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Trends and Recent advancements in bridge Launching

Vivek Abhyankar1*
AFCONS Infrastructure Limited, Senior Manager (Design), India

Abstract In complex Bridge construction projects, the development of Civil / Structural engineering is
selection of correct method of construction / launching closely associated with the development of other
of superstructure plays a vital role, towards overall branches of science / engineering like Material
success of the project. The construction / launching Science, Mathematics, Communication, Electronics,
method has a direct impact on cost, time and safety of
Computing technology (computer science), IT etc.
the project. Inexperienced clients often deploy two
separate agencies for (a) design of bridge structure and
(b) for detailing a launching scheme. As a result the As all the branches of engineering started
coordination between actual structure and construction growing, it was observed that the growth was rapid,
is lost, resulting delays and cost overruns. Launching but not parallel! As far as bridge engineering is
scheme and actual design (supers/sub structure) has a concerned this fact resulted into a wide gap between
strong linkage with each other; in complex bridge imagination (i.e. conceptual planning and design) vs.
projects, the scope of design and construction method the ground-reality (i.e. actual bridge erected at sites).
cant be segregated. The end results of this gap (rather a knowledge gap)
and the solution to bridge this gap is discussed in
The recent advancements in bridge launching
the further sections.
technology demand changes in the main design itself. In
the present paper the author has described different 2. BRIDGE PROJECTS IN OLDEN DAYS
method of launching (old and new), along with various
Indian and International cases studies, and their In olden days computing technology / simulation
prerequisites. The methods covered in this paper are :- software etc. were not available. Engineers had to
In Situ Bridge Construction :- using Formwork- struggle hard to prove the adequacy of the concept,
Staging; Moving scaffolding system before starting the design and construction.
Precast, Pre Stressed Bridge Launching :- using
Cranes, Floating crafts, Push Launching,
Launching Trusses (Under slung / Over slung type),
Launching using Ground supported staging system,
Cable cranes.
Paper covers interrelation between permanent,
temporary structures with hints for engineers.

Bridges are the backbones of any Transpiration /
Infrastructure Project like Railway, Metro or a Road. (a) Bridge at Conceptual Design Stage
Bridge Engineering has a history of thousands of
years, and finds its origin in Indian Mythology and
old spiritual scripts like Ramayana / Mahabharata
etc. In those days bridges were made from hip of
stones / soil bunds / timber logs etc. Olden bridges
were expected to merely act as a beam spanning
across a gaps along river or a road; but as the growth
of civilisation started taking place, the demand on all
the branches of engineering increased, rapidly. For
Civil Engineering, such increased demand called for (b) Bridge after completion
more and more research about structural Fig. 1: Firth of Forth Bridge, Scotland (A Cantilever Bridge)
configuration and materials to be used for Designed by Allen Stewart and Sir Baker.
construction. From study of grow of engineering
industry in past hundred years, we may observe that
Fig.1 shows, photograph of Firth of Forth Bridge, The various challenges that are faced are as
Scotland, which is a steel cantilever type bridge. It below :-
was built in the 1880s designed by Allan Stewart
and Sir Benjamin Baker. But both of them had to Complex Loading : temperature, wind,
struggle hard to demonstrate by a Conceptual Model erection, blast etc. and their combinations. Often
(as shown in Fig.1 (a) to the sceptical Victorians that the design codes and contract specifications are
a cantilever bridge would be safe. Fig. 1 (b) shows, silent about the construction stage loadings.
bridge after actual successful construction. Complex Structural Geometry : this includes a
difficult /sensitive load transfer mechanism,
Similar to above bridge, Fig.2 shows another Refined understanding about the Structural
interesting configuration of a Suspension cable behavior failure theories, overall performance
bridge done out of India. In this structure the main based design, reliability analysis as compared to
pylons looks like a posture of a standing person, Limit state vs. Working stresses
reclining backward, with both the arms folded, kept Changing Codes / Standards requirements
on waist. This bridge and many other similar bridges QAQC, Crack-width, exposure, non-linearity
explain how human is getting inspired by nature Advances in associated fields like :-
and natural behaviour. But definitely such bridges Material Science (Concrete-steel-etc.)
are the challenges for the Design and Construction. Electronic devices (strain gauges and other
monitoring devices
Surveying Instruments
Increasing Project demands :- Time, Cost,
Safety, Quality, Aesthetics
New research towards : Bridge execution /
HSE (health safety and environment)
Construction Stage Analysis
Structural Health monitoring systems
Life expectancy . . . etc.
(a) Bridge Pier - Conceptual Racking human

(b) Bridge during construction

Fig. 2: Another innovative bridge which had abutments like a
racking human body.
(a) Alamillo bridge, Seville Spain


Unlike 50 / 60 years back, the computing
technology, materials sciences have lead to
converting even the complex shaped bridges in the
reality. Fig.3 shows a beautiful String Cable stayed
bridge designed by Famous Architect and Structural
Engineer Santiago Calatrava with the inspiration
behind this unique shape of bridge. During
conceptual planning and the design of such modern
bridges, often various challenges are faced. A few of
these challenges are as listed ahead. (b) Ancient musical instrument Harp
Fig. 3: Alamillo bridge, Seville Spain
cases, the original designs /drawings are found to be
The Architect / Structural Designer / Planner or un-executable due to actual site constraints
Execution engineer cannot overcome all these (probably, which the Structural Engineer missed at
problems by working in isolation. A complete Team design stage). In such cases the modification in
Work is essential to solve these problems and to design becomes necessary. If the contactor knows
converge to effective solution. But, from the failures the design basis, then he can develop a executable
of many ambitious bridge projects, it can be proposal indicating desired changes in the design at
observed that there was a clear absence of the team a particular spot in the project, on the basis of which
work (except a few cases). Typical failure of bridge Designer can visit the site, review exact situation
may happen in case the designer dont know how the and revise the design suitably. On the other hand
contractor is going to construct that structure; on the even, if the designer knows the constraints at site, in
other hand, even when the contractor does not know which the site engineer is supposed to work, he can
how that bridge is designed (boundary conditions, develop better scheme, right from construction
assumptions, standard design practices, loads etc.). stage.
The typical reasons of failures during construction of
a bridge could be : (a) Incapable Formwork, (b) A few of the popular methods adopted for
Inadequate strength gain for concrete, (c) Lack of construction of bridge super structure are as listed
Synchronization between Hydraulic Jacks, (d) ahead :-
Inadequate bearings / temporary bracings, (e)
Unexpected forces (wind / Blast) (f) Erection using Traditional Methods
misunderstanding between Designer-planner and the Using Formwork / Staging
site personnel etc. With land based hydraulic crawler mounted
cranes (single / double cranes for (i) span-
Fig.17 (a) shows a typical failure of Bridge by-span construction or even (ii) random
staging at Vietnam during construction stage itself. span construction
In certain cases, wrong sequence of pre-stressing
exerts a huge / concentrated or even eccentric force Erection using Modern Methods
for which often the supporting formwork / staging is Floating Cranes / Barges / Jack-up platforms
not designed, leading to collapse. After the collapse Using Bridge Launching Girders, and push /
of structure occurs, no one can trace out exact incremental launching
reasons, i.e. whether the structure was designed Cable Cranes
wrongly or executed wrongly. Unless thorough CFT (Cantilever Form Traveler) / MSS
investigations are made, one cannot conclude in (Moving Scaffolding System)
such cases. Fig. 17 (b) shows a typical collapse of Tower Carnes
segmental bridge, which was getting launched in Ground Supported Staging (GSS)
place using a Launching Girder. All such failure
cases explain that the work of a designer, planner 5. BRIDGE ERECTION USING
and the execution (site) engineer shall be TRADITIONAL METHODS
complementing to each other and not the
Mostly the traditional methods viz. use of
contradicting. Thus each one of them must know the
Formwork / Staging or use of direct cranes is
works of others (their counter-parts) to a sufficient
suitable for simple bridges. Simply supported spans
are mostly constructed using these methods. Use of
4. INTRODUCTION TO VARIOUS Formwork / Staging consumes lot of construction
BRIDGE ERECTION TECHNIQUES time for erection of formwork, placement of
: A CHALLENGES FOR reinforcements, casting. curing and strength gain and
removal of formwork / scaffolds. Hence in modern
bridge construction projects it not a preferred option.
From the discussion till now it is clear that the
complexity in Bridge Engineering is increasing, Bridge erection using direct cranes is suitable
which cannot be handled alone by the bridge for precast-components only, heavy cranes are
designer or a site engineer. The Designer must know required to lift precast girders / segments (ref. Fig.5).
the proposed method of construction, which the Even large space is required to position the crane.
contractor wants to use for his construction site; and Access roads right upto the erection location is
on the other hand the execution person and planner another requirement in this scheme. This option is
must know briefly, how the designer has designed rarely used, for one or two locations in the project.
the structure, with its Limiting conditions / In bridge constructed in busy metro cities often this
Boundary Conditions / Assumptions. In certain option is found to be unsuitable due congested busy
roads. Open drains, cable trenches on the side of
road, and other utilities may not always permit
access of cranes to each span. Detailed explanation
of these two methods (i.e. bridge construction using
Formwork and Crane launching) are kept out of
scope of present paper. But just a brief mention is
made in present para for completeness of the matter.


In case of long span bridges, Launching Girder
(LG) is becoming more popular option by the
contractors (ref. Fig.6 and Fig.7, which shows a
typical Truss type Bridge Erection Launcher, used at
Bang-Na-Trade Highway Project, Bangkok). But if
the bridge is passing over a large water bodies like
rivers, creeks then it is convenient to use floating
cranes kept on the Barges / vessels / jack-up
platforms. Fig.4 shows such typical floating crane.
To use this methodology effective, points to ponder Fig. 5: Bridge erection with single Land based Crane
are as listed ahead.

From Fig.7, which is showing Bridge Erection

Launcher, used in Bangkok, it may be seen that the
Permanent structure has good Aesthetic look, which
is correctly utilized by the Designer of LG system to
place the LG; it can be also seen that due to
placement of LG inside the pier notch there is
impact on the design and reinforcement detailing of
such pier, to cater for LG loads. Also, from Fig.8,
one may observe the necessity of stability of
erection system during girder erection. Faulty
system may lead to incorrect bridge geometry or
Fig. 4: Showing A typical floating Bridge erection Crane
even accumulation of secondary stresses in the
girder body /distortion. Apart from these, there could
Points to Ponder to use floating cranes for bridge
be accidents leading to damage to structure or
launching :-
human life (as shown in Fig. 11, 17).
1) Duration of Project

2) Capacity of Floating Cart; weights of segments

to be lifted
Fig. 6: Showing Schematic Diagram of Bridge launcher
3) Availability and characteristics of water way
(depth, width, tide levels, waves / currents)

4) Facts of actual Site :

Location / distance of Casting Yard
Wind Speed
Tidal variations

5) Cost / Budget

6) Cooperation from Designers / Design capacity Fig.7 Bridge Erection Launcher, used at Bang-Na-Trade
Highway Project, Bangkok (LG placed inside piers)
Apart from the regular bridge erection SUSPENDED CABLE CRANE
techniques like Formwork / Staging, Launching
Girders and advanced technique of Floating Cranes,
A suspended erection crane / cableway is also used This is a unique and challenging technique of
now days as shown in Fig. 10, for a steel Arch bridge construction. Fig.10 shows a photograph of
Segmental Bridge in China. In such cases the steel segmental arch bridge construction, in China,
Permanent structure has to be designed keeping in using cable crane (or alternatively called as a cable
mind the construction / erection and dismantling way). In India, for erection of Chenab Railway
methodology. The construction scheme / bridge over Chenab river, M/s Afcons is planning
methodology imposes large loads on the permanent use similar technique. Cableway is also- being used
structure, which are often greater than the Design on the Concrete Arch Bridge at world famous
loads even (i.e. critical combination of self wt, Live Hoover dam. In this case the design and
load, wind / earthquake etc.). construction must go hand-in-hand to reach to
successful conclusion. Issues like maintaining
Push / incremental launching is another tension in the cable, limiting sag due to dead loads,
interesting method, in which the entire precast wind velocity for the stability of ropes under self wt
bridge structure is pushed from one abutment to and lifted weight condition (i.e. operating and idling
another abutment. No external LT is used, except a conditions), safety from falling objects at night,
nosing. In such method the super structure possibility of any object getting hit to the cable etc.
experiencing cycles of stress reversal, this has to are the critical issues in such method. All these
be catered for in advance. issues must be addressed prior to the start of design
(at conceptual stage itself). Without coordination
with the contactor, it simply cannot be done !

Fig.10 Steel Arch Bridge Erection Using a Cable Crane

Fig.8 Bridge Segment Launching in Progress

Fig.11 Collapse of a Construction Worker During Bridge

Erection Due to Sudden Cutting of a Wire Rope

As mentioned earlier there are many other

innovative methods like CFT / MSS / erection using
tower crane. They can be used only if there is close
interaction between the designs detailer
Fig.9 Bridge Launching in River / Water contractor is established. The same are briefly
explained ahead.

A Cantilever Form Travel (CFT) is commonly

used method for the construction of Balance
cantilever bridges. This is a method of in-situ
construction. In recent days to save time, instead of
in-situ construction the balance cantilevers are even
erected using a Precast-Segment erectors Fig. 12
and 13 ahead show these two methods respectively.
In both these methods the central fixed-pier and the
post-tensioning cable configuration has to be
designed to sustain the forces generated during the
erection stages. The balance cantilever bridge gets
Tension at top during construction due to only self-
weight. But as soon as at the end of the construction
the tip of balance cantilever rests on the far-end pier,
the structure starts acting like a propped cantilever
and the force pattern get completely changed i.e. top
tension in cantilever changes to bottom tension in
the propped cantilever due to self-weight. Thus the
Designer has to design the PT-cable configuration so Fig.13 Use of a Precast Segment Erector for balance cantilever
as to take care of tension occurring at top during (Ref- MIC / Earlington Heights Connector project at MIAMI,
construction and at bottom (at mid span) in service Florida)

Fig.14 Schematic Sketch showing use of a Launching Girder

for erection of Balance Cantilever Bridge.


Moving Scaffolding System (MSS) is another
upcoming method of bridge construction (Fig.15). It
includes a bridge formwork mounted on a moving
girder at the construction site itself. Thus the girder
Fig.12 A typical bridge constructed using a CFT moves ahead to each span one by one and keep
Another innovative technique sometime casting the same at its desired place (in-situ
used for the construction of long-span balance construction). Basically this is a slow method, also
cantilever bridges is using a Launching Girder (ref. imposes additional loads on the Piers. The moving
Fig.14 below). In such erection method there is no girder gets locked with the piers for the period, till
additional bending moment generated in the bridge concrete gains specified strength and the post-
due to weight of formwork like in case of CFT (or at tensioning is done. This is a cumbersome / bulky
least can be minimized). But the contractor need to method of construction; it is suitable only for fairly
invest on additional cost of LG and even the piers straight spans with nominal gradient. While
and segments shall be designed / detailed support the designing the bridge using MSS the designer must
legs of LG. But the construction time can be first consult the contractor and client.
reduced. So while selecting any of the above three
methods, thorough comparison may be made.
All Bridge erection methods explained till now
have certain advantages and limitations; to use any
selected method effectively one need to fulfill
certain prerequisites (already discussed in respective
method above). But as explained at the beginning of
this papers, the consultant may not know (or wants
to know) the construction method, and on the other
hand the contractor / bridge erection agency does not
Fig.15 A typical MSS for Bridge Construction. know the basis of the designs. In such cases there is
a likelihood of certain pre-requisites may not get
11. ERECTION USING TOWER fulfilled, leading to catastrophes as shown in Fig. 17.
Yet one another method of bridge erection is
using tower cranes. Normally tower cranes are used
for the construction of pylons in cable stayed bridges
due to the large heights. But rarely tower cranes
mounted on track are used for erection / servicing of
the bridge superstructure as well. But as often load
carrying capacity of tower cranes is very less as
compared to crawler cranes, they can be used for
erecting light-weight units only (like bearings,
cables etc) instead of full superstructure.
(a) Bridge Formwork Failure

(b) Launching Girder Failure (in Water)

Fig.16 GSS System Designed by author for Barapula, Delhi

Sometimes the launching girder cannot be used

for launching bridge superstructure in cases like
sharp radius of curvature in plan, large gradient
(longitudinal slope) and super-elevation, continuous
spans etc. In such the segments can be erected using
Ground Supported Staging System (GSS). GSS
system can be used only if the ground below has
sufficient load bearing capacity and availability of
separate crane / EOT for placing the segments from
trailer to the GSS. If these two re-conditions are (c) Launching Girder Failure (On Land) in Mumbai.
satisfied then GSS proves to be most comfortable Fig.17 Photographs of Bridge Failures during erection stage
and fast system of erection. Weight of GSS system is
significantly lesser than the LG. Ref Fig.16 for GSS.
Launching girder was used for erection. The
14. A FEW CASE STUDIES entire project was completed ahead of the
schedule, within the budgeted cost. This example
From the discussion till now it may be clear that describes how the enabling works forced to
the permanent design and erection method (enabling modify the permanent structure, yet leading to
works) have very close relation to each other. ultimate success of the project.
Following are some of the projects where the
permanents designs and enabling works have
affected each other. The author of this paper has
experienced many live case studies; amongst which From the discussion till now, which has covered
two cases are presented here as a sample:- (a) the olden method of construction of bridges, (b)
the challenges in new era (like complex loadings,
a) Allahabad-Nainy Cable Stayed bridge project
geometry, codes, new materials etc), (c) upcoming
(example of a project where Permanent Design of
methods of bridge construction / erection, and from
Bridge affecting the design of Formwork)
various case studies the interrelation between the
This project was done by Joint venture (JV) Paramagnet design and the Erection Design of
of HCC and Hyundai in Uttar Pradesh India, in Bridge must be clear. Many hints are embedded for
Yr. 2002-03. In this project a 20m wide bridge the Designer as well as contractor at each method of
deck was supported with 1400mm wide and launching, one can use them while working on live
3500mm deep two Pre-stressed rectangular project.
girders (which were monolithically cast with the
deck slab). Each span was 60m long. There were At the end, the main fact to be remembered is
4 modules to be cast. The longest module had Bridge Design and Construction is not a single
nine continuous pres-stressed spans. Every 60m agencies responsibility; only Team-work can lead
span was cast along with the 1/5th (i.e. 12m) of to a overall successful project!
next span i.e. at theoretical point of contra
The author is thankful to the Afcons
During the application of pre-stress as the
Infrastructure Limited and entire site team for
60m portion of the girder used to get hogged
making all the relevant data available for this paper.
up, the remaining 12m portion used to get
Author is thankful to authors of various books /
dipped-down, because of the continuity in the
papers / techniques listed in the References below.
construction, This resulted into enormous
Author also wishes to express his thanks to the
increase in the load on the formwork / staging in
Organizers of Structural Engineering World
the 12m portion (which was temporarily acting as
Conference 2015 for considering present paper.
cantilever, till the remaining 48m was cast in next
pour). This effect was predetermined and the
Formwork and Staging was designed
accordingly. Also the pre-camber was pre- [1] Dhanajay Bhide, Syzygy between Design and
determined and set in the staging during erection Construction of Bridges (Part-I of II) Indian Road
work. Congress Journal, July2015.
[2] Dhanajay Bhide, Replcament of damaged
b) Longest Railway Bridge at Cochin for RVNL Suspension Span of Versova Bridge Across Vasai
(example of a project where Erection Method Creek on NH-8, Indian Roads Congress, Jan-
influenced the design of Bridge) :- March15.
[3] Vivek G. Abhyankar, Nad-al-Sheba Race Course
This bridge was constructed by Afcons Development Project : Construction of three Bridges
Indian Society of Structural Engineers (ISSE),
Infrastructure Ltd. for Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd. in Mumbai, Vol-13/2, April-May-June2011 issue.
Yr. 2007-08. In this project, Rail Vikas Nigam [4] Vivek G. Abhyankar, Construction Longest Railway
Limited (RVNL) had initially proposed a 600Mt Bridge Project at Cochin Indian Society of
single box girder per span. Launching such a Structural Engineers (ISSE), Mumbai, Volume 11-3,
heavy structure was not possible inside the crek Jul-Aug-Sep
area. Also the SBC of soil at casting yard was [5] M. K. Hurd, Formwork for Concrete, ACI, seventh
very less. Considering these limitations the
[6] Marco Rosignoli, Bridge Launching, Thomas
contractor proposed Two-Pre-stressed concrete I Telford Publishing (January 1, 2002)
girders at each span. This Modification was
readily approved by the client considering the
practical limitations. NRS Asia Over-head type ***