Canadian Consulting Engineer

SCHREYER AWARD | SNC-Lavalin Canada Line Rapid Transit

October 1, 2010
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Canada Line is Vancouver's newest addition to the region's transportation network. Measuring approximately 18.5 kilometres, the automated rapid transit line has 16 stations, three water crossings,...

The Canada Line is Vancouver’s newest addition to the region’s transportation network. Measuring approximately 18.5 kilometres, the automated rapid transit line has 16 stations, three water crossings, and elevated, at-grade, and underground track sections. The line connects the Vancouver International Airport with the city of Richmond and downtown Vancouver, and is truly intermodal, with connections to the existing Sky-Train line, buses and rapid buses, the sea bus, commuter rail, and helijet.

SNC-Lavalin was the prime entity selected to design, build, operate, and partially finance the project in a $1.9-billion public-private partnership in 2005. The company’s transportation division assembled and managed a project management team that met an aggressive 51-month schedule on budget and 110 days early.

The team was faced with challenges in every facet of the project, includ-ing constrained corridors, environmentally sensitive and heritage sites,

and highly compressible soils and high water tables. It was also a tight fast-track construction schedule that required coordinating with different jurisdictions and consulting multiple stakeholders.

With a ridership capacity equivalent to 10 lanes of commuter traffic, the new line is estimated to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20-27 kilotonnes per year. During the first eight months of operation, the line has achieved a 98.9% service reliability. During the Winter Olympics it carried up to 287,000 trips in a single day.

Threading Through the City

The 18.5-kilometre alignment was an engineering achievement that involved fitting virtually every kind of guideway and station configuration associated with a major transportation project into a complex urban environment.

Twin 2.5-kilometre bored tunnels were threaded under Vancouver’s constrained downtown core. The downtown stations all interfaced with existing buildings and demanded complex renovations. Waterfront Station, for example, linked the past with the present, involving an intricate pedestrian connection between the Canada Line and the historic CP Rail station. The Vancouver City Centre station connected with two separate underground shopping malls. Yaletown Station, sandwiched between two high-rise towers, had to route its vertical circulation through an existing parkade and integrate its entrance delicately with a highly prized community park.

The cut-and-cover tunnel alignment along Cambie Street alternated between side-by-side and stacked configurations in order to fit the alignment through tight pinch points and maintain traffic during construction. The cut-and-cover tunnel was also instrumental in preserving over 450 trees along the Cambie Heritage Boulevard, trees that would have been lost in the original preliminary design. SNC-Lavalin extended the tunnel for an additional three kilometres in order to conserve the boulevard.

The line’s elevated structures are a visible embodiment of innovative engineering. Connecting Vancouver and Richmond is the North Arm Bridge, North America’s first extra-dosed, cable-stayed bridge, complete with pedestrian and bicycle lanes alongside the transit line (Oct-Nov. 2008, p. 40).

At the heart of the Canada Line are the complex systems and exhaustive subsystems required to automatically and effortlessly control the trains. The systems continuously monitor, report and respond to the ever changing dynamics of operation. In a central supervising station a team of five people view a 30-m2 computer screen served by more than 170 computer processors and have complete control of the system.

The project’s multidisciplinary nature needed strong management and integration to transform the Canada Line into a cohesive, working system. The management team implemented a fast-track approach that overlapped design, construction and commissioning activities. There were 117 engineering design contracts and 8.5 million hours of work during construction.

When the Canada Line generated public interest far beyond the traditional scope of construction projects, it took a strong management team to undertake one of the province’s largest major public communications and outreach initiatives. Senior engineering staff worked alongside the public consultation team and spoke on project issues and listened to stakeholder concerns.

The line was developed with a focus on sustainable principles, including measures to restore, and protect areas that were impacted by the project.

The Canada Line’s success is lasting proof of the value of engineers and engineering in society, when ingenuity is mixed with effective design and project management.

Project name: Canada Line Rapid Transit Project

Award-winning firm: (design, build, operate and partially finance) SNC-Lavalin, Vancouver (Jim Burke, P. Eng., Mike O’Connor, P. Eng., Robert Newland, P. Eng., Dr. RogerWoodhead, P. Eng.)

Owner: Canada Line Rapid Transit (CLCO)

Client: InTransit BC

Other key players: EBA Engineering (geotechnical); Busby Perkins + Will, Fast + Epp, Genivar, Glotman-Simpson, Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden, Kasian, Read Jones Christoffersen, VIA, Walter Francl (station architecture and engineering)

Subcontractors/suppliers: Kerr Wood Leidal (engineering), MCW (electrical/mechanical), McElhanney (surveying); Wesco Distribution (power/ventilation)


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