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Railcar Manufacturing Facility Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

October 19, 2011 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – National Alabama Corporation’s railcar manufacturing facility in Cherokee, Ala., has earned national recognition in the 2011 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2). In honor of this achievement, members of the project team were presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a ceremony at the facility on Wednesday, October 19. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievement in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects around the country. The IDEAS2 award is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S.

The project team members include owner National Alabama Corporation, Cherokee, Ala.; architect and structural engineer Albert Kahn Associates Inc. (AISC Member), Detroit; steel detailer McGill Engineering, Inc. (AISC Member), Tampa, Fla.; steel fabricator Cives Steel Company (AISC Member), Roswell, Ga.; steel erector Midwest Steel, Inc. (AISC Member), Detroit; general contractor Yates-Walbridge Joint Venture, Philadelphia, Miss., and Detroit, respectively; joint manufacturer Quincy Joist Company (AISC Member), Quincy, Fla.

NAC’s railcar manufacturing facility is a National award winner in the category of projects Greater than $75 Million, making it one of only eight projects around the country to receive the National honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

Completed in 2009, NAC’s 2.1-million-sq.-ft railcar manufacturing facility houses fabrication, construction, finishing and administration operations under one roof. The facility is capable of producing up to 12,000 cars annually.

Located on 635 acres in Barton Riverfront Industrial Park, the facility’s orientation followed the existing topography, which minimized site grading, allowing natural areas to remain untouched. The north-south orientation of the facility takes full advantage of sunlight for natural lighting opportunities. The facility accesses the Norfolk-Southern rail line along its southern boundary and a 500-car capacity storage yard was constructed east of the manufacturing facility. Steel rail sidings connect to the existing rail line to facilitate delivery of completed railcars.

Constructed at a cost of approximately $300 million, the project recorded many impressive construction statistics. More than 22,600 tons of structural steel was erected in a remarkably short period of just four months. The superstructure included 27,000 pieces of steel, 200,000 bolts, three miles of handrail and more than five miles of crane runways. The manpower effort included more than 50,000 detailing hours and 305,000 fabrication hours. Four erection crews with four crawler cranes worked concurrently to keep pace with the arrival of 100 truckloads of steel per week, enabling the installation of an average 1,600 pieces per week.

From the earliest planning stages, it was clear the facility design needed to provide maximum flexibility to accommodate concurrent production of multiple styles of railcars. With railcars measuring nearly 90 ft long, 20 ft high and weighing close to 70,000 pounds, it was evident that only a steel structure could provide the long-span and clear heights necessary to meet this critical program requirement. Due to the size and weight of even the simplest components, the fabrication and construction of railcars uses cranes extensively for material handling. The construction area of the facility incorporates jib cranes, semi-gantry and gantry cranes, as well as top-running bridge cranes, all of which are integrated into the building in a complex marriage of process and building structural elements. Typical bay size parallel to the process flow was set at 30 ft to optimize crane runway support framing. Bay sizes perpendicular to the process flow ranged from 93 ft to 120 ft with the majority being 103 ft or 120 ft. Roof trusses were used to span the long direction with bar joists or wide-flange beams spanning the 30 ft.

“An expansive facility that pays close attention to detail,” commented Robert Theel, AIA, regional chief architect and director, Design & Construction Division, General Services Administration Great Lakes Region, Chicago, and a judge in the competition.

The design uses single columns to support the roof and crane girders in lieu of separate building and crane columns. The crane girder support brackets were shop fabricated integrally with the column to minimize effects of fatigue and eliminate the possibility of laminar tearing of the flanges. That also reduced the number of erected pieces, shortened the erection schedule and simplified the support of multiple levels of cranes as well as the continuous 8-ft-wide equipment platform straddling the column.

The design of the administration building required roof cantilevers of up to 22 ft and floor cantilevers of up to 12 ft while minimizing the dept of the structure. This could only be accomplished using steel. Aesthetically the building embodies stylistic elements from the golden age of American industrial design, the strong linear character associated with railway functions and the NAC brand image. The facility incorporates broad expanses of glass curtain wall and roof monitors that permeate the manufacturing spaces with daylight and natural ventilation. The exit for finished railcars has a transparency and light quality rarely seen in conventional industrial facilities.

The facility is expected to achieve LEED Silver certification, and in doing so, may become the largest industrial project to achieve this distinction in the new construction category. One example of the design features incorporated into the facility is the harvesting of rain water from more than 37 acres of roof and hard surface areas and diverting it to a two-acre irrigation pond. The extensive use of steel in the facility is inherently sustainable as highly recycled product that can be transformed many times over and gain new life when combined with other materials. A great example of resource reuse can be seen in the railcar storage yard. This area incorporated more than eight miles of reused steel rail sections, rescued from the scrap yard and recycled, along with steel rail ties, to form the storage yard rail spurs.

NAC’s railcar manufacturing facility was made possible with innovative structural steel design and construction and is an example of modern industrial architecture. The fusion of function, form and sustainable design creates a flexible production environment with a reduced carbon footprint that will endure for decades.

The 14 IDEAS2 winners for 2011 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received by architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission is reviewed and award winners are selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

The IDEAS2 award dates back over 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, “The entire NAC railcar manufacturing facility project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a modern industrial facility that serves its purpose extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

View high resolution images of NAC’s railcar manufacturing facility project in a slideshow gallery of photos available here.

Photo by Justin Maconochie


For more information contact:

Tasha Weiss
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]



American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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