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Scanning Pier 78

posted Feb 11, 2016, 6:29 AM by   [ updated Feb 11, 2016, 6:37 AM ]
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 20, 2016 – Professional Land Surveying Services for the Pier 78 Rail Freight Grant Repairs Project. 

Invincibly improving our city and its infrastructure- that’s what we do best. The new project we’ve started working on recently is a part of the bigger redevelopment undertaken by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. Our Crew had the chance to work at the Philadelphia’s port, which is one of the busiest ports on the North Atlantic range. Over 3000 ships load and offload at this port each year, make it a pretty busy location, which became a challenge for our team to get there and be able to conduct a survey.

Rodriguez team provides professional land surveying services for the entire parcel of the existing paper warehouse at Christopher Columbus Blvd, Pier 78 and the Delaware River to the East. The survey plan our team is preparing, will serve as the base document for the design of the necessary repairs to the Pier 78 Rail Track System Project. 

Pier 78 is a very old construction, built in 1915. It’s located at the Forest Products Center complex in South Philadelphia. This building is currently used for the storage and loading of paper products. Rail service to this building is critical to the servicing of the various tenant customers. The current rail track system at Pier 78 is in rather poor condition.

Rodriguez team was collecting data using our Faro 3D scanner. I’ve asked Joseph and Joanna, our Geospatial Specialists, about the details of the project and their involvement on various stages of the work. 


Joseph: As the head Party Chief on site, I assisted Shaka and Alban (Surveyors at Rodriguez) in collecting road topography and locations as well as utilities along Columbus Blvd and Snyder Ave. I started the job by using GPS to set survey control so that we could have our site georeferenced to State Plane Coordinates. We then used conventional survey methods utilizing our total station to set other survey points throughout the site, which we used to collect more topography and locations of utilities. These points would then be used to georeference our scan data which I will explain in more detail below. The true basis of the job was to collect valuable information for the future upgrade of the rail system that was in desperate need of repair. We needed to collect precise measurements along the rail system and surrounding topography and utilities. We decided that using our Faro 3D laser scanner would be a great tool in the collection of this data. We would end up with millions of points that would all be tied to our survey control that we would later use to draft the existing features and rail system. I completed 32 individual scans spread out throughout the interior of the site and along the frontage where the rail system entered from Columbus Blvd. A big hurdle for us to overcome was that Pier 78 is one of the busiest ports in the Northeast. There are vessels unloading cargo most of the week and the only downtime is on weekends when no vessels are scheduled to arrive. It took us 2 Saturday's to collect all of the information we needed. The Faro allowed us to move quickly and smoothly throughout the site. We had to supplement some areas with other conventional survey methods, which were difficult for the laser scanner to get, but I would say we probably picked up most of what we needed utilizing the Faro 3D laser scanner. It is an extremely valuable tool to have. Millions of points of data were collected.  

Aerial Photo showing extent of survey

Point cloud of site from FARO SCENE
  Joanna was working in the office on the data our Surveying Crew collected. She explained below in greater detail, how we processed the scan data and how the end results look like.

Accurate and detail drawings of the railroad tracks were crucial to the success of the project, and were used as a base to document existing conditions, as well as for the design of restoration work. Multiple scans were made around the building. These individual scans were later registered together in Faro SCENE software, to form one point cloud, which essentially becomes a 3D spatial image. Registration of the scans was possible due to the scanned targets (common points), placed in between scan stations. It helped to connect and combine all of the scans into one point cloud. 

While collecting millions of points of data, the Faro Focus X330 also takes a series of pictures associated with each scan, allowing point cloud data to be supplemented with digital color imaging. These images were aligned to the point cloud data, so that it gained the true colors.

A network of GPS control points was set up around the building. Scan targets, were set up over these control points. I was then able to georeference the point cloud. In order to do that, I imported the file with control points into SCENE software. In the final point cloud there were over 60 million points created.

The next step after point cloud registration and georeference, was exporting the point cloud to the format which can be opened in AutoCAD Civil 3D. AutoCAD is compatible with a RCP file. I exported that file and worked in Civil 3D with PointPlant Scene kubit to draft the existing condition plan. 

As an end result, I was able to deliver, to our client, cost efficient accurate drawings with great detail.

Photo of building in intensity detention and 
Photo from VirtuSurv

Photos taken by Joseph Coe, scans prepared by Joanna Sajewska.


About Philadelphia Regional Port Authority

The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, an independent agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has as its primary mission the enhancement of water-borne trade and commerce. As an organization committed to economic development and job creation, the Authority seeks to generate activity that will maximize port-related employment and revenues by promoting the use of the Philadelphia regional port system by Pennsylvania based industries. It is also committed to working in a cooperative spirit with other Delaware River port and City agencies to realize the potential of the regional port system.


About Rodriguez


Rodriguez Consulting, LLC (Rodriguez) provides innovative engineering and geospatial solutions for our Nation's infrastructure incorporating creative applications of technology. Our team of professionals specializes in Design (land development, redevelopment, site retrofits), Infrastructure (water, sewer stormwater, roadways), Geospatial (GIS, GPS, LiDAR, land surveying) services.  Rodriguez is a certified SBA 8(a), minority-owned (MBE) and disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) established and incorporated in 2007.  Learn more at or @rodriguez_llc.