Confused by the options of Station Setup, Station Setup Plus, Resection and Refline? Read on!

Trimble Survey Controller Software: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Stationing Programs
Trimble Survey ControllerTM software, Trimble® S6 Total Station, Integrated SurveyingTM Trimble VXTM Spatial Station, 5600 total station
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the stationing programs used in the Trimble Survey Controller software?
The advantages and disadvantages of the following options are described:

Stationing Setup

Use this method if you have one point at a site with known coordinates (the coordinates may be defined in a simple way).
Set up the instrument above this point. To determine the orientation parameter, there are two options:

Orientation with a given azimuth
In the simplest case, the azimuth to a distant target is known. Aim to this target and then measure the horizontal angle. You can now calculate the orientation of the circle of the total station.

If you do not need to orientate the instrument to true north, the azimuth to a visible target is often set to zero.

Orientation with given backsight coordinates
You may be able to measure from the station point to a second point that has given coordinates. With the given coordinates of both station and backsight point, you can calculate the azimuth and the orientation angle.

Set up a tripod with a prism or a prism rod at the backsight point and then measure both the angle and distance.

Use this simple stationing setup routine in local applications when no connection to a grid system is given or necessary.


  • Simple and fast procedure.
  • Use it even if no coordinates are known. In this case, you can work with any coordinates for the station and any azimuth for the orientation.
  • It is the best procedure to use when you work with one station only.
  • Use it when points are measured from a first station point when the station point can be used again as a station and/or a backsight point.


  • If you build up a local network, always working with the simple station setup method and using one backsight point only that was measured from a previous station, a loose net configuration is built that has decreasing internal accuracy. If this station setup is used multiple times in an existing network, the neighborhood relationship of point groups measured from different stations depends strongly on the net quality. But the net quality cannot be checked with this simple setup.
  • There is no redundancy in the measurement. So you cannot check if:
    • The station point at the site is identical to the point given by the coordinates.
    • The correct backsight point was chosen.
    • The backsight coordinates are correct.
  • The measured or staked point cloud may have good internal geometry but it might be shifted or twisted.

Stationing Setup Plus

Use this method if you need to measure more backsight points to determine the orientation: The station coordinates and the coordinates of the backsight points must be known. You can then calculate the averaged orientation. This method is more suitable than the simple stationing setup when a stationing has to be done in a network that is either given or that is produced by previous measurements.


The main advantage when you compare this method to the simple setup is redundancy. With redundant measurements:

  • The orientation parameter and the scale factor can be determined more accurately.
  • A point mix-up, and either wrong or inaccurate coordinates can be recognized.
  • Network constraints can be detected and taken into account.


  • Compared to the simple station setup, you need to allow more time. However, this is the only real disadvantage.
  • Compared to resection, you are limited to a given point to set up the instrument. This could lead to problems caused by visibility.

Resection (Free Stationing)

The prerequisites for Resection are similar to those for Station Setup Plus. The only difference is that you can choose the station point, which means that its coordinates are unknown and have to be calculated by the stationing algorithm.


Because you can choose the station point, you can set up the tripod where there is the best visibility to all points that you need to measure or stake out, or where there is no obstruction or traffic, or where the highest safety for the observer and the instrument is guaranteed.


There are no real disadvantages, but you can use this method only if you have two or more backsight points.

NOTE – Integrated Surveying enables you to use GPS to measure temporary backsight points. This means that missing backsight points are no longer a disadvantage.


RefLine stationing follows the same principle as Resection, but two backsight points only are used: The points define a local axis or reference line. The coordinates of these points can be known, but this is not required.


Use this method when you need to measure or stake out points related to an axis: It allows many options related to the combination of the local axis and the grid system.


The program is optimized for specific applications. So far there is no disadvantage compared to another stationing routine.

Station Elevation

Station Elevation is listed with the measuring programs (not under stationing) in the Trimble Survey Controller software. As a result, it requires another 2D or 3D stationing before you can use it. The calculation of the station elevation supplements a 2D stationing with an additional elevation for the station point or replaces the elevation that was calculated in the previous stationing.


If the station point or the backsight points have only elevations of lower accuracy, the Station Elevation can use accurate elevations, for example, elevations measured with a level.


There are no disadvantages.


Traverse is listed as a COGO function in the Trimble Survey Controller software. When you use it, the prerequisite is that local measurements are provided in the form of some stationings where the following station uses the last station as a backsight point.

The following is an example for the measuring procedure:

  1. Carry out any stationing on the start point with one or more backsight points.
  2. Measure the next traverse point as a normal topo point.
  3. Start stationing on this point, using the start point as backsight point and then measure the next traverse point as a normal topo point.
  4. Continue in this way. On the last traverse point, measure the end point as a normal topo point.
  5. On the end point, perform a Station Setup Plus routine with one or more backsight points and then measure the last traverse point as a topo point. Alternatively, use the last traverse point as the backsight point and then measure a known point as a topo point.

Traverses are always measured when no known points are available in a larger area. Sometimes using a traverse is a way to quickly obtain new coordinates when you are measuring in an area with subsidence caused by mining or in an active rift zone.


The traverse is a well known and well accepted surveying method when environmental conditions mean that a GPS or GNSS measurement is impossible, for example, in a tunnel, forest, mine, or inside a building.


  • A traverse is always an extensive measurement and not the ideal solution with respect to the theory of error propagation. The traverse points in the middle of a longer traverse are always of lower accuracy.
  • The traverse will lose its importance with the combination of GNNS and total station, for example in an I. S. Rover instrument, because you can easily measure backsight coordinates with the integrated GNSS receiver for a free stationing.
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By | 2017-11-07T23:47:26+00:00 December 7th, 2010|Survey|6 Comments


  1. the eden Biodome product review May 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    I do not leave many comments, however i did some searching and
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  2. Hollis May 25, 2013 at 3:58 am - Reply

    May I just say what a comfort to find somebody that really knows what they are talking about over the internet.
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  3. Randy August 28, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I have been using my S6 for over 5 years. I have used all the routines you have discussed. I had to learn them through experimentation, I wish I had this article 5 years ago. Thanks!

  4. Chris March 7, 2018 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you very much for the write-up. While this may be a bit old in terms of instruments, it is still very applicable including newer instruments such as Trimble Access with the SX10. We will be using this in our upcoming training sessions. Thank you again!

  5. Sanjeet sah November 27, 2018 at 8:46 am - Reply

    What are the procedures for changing the instrument point ? If I need to do a topography survey , it’s impossible from a single station. What are the things that need special attention while shifting the total station to a new point?

    • Maureen Crawford December 21, 2018 at 10:23 am - Reply

      To change instrument points, you would need to simply end your current setup, move to a new point and begin a new station setup. I would recommend you contact your local dealer about possible training, sorry we cannot be of much more help. Kelly Harris, PLS | Geospatial Survey Support Manager

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