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CURVES

In the design of roads and railways, straight sections of road or track are connected by curves of
constant or varying radius. The purpose of the horizontal curves is to deflect a vehicle travelling along
one of the straights safely and comfortably through the angle to enable it to continue its journey along
the other straight. is known as the deflection angle. Circular curves allow for smooth vehicle operation
at the speeds for which the road is designed.
The curves shown in figure are horizontal curves since all measurements in their design and construction
are considered in the horizontal plane. The main types of horizontal curves are

Types of Circular Curve

A simple circular curve consists of one arc of constant radius, as shown in (a)
A compound circular curve consists of two or more circular curves of different radii. The centers of the
curves lie on the same side of the common tangent, as shown in (b)

A reverse circular curve consists of two consecutive circular curves, which may or may not have the same
radii, the centers of which lie on opposite sides of the common tangent.

Terminology of Circular Curves

The figure below illustrates some of the terminology of horizontal curves.

From the figure,

Q is any point on the circular curve TPU
S is the mid-point of the long chord TSU
P is the mid-point of the circular curve TPU
Intersection points = I
Tangent points = T and U
Deflection angle = = external angle at I= angle CIU
Centre of curvature = O
Long chord = TU
Mid-ordinate =PS
Intersection angle = (180 ) = internal angle at I = angle TIU
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Tangent lengths = IT and IU (IT = IU)

Tangential angle = for example, angle ITQ = angle from the tangent length at T (or U) to any point on the
curve.
Radius angle = angle TOU = deflection angle CIU
External distance = PI
Circular curve geometry /Important Relationships in Circular Curves
From the figure above, triangle ITU is isosceles, therefore angle ITU = angle IUT =/2. Also the central
angle at O is equal to i.e. the tangent deflection angle.
The line O-I, joins the centre of the curve to the intersection of tangents. It effectively bisects all related
lines and angles.
Tangent length (IT and IU) =T can be found from triangle OTI

tan

sin

=2

=2

Mid-ordinate PS:

cos
=

"

=
cos

" =

cos

"

1 cos

2
" =

cos

External distance (PI) can be found from triangle OIT:

\$=

+ "\$
+ "\$

= sec

& '
2

() \$

"\$ = , =

cos

sec 1
2

+ "\$

Referring to the figure (a), the tangential angle, , at T to any point, X, on the curve TU is equal to half
the angle subtended at the center of curvature, O, by the chord from T to that point.
Similarly, in figure (b): The tangential angle, , at any point, X, on the curve to any forward point, Y, on
the curve is equal to half the angle subtended at the center by the chord between the two points.
Another useful relationship is illustrated in figure (c) which is a combination of figures (a) and (b):
From figure (a), angle TOX = 2, hence angle ITX =
From figure (b), angle XOY = 2, hence angle AXY =
Therefore, in figure (c), angle TOY = 2(+) and it follows that angle ITY = (+). In words this can be
stated as The tangential angle to any point on the curve is equal to the sum of the tangential angles
from each chord up to that point.
The relationships illustrated in figures (a), (b) and (c) are used when setting out the curves by the
method of tangential angles.

Relationship between Radius and Degree Curves

The sharpness of the curve is determined by the choice of the radius R. Large radius curves are relatively
flat, whereas small radius curves are relatively sharp.
The concept of degree of curve (D) is to define the sharpness of the curve.
The degree of curve is defined as that central angle subtended by 100 meter arc.
From the figure above: Arc AB is 100m and subtends an angle of D at the centre of curvature. The
curve TB is a D degree curve.
-.

100
0
=
2/
360

2/

0
360

0 =

100 360 18000

=
2/
/

Example
A curve of radius 2000m is equivalent to

0 =

18000
9
= = 2.865
/ 2000 /
6

2000'

:) =

2.865 )

))

:)

;

'

<) )

') )

<) )

)

')

))

Example

R= 1000m

)
()

&

()

:) = 2/ D

tan = 1000
@

EFG

H = 2/ 1000

JFEKB
EFG

= 290.306 '

()
()

&

:) =

= 1000 1638

&

=2

N O = 2 1000
2

JKG

= 290.306 '

819 = 289.288 '

Example
Given =112135 and Degree of curve D= 6, calculate the Radius R, Tangent lengths and the length of
the arc L.

=
=
= 2/

18000
= 954.930 '
/0

1121 35"
tan = 954.930 tan P
R = 94.976 '
2
2
360

= 2/ 954.930

= 100

= 100

112135
= 189.329 '
360

112135
= 189.329 '
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Design Method for Circular Curves

In a circular curve design there are three main variables:
o

the design speed v

All new roads are designed for a particular speed and the chosen value depends on the type and
location of the proposed road. The Department of Transport (DTp) stipulates design speeds for
particular classes of road. This leaves and R to be determined.

Locate tangent lines AC and BD

Set a theodolite up on one of the lines AC and sight towards the intersection point I

Drive two pegs x and y on the line AC such that BD will intersect the line xy

Set up the theodolite along line BD and sight I

Mark point I by driving a peg where the line of sight BD intersects with the string line

Locating Tangent points when the Intersection point is inaccessible

Choose points A and B on the tangents such that it is possible to sight B from A and A from B

Measure AB

AT=IA-IT and BU=IB-IU. Hence set out T and U

As a check, sight from T to U and measure angle ITU which should be equal to /2

Setting out circular curves

Setting out of curves can be achieved by the following methods:
a) Setting circular curves by tangential angles method
b) Use of coordinates
Setting Out by the Tangential Angles Method

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Calculation

Determine the length of the curve

Select a suitable chord length (assumption made is that arc TK=chord TK if chord R/20)

A series of tangential angles is obtained i.e. 1, 2 ..for TK, KL

Cumulative angles are measured from the tangent point with reference to the tangent line IT
but the chord lengths are individual, not cumulative

Setting out procedure

The tangent points are fixed and the theodolite set up at one of them, say T

The intersection point is sighted such that the horizontal circle is reading zero

The tangential angle for the first chord is set on the horizontal circle

The first chord is set out by lining in the tape with the theodolite and marking of the length of
the chord from the tangent point

Set the theodolite to the value of 1+2, and line the tape again with the end of the tape on the
point fixed for the first chord.

Setting Out by the Coordinates Method

Coordinate points on the curve are calculated and these points are fixed by either;
a) Intersection using two theodolites from two of the control points
b) Bearing and distance using EDM or total station from control points ; To fix point A, is measured
from PQ and distance PA measured and to fix point B, is measured and distance PB measured. For
a complete curve, all the required points are set out at regular intervals of through chainage on the
curve from control points P and Q

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Locate T and U

Calculate the coordinates of points A to U from T

Derive bearings PA and QA, PB and QB, PC and QC..from their coordinates

a) Intersection from P and Q using bearings PA and QA, PB and QB.

b) Polar rays from P or Q using bearings PA or QA, PB or QB..
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Example 1
)

()

@
A

= 540 47.5"

Find the tangent angles if the layout is to precede at 20m intervals.

R=954.930m
L= 189.329m
Last chainage = 196.738+189.329=386.067m

Chainage
BC 0+196.738

0+200

() =
Chord length
0

3.262

UVWXY Z[\]^V

D H
A

189.329

3.262

189.329

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540 47.5"

= 0 00 00"

540 47.5"

= 0552.3"

0+220

20

0+240

20

0+260

20

20

189.329

540 47.5"

= 0360"

540 47.5"

20

189.329

= 0360"

540 47.5"

= 0360"

20

189.329

540 47.5"

= 0360"

20

189.329

etc
0+380

20

0+386.067

6.067

6.067

189.329

540 47.5"

= 01055.23"

The cumulative tangential angles should add up to 540B 47.5"

Chord calculations
To calculate the sub chord, the equation used is;

()

= 2 sin

()

Any subchord length can be calculated if its tangent angle is known. From the previous example,
relevant chords can be calculated as follows:

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First chord: =

Last chord:

= 2 954.930 sin 010 55.23" = 6.067 '

If these chord distances are used, the curve layout can proceed without error. The chords are always
shorter than the arcs. For shorter distances and in the case of flat (large radius) curves, the arcs and
chords can often appear to be equal. However, if more decimal places are introduced into the
calculation, the marginal difference between the chord and the arc becomes evident.
Example 2
It is required to connect two straights whose deflection angle is 131600 by a circular curve of radius
600 m. Make the necessary calculations for setting out the curve by the tangential angles method if the
through chainage of the intersection point is 2745.72 m.
Use a chord length of 25 m and sub-chords at the beginning and end of the curve to ensure that the
pegs are placed at exact 25 m multiples of through chainage.

()

) &

15

()

&

:) =

) &

600 13.2667 /
= 138.93 '
180

= 2675.94 + 138.93 = 2814.87 '

To round this figure to 2700 m (the next multiple of 25 m) an initial sub-chord is required.

()

&

= 2700 2675.94 = 24.06 '

Hence a final sub-chord is required since 25 m chords can only be used up to chainage 2800 m.

()

&&

(

&

) )
(

& 14.87 '

The tangential angles for these chords are obtained from the formula

b=
Point

Chainage (m)

180
N
2/

()

O )

))

Individual

Cumulative

tangential angle

tangential angle

2675.94

00 00 00

00 00 00

C1

2700.00

24.06

01 08 56 (1)

01 08 56

C2

2725.00

25.00

01 11 37 (2)

02 20 33

C3

2750.00

25.00

01 11 37 (3)

03 32 10

C4

2775.00

25.00

01 11 37 (4)

04 43 47

C5

2800.00

25.00

01 11 37 (5)

05 55 24

2814.87

14.87

00 42 36 (6)

06 38 00

138.93 (checks)

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For general chord = 180/2 (25.00/600) = 0111 37

For final sub-chord =180/2 (14.87/600) = 00 4236
Applying these to the whole curve, the tabulated results are shown in the table above. The points on
the centre line are designed C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5 for use in the next worked example.
As a check, the final cumulative tangential angle shown in table should equal /2 within a few seconds.
Also the sum of the chords should equal the total length of the circular arc.
is proportional to the chord length any chords of equal length will have the same tangential angle and
this is simply added to the cumulative total.
Setting Out from Coordinates by Intersection
The circular curve designed in the previous worked example is to be set out by intersection methods
from two nearby traverse stations A and B .The position of the tangent point, T, is set out on the ground
and its coordinates are obtained by taking observations to it from A and B. Observations taken from T to
the intersection point, I, enable the whole circle bearing of TI to be calculated as 632714.
The coordinates of A, B and T are as follows:
A 829.17 m E 724.43 m N
B

915.73 m E 691.77 m N

798.32 m E 666.29 m N

Using the relevant data from the previous worked example, calculate
(a) The coordinates of all the points on the centre line of the curve which lie at exact 25 m multiples
of through chainage
(b) The bearing AB and the bearings from A required to establish the directions to all these points
(c) The bearing BA and the bearings from B required to establish the directions to all these points
The figure below shows all the points to be set out together with traverse stations A and B

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(a) Coordinates of all the points on the center line

Coordinates of C1
With reference to figure below and table in the previous example

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a)

`J = a)

\$ + bJ

= 6327 14 + 0108 56
c

= 6436 10

( ()

`J = 24.06 '

Therefore
,e;f = 24.06 sin 6436 10 = +21.735 '

ge;f = 24.06 cos 6436 10 = +10.319 '

Hence
,;f = ,e + =,e;f ? = 798.32 + 21.735 = 820.055 '

g;f = ge + =ge;f ? = 666.29 + 10.319 = 676.609 '

These are retained with three decimal places for calculation purposes but are finally rounded to two
decimal places.
Coordinates of C2
With reference to figure below and table above

hJ + 90 bJ + 90 bA = 180

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Hence
hJ = bJ + bA

= 01 08 56 + 0011 37 = 022033
Therefore
a)

`J `A = a)

`J + hJ

From the table, horizontal length C1C2=25.00 m, therefore

,;f ;i = 25.00 sin 6656 43 = +23.003 '
g;f ;i = 25.00 cos 6656 43 = +9.790 '

Hence
,;i = ,;f + =,;f ;i ?

= 820.055 + 23.003 = 843.058 '

g;i = g;f + =g;f ;i ?

= 676.609 + 9.790 = 686.399 '

Coordinates of C3
With reference to figures above and the table
hA = bA + bE

a)

`A`E = a)

`J `A + hA

= 6656 43 + 0223 14 = 691957

From the table, horizontal length C2C3 = 25.00 m, therefore
,;i ;j = 25.00 sin 6919 57 = +23.391 '
g;i ;j = 25.00 cos 6919 57 = +8.824 '

Therefore
,;j = ,;i + =,;i ;j ? = 843.058 + 23.391 = 866.449 '
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g;j = g;i + =g;i ;j ? = 686.399 + 8.824 = 695.223 '

Coordinates of C4 and C5
These are calculated by repeating the procedure used to calculate the coordinates of C3 from those of
C2. The values obtained are
`k = 890.187 ' ,, 703.065 ' g

`m = 914.231 ' ,, 709.911 ' g

Coordinate of U
These are calculated twice to provide a check.
Firstly, they are calculated from point `m by repeating the procedure used to calculate the coordinates
of C3 from those of C2. The values obtained are U=928.660 m E, 713.505 m N
Secondly, they are calculated by working along the straights from T to I to U as follows

( ()

a)

\$ = 69.78 '

\$ = 6327 14
)) ) n ):

<

o) )p 'n()

hence
,eq = 69.78 sin 6327 14 = +62.423 '

geq = 69.78

Therefore
,J = ,e + ,eq

gJ = ge + geq

= 666.29 + 31.186 = 697.476 '

From the previous worked example, =131600, hence
a)

\$ = a)

\$+

= 6327 14 + 1316 00
21

= 7643 14

( ()

\$ = 69.78 '

therefore
,qr = 69.78 sin 7643 14 = +67.914 '

From which
,r = ,J + ,qr

gr = gJ + gqr

= 697.476 + 16.029 = 713.505 '

These check, within a few millimeters, the values obtained for the coordinates of U calculated around
the curve.
All the coordinates are listed in table below and have been rounded to two decimal places.
(b) Bearing AB and the bearings to the points from A
These are calculated from the coordinates of the points using either the quadrants method or by
using rectangular/polar conversions. The bearings are listed in table below.
(c) Bearing BA and the bearings to the points from B
The bearings are listed in table below

point

Chainage Coordinates

Bearing

from A

Bearing

from

(m)

m E

m N

2675.94

798.32

666.29

207

56

59

257

45

23

C1

2700.00

820.05 (5)

676.61

190

47

34

260

59

44

C2

2725.00

843.06

686.40

159

56

24

265

46

26

C3

2750.00

866.45

695.22

128

04

39

274

00

33

22

C4

2775.00

890.19

703.06(5) 109

17

51

293

51

17

C5

2800.00

914.23

709.91

99

41

09

355

16

36

2814.87

928.66

713.50(5) 96

15

55

30

44

59

Bearing

AB= 110

40 19

Bearing

BA=290 4019

Offsets from tangent lengths

This traditional method requires two tapes or a chain and a tape. It is suitable for short curves and it
may be used to set out additional points between those previously established by the tangential angles
method or by coordinate methods. This is often necessary to give a better definition of the centre line.
The expression for the offset AB, from a point A on the tangent, to the curve will be acquired as follows.
In triangle OBC
A

= `A + `A

From here there are two routes

Either

(1) R X =u

tA

hence X =R u
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tA )

+ tA

or

(2)

- 2RX + s A + t A

Dividing through by 2R gives

X = (t A / 2R) + (s A /2R)

But (s A /2R) will be very small since R is very large compared with X, therefore it can be neglected.

tA
s=
2
The equation above is accurate only for large radii curves and will give errors for small radii curves
where the neglecting the second term cannot be justified.
Once the tangent points are fixed, the lines of the tangents can be defined using a theodolite or ranging
rods and the offsets (X) set off at right angles at distances (Y) from T and then from U. Half the curve is
set out from each tangent point.

Offsets from the Long Chord

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This tradition method also uses two tapes or a chain and tape. It is suitable for curves of small radius
such as boundary walls and kerb lines at road intersections. Also, it is a very useful method when the
tangent lengths are inaccessible and offsets from them cannot be used.
The expression of the offset HD from the long chord TU at a distance Y from F will be acquired as
follows. All offsets are established from the mid-point F of the long chord TU. Let the length of chord
TU= W. In triangle TFO,
A

= wA + wA

{ A
H
A

But

w=

sx
A

y
2

{ A
H
A

sx =

In triangle ODE 0A = , A + 0, A

sx = zD

Hence

zD

sx

w+s

+ tA

w+s =u

):

..

t A .2

w = zD

=y>2? H
A

Therefore from equation 2,

s=u

tA

zD

A
=y>2? H

Once the tangent points are fixed, the long chord can be defined and point F established. The offsets are
then calculated at regular intervals from point F, firstly along FT and secondly along FU.
Again, it is very useful to tabulate the offsets from FT and FU before beginning the setting out.
When setting out, the distance Y to a particular point is measured from F towards T and U and the
corresponding offset X set out at right angles at that point.

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Compound Circular Curves

These consist of two or more consecutive circular curves of different radii without any intervening
straight section. The tangent lengths IT1 and IT2 are not equal, AB= common tangent through Tc,
b

=~+

The object of such curves is to avoid certain points, the crossing of which would involve great expense
and which cannot be avoided by a simple circular curve.
Today they are uncommon since there is a change in the radial force at the junction of the curves which
go to make up the compound curve. The effect of this, if the change is marked, can be to give a definite
jerk to passengers, particularly in trains.
To overcome this problem, either very large radii should be used to minimize the forces involved or
transition curves should be used instead of the compound curve.
The design of such a curve is best done by treating the two sections separately and choosing suitable
values for , , R1 and R2and proceeding as for two simple circular curves, that is, T1Tc and TcT2.
Compound curves are reserved for those applications where design constraints (topographic or cost of
land) preclude the use of simple or spiral curves, they are now usually found chiefly in the design of
interchange loops and ramps.
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