sfjwzls · 2021-02-11

Heavy metal

They call it the heavy-lift division for a reason. A crew from Western Mechanical Electrical Millwright Ltd. recently travelled to Lynton, Alberta to help Suncor Energy with its $20.6 billion “Voyageur” oil sands expansion and upgrade. The specific goal was to help five new refinery reactors, four of which weigh in excess of a million pounds, reach their new home. The fifth reactor weighs a paltry 750,000 pounds. “They were just over 100-feet long and 14-feet in diameter,” recalls structural engineer Mark Carney, who worked to ensure each piece of equipment was safely lifted the requisite 17 feet straight up. “It’s the heaviest lift we’ve done.” It’s not, however, the heaviest lift seen in northern Alberta. “They move heavy stuff there,” Carney says. Western was invited to the project by CN Railway, a partner in many projects. CN was hired by the engineering firm responsible for bringing the reactors by ship from Japan, through the Panama Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway to Thunder Bay. The ship’s cranes then shifted the machinery to a train which brought them as close to their final destination as possible by rail. Western made the lift from train to truck with a 1.8-million pound capacity gantry, using strand-jack technology. The hydraulic system powering the lift is computer-operated to control the precision boost. “A lot of our equipment is designed so you can assemble it in different arrangements to match the needs of each project,” explains Carney. “We had this equipment before, we just had to modify it into this arrangement for this particular lift.” The trucking configuration that completed the trip included nine truck tractors and a customized trailer with 448 wheels and 28 axles. The return trip took seven days from the rail yard to the Suncor site, Carney says. The same trip would take about 45 minutes by car. “They had to shut down the highway,” he reports. “So they could only do it at night and at low traffic times. They went about 20-to-25 kilometres an hour.” In all its divisions, Western strives to handle the jobs traditional companies don’t have the resources to do. In fact, they’re often called in by other electrical or mechanical contractors who have been awarded an overall project, just to do the trickier portions. Although the crew at Western is quite capable of tackling more conventional projects, more often than not they tend to be called in for their expertise in more challenging maintenance and equipment installations. “The more challenging the job, the more interested and involved the workers are,” Carney has said. The heavy-lift division has “really been taking off – especially with all the infrastructure work going on,” he adds. As part of GO Transit’s recent upgrades, a railway bridge in Port Credit needed to be replaced. Although it was in a highly inaccessible location, the real challenge was the time factor involved. “We only had a five-hour window,” says Carney. The night-time project carried the proviso not to disturb the travels of commuting train passengers, so finishing on time was vital. While the old bridge was destroyed on site for easier disposal, the new 330-tonne bridge was brought in by rail and lowered into place as a complete entity. Again working with trains, but this time a little closer to home, Western was contracted to help shift a steam engine, its coal tender and a caboose from their long-time home on Barrie’s Lakeshore Drive, to a new display at the Simcoe County Museum. Engine 1531, built in 1910, was blocking the progress of the city’s $18.5 waterfront sewer project, so it was moved last fall to the railway station display in Midhurst. Don Anderson Haulage has a specialty trailer equipped with rail tracks that was once shuffled streetcars in Toronto. Perfectly equipped, it was put to work on this project. Again using strand jacks, Western lifted the heavy trains on and off the truck at either end of the trip. With up to 250 employees at any one time, Western has been serving the construction industry since 1979. The culture of innovation and creative trouble-shooting has been introduced by the leadership team and has filtered down throughout each department. “That’s what we do,” Carney says simply. “That’s what we’re good at.”