Bentley Featured Project: Mapping 42 Miles of California High Speed Rail Corridor Utilizing UAVs


Jacobs/Zephyr used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to visually map a lengthy rail corridor, which reduced delivery time by 56 percent and costs by 86 percent.



  • The engineering team used UAVs to obtain aerial mapping of rail corridor, reducing costs by 86 percent, and enabling complete aerial mapping delivery in just eight weeks.
  • Combining UAVs with Bentley technology enabled the team to reduce delivery time by 56 percent while increasing the quality of aerial images by four times.
  • The team used Bentley’s MicroStation and Power Rail Track to generate track plans from aerial data, while ProjectWise enabled real-time collaboration.
  • “Ours is a project for the 21st century employing 21st century technology, so we want to make sure that we do everything better, faster, and more economically. We needed to obtain detailed mapping of our corridor quickly, and Bentley software made this possible.”

    Michelle BoehmSouthern California DirectorCalifornia High Speed Rail Authority.

    Project Summary

    The California High Speed Rail Authority is planning the first high-speed rail system in the United States. When complete passengers will be able to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour. Jacobs/Zephyr UAS is responsible for developing preliminary engineering design plans to support environmental assessment of the potential impact of the USD 3 billion project on the surrounding infrastructure. The team faced numerous challenges, including a tight schedule, collecting data in the active corridor, and constant traffic interruptions.

    The engineering team used unmanned aerial vehicles to obtain aerial mapping of the rail corridor, enabling the California High Speed Rail Authority to determine right-of-way impacts with improved accuracy while reducing the environmental footprint of the project. This created an extremely rich color ortho aerial at 1-inch per pixel resolution supporting 1-foot contours and actual, observed accuracy of better than 2 inches for digital terrain models. Once the mapping was complete, the team prepared base maps for the track plan and profiles using Bentley’s MicroStation and Power Rail Track, storing all data in ProjectWise for real-time collaboration.

    Combining the use of UAVs with Bentley technology allowed for complete aerial mapping delivery in just eight weeks, as opposed to 18 weeks using conventional manned aerial vehicles, for a 56 percent reduction in delivery time. The aerial mapping cost was originally quoted at USD 550,000, but Bentley’s software reduced these costs by 86 percent. Additionally, utilizing UAVs and Bentley applications increased aerial image quality by four times.

    Jacobs/Zephyr prepared base maps for the track plans from the aerial mapping data obtained from the UAVs with MicroStation and Power Rail Track. The geographically dispersed project team used ProjectWise to facilitate efficient file sharing, distribution, and version control. The interoperability of Bentley applications was crucial to meeting the aggressive project deadline.

    Project Playbook: MicroStationPower Rail TrackProjectWise