Canadian Consulting Engineer

Along The Canada Line

January 1, 2010
By Jean Sorensen

The $1.9 billion Canada Line, a rail-based rapid transit line linking central Richmond, the Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver, is not only one of the largest construction projects...

The $1.9 billion Canada Line, a rail-based rapid transit line linking central Richmond, the Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver, is not only one of the largest construction projects in B.C. history, but also a showcase of Lower Mainland engineering.

The 19-kilometre transit line opened ahead of schedule in August 2009 in good time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The project involved: tunneling through downtown Vancouver, a major cut and cover project outside the downtown core, 16 stations (eight underground, two at grade, and six elevated), two bridges over the Fraser River (one over the North Arm and a second over the Middle Arm to Sea Island), plus an operations and maintenance centre. Bridge engineer Buckland & Taylor won a Canadian Consulting Engineering 2008 Award of Excellence for the North Arm bridge (Oct-Nov. 2008). The line also has unique features such as a partially sheltered pedestrian path over the North Arm, and North America’s largest “living wall” at the Vancouver airport “YVR” station. This green wall is made of planted cubes arranged in a two-storey tapestry of colour and textures.

The line itself was designed and constructed by SNCLavalin as part of InTransit BC, the private consortium that helped finance and is also contracted to operate and maintain the line for 35 years. Canada Line Rapid Transit, a subsidiary of TransLink the regional transportation authority, oversaw the project.

The LRT’s route from Vancouver downtown is shaped like a Y, with the left arm going into Richmond and the right going to the airport. It connects two high-traffic areas: the airport and the downtown Waterfront Station. The latter is a stop for the West Coast Express, Sky-Train, buses, the Seabus –and many pedestrians. The station is underground and adjacent to a 1910 former Canadian Pacific Rail facility that needed adapting.

“It was an interesting challenge,” says Andrew Metten, P. Eng. of Bush Bohlman & Partners, the structural engineers who devised the modifications to the heritage building so that it could connect to the new underground station. “We had to keep all transit operating during construction.” Bush Bohlman devised the plans for ripping through the main floor and creating a whole new level below, complete with modifications for elevators and stairs. Much of the work was beneath the main concourse level and went completely unnoticed by the commuters.

The Link

At Vancouver International Airport, YVR station is linked by a bridge to an award-winning $125-million, five-storey steel and glass structure known as the Link. Passengers arriving and departing via the Canada Line enter or exit the Link at Level 4, moving along a 12-m high bridge suspended from Level 5.

The Link connects to both the international and domestic terminals, expected to handle 21 million passengers this year. The Link is signature architecture designed to convey a spacious feeling, complete with an oval structure measuring 17 m wide, 41 m long and 33 m high. The oval provides a unique visual connection to the land, sea and sky that surround the airport, but providing the views called for a five-degree sloping enclosure and a seven-degree sloping roof. Steel beams on the upper levels were contoured to resemble tree limbs stretching into the sky. A striking 12 metre totem pole rises from Level 3.

Structural engineering firm Read Jones Christoffersen (RJC) was chosen by Kasian Architecture Interior Design to translate the building’s bold design into a reality through the use of steel. The project won the Canadian Institute of Steel’s award of excellence in the architectural category in 2007.

The Link was one of the last projects completed by RJC’s team under the leadership of structural engineer Rick Banman before he succumbed to cancer. “RJC is very proud of the contribution that Rick and his team of engineers and technicians made. Their structural creativity was instrumental in the creation of this iconic structure at Vancouver’s gateway airport,” says RJC principal Jeff Corbett, P. Eng.

Operations and Maintenance Centre

The Operations and Maintenance Centre for the Canada Line is another example of architectural and engineering innovation. The rail line runs through the centre’s yard so the design had to be more than simply utilitarian. Omicron provided the architectural and engineering design.

Located on a seven-acre Richmond site, the centre consists of one large structure with associated service buildings such as a wheel lathe building and transit power station. The centre’s roof form is a shallow curve, arcing west towards Richmond. The roof provides a screen for the rooftop mechanical units so that only a clear, carefully-composed roofscape is seen.

The Omicron team combined the building’s need for a high degree of ventilation with heat recovery air handlers, and a displacement ventilation air supply system. The office areas have suspended radiant heating and cooling panels with localized control. In the area where garage doors receive rail cars needing work, an air curtain system is employed. Any pollutants draining from the shops or car washing area are directed into a trade waste sump system and intercepted before reaching municipal sewers.

While the owner had not originally designated the Operations and Maintenance Centre as a green structure, the Omicron team was pleased to be able to provide some sustainability features while still maintaining the project budget.

Jean Sorensen is a freelance writer based in Vancouver


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