the China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group joined the project team, and together they completed the design quickly. How did they do it? They collaborated to automate and improve BIM (Building Information Modeling) design processes using software tools in the Architecture, Engineering & Construction Collection.


The first project hurdle consisted of choosing the best route for the railway that would travel through mountains and over rivers and lakes. The project team wanted to avoid unnecessary construction challenges by selecting an optimal route that would minimize the number of bridges and tunnels that would need to be built. If the team worked on each tunnel and bridge as though it were a separate project, completing the design of the entire project would take a long time.

The team knew that BIM would play a role in overcoming the project’s design challenges, but it also knew it needed a way to work closely and easily access all of the design models. As an early step in the project, the team turned to Vault data-management software. Using multiple servers to run Vault on a private cloud, the team organized and shared design models, managed documentation, and tracked revisions.

Image courtesy of China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group Co., Ltd.

“On infrastructure projects, BIM can effectively help project teams find the best options while avoiding problems, such as error and interferences. It improves overall engineering quality.” 

—Hua Xie, IT Supervisor, China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group



To choose the exact route for the line, the team brought mapping data, imagery of the area, and geologic data together in InfraWorks infrastructure-design software and Civil 3D software. Then, using virtual-reality (VR) technology, the team mapped the optimal route.

With a large model of the overall route completed, team members developed an innovative way to speed the design of the tunnels and bridges. They created a database that included parameters for tunnel designs. Using this database and a library of tunnel-model options in Civil 3D, they generated a basic tunnel framework for the required tunnels. With the Dynamo Studio computational BIM design tool and Inventor software—traditionally a manufacturing application—they undertook a similar process to automate portions of the design process for the project’s bridges. Combined, these techniques let the team design the tunnels and bridges in a fraction of the time it would have taken using traditional processes.

Image courtesy of China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group Co., Ltd.


To gain another perspective on the design, the team 3D-printed portions of the station and other design features. It was able to use the 3D prints on the go to communicate with stakeholders, overcoming the shortcomings of the limited visual angles presented by 3D images printed on paper and 3D video. VR technology also played a role in the design of Wudangshan Station, with the team exploring the design details in an immersive visualization. The team estimates that the use of VR and 3D printing helped to reduce the rework rate by as much as 10%.

With a goal of further reducing risk of rework, the team used BIM 360 software to coordinate the design of the station. A cloud-based solution, BIM 360 helped team members work together to find and address interferences in the design. Collision analysis revealed 116 points of interference between pipes and columns—saving nearly $500,000 on that portion of the project alone.


With the many disciplines on the project using model-based processes and tools within the AEC Collection, the Wudangshan Station to Wangjiazhuang Tunnel section of the Wuhan to Xi’an project is among the first rail projects in China to rely entirely on a BIM process.

The team believes that the project’s success will serve as a reference for other similar projects within the country, and it has impressive results to support that belief. For instance, after choosing the best route for the rail line and setting up a more automated design process, the team was able to design six tunnels and 10 bridges in just six weeks. The precision of the design enabled extensive use of prefabrication to construct the railway station, accelerating installation of key portions of equipment by as much as 60%.

“By means of our forward-thinking design approach and proactive planning, we completed the design for six tunnels and 10 bridges in just 1.5 months,” says Hua Xie, IT supervisor on the project. “We were able to use the tools within the AEC Collection to help us speed the completion of repetitive design tasks, which helped us improve design efficiency for the tunnels and bridges.”

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