Purple Line and the Vibration Issue

At the University Senate, several faculty members expressed concern that the Purple Line would cause vibrations, interfering with research on campus.

This is an important concern. We raised it with the Maryland Transit Administration’s engineers, who said that it was a problem that could be solved through track engineering. Indeed, that’s why Light and Heavy Rail transit lines can travel through or near a number of campuses doing similar research as at the University of Maryland. At the University of Washington, the Seattle-area Sound Transit is installing shock absorbers under the rails in a Light Rail line that will travel through the campus.

In order to get some perspective on the issue, a friend wrote to Dr. Mark L. Schattenburg, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Space Nanotechnology Laboratory. The laboratory he directs is located roughly 800 feet from Boston’s Red Line subway (right). Here’s the answer he sent:

Vibration from vehicles certainly can effect sensitive instruments of many kinds, including electron microscopes. atomic force microscopes, nanolithography tools, etc. Specially designed buildings and instrument vibration isolation systems can reduce the effects of vibration, but this can add millions of dollars to the cost of a research facility.

At MIT the green line does go by my lab a block away, but truthfully the street traffic, elevator, electric generators, MIT steam plant (across the street), rooftop fans, etc., are much worse offenders.

MIT: Transit and Technology

We will continue to research the issue, however we have not heard the locations of existing laboratories and the tolerances required. As Dr. Schattenburg notes, vibrations can have many sources and the heavy on-campus traffic of trucks, buses, and automobiles no doubt already creates significant background vibrations. Replacing many of them with a well-engineered Light Rail may very well enhance the ability of scientists to conduct nano research on campus. The Purple Line is not going away, and the quicker campus leaders and MTA officials can begin substantive discussions about current and future vibration levels the better.

5 thoughts on “Purple Line and the Vibration Issue”

  1. Some time ago I attended a pre-construction meeting for the now complete Biosciences research bldg. (143) http://www.umd.edu/ouch/projects/biosciences.shtml

    In that meeting there was concern from those with labs in Bio-Psych about vibrations during construction. The planners were adamant that they could reduce the vibrations to acceptable levels. I would think if those folks can handle pylons being driven into the earth 20ft away they could handle light rail on campus drive.

  2. This correspondence is consistent with what MTA has apparently already told campus officials but which the are apparently pretending not to hear so as to continue the UMD fear-mongering campaign among the faculty.

    Why doesn’t the Diamondback investigate this issue? Note Dr. Schattenburg’s reference to utility buildings; UM built one on Stadium Drive – just across from the Engineering Building and adjacent to the addition to the Chemistry Building – both of which house sensitive research. Another utility building is being expanded – across from the new BioScience Building mentioned by Clay. Where special precautions taken in the planning and designing of these buildings – or is it just transit that the university is worried about?

  3. A research campus of the University of California San Francisco has just been built in the massive Mission Bay project. Bio-tech and research is a major source of the projects tenants — I believe Genentech has a headquarters there now — the whole development is served by the new T-Third Light Rail line and is also adjacent to the existing lines for Caltrain commuter rail to the peninsula. You may consider looking into that, but as @Dexter indicates — this seems like a red herring brought up to instill irrational fears in potential allies.

  4. The Stadium Drive alignment has the closest proximity to advanced
    laboratory space by a wide margin. And once the physical science
    complex is built (expected in 4-5 years), the physics department
    will move from its current location at the M circle to the intersection
    of Stadium and Regent’s. Then the university could plausibly rename
    Stadium Drive as Nanotechnology Way.

  5. As a latecomer to this particular post, I’d like to comment on a couple of things.

    1) I assume Dr. Schattenburg meant to reference the Red Line in his email, not the Green Line. (The Green Line never enters MIT’s home town of Cambridge.) The Red Line is buried 25 feet underground as it passes MIT, so it’s not completely apples-to-apples with the Purple Line’s proposed surface routes through the College Park campus.

    2) What IS apples-to-apples, though, is the heavy rail (freight) that passes even closer to Dr. Schattenburg’s lab! I don’t know why he neglected to mention it. If you look at that map of the MIT campus, check out the line running between buildings N4 and 44. That’s a surface railroad track! Building 46 was built to span the railway, creating a high-ceiling tunnel for trains to pass through.

    As the track heads out beyond building 46, it makes a shallow left turn and passes — look again at the upper right corner of that map — Draper Labs! And the map doesn’t show where the track goes next: directly through the heart of perhaps the biggest concentration of biotech and pharmaceutical research companies and labs on Earth.

    Other properties located mere feet from that freight rail track: MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, the Magnet Lab, the Superconducting Test Facility, etc.

    Somehow, all those folks and their delicate, high-precision research are doing just fine despite the heavy surface railroad tracks 20-30 feet away.

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