Construction crews complete move of a five million pound tunnel – the trickiest part of King Road grade separation is done.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON October 8, 2012  The tunnel will get buried and the hydraulic jack hammers removed – the aggregate will get dropped into the sides of the tunnel and the crews will focus on getting the railway tracks back in place for the rush hour traffic on Tuesday morning.

It was one of the biggest construction projects of its kind.  No one had ever moved an object this big, weighing this much before. And the time frames were wickedly tight.  It had to be done over a long weekend and it had to be done on time – thousands of commuters on the Hamilton to Toronto GO train lines were depending on those trains.

Here is what the rail crossing on King Road looks like before the work to put in a grade separation began.

This is what the objective looked like before the first of the four railway tracks came out Friday night. It would be a much different looking crossing on the Monday morning

As big an undertaking as it was, it was completed without any major hitches.  The rain slowed things down but there were no major equipment malfunctions and no injuries.  This was a very professional team of people working in a very tight space with no wiggle room, literally or figuratively.

The rail line crossing usually handles more than 100 crossing a day, a combination of commuter and freight traffic made the intersection one of the busiest in the country.  King Road was becoming more and more congested.  A grade separation was necessary.

The city and the railway argued over who had to put an underpass in place with the city eventually suing the railway – after which the work began.  King Road couldn’t just be shut down for a month while the grade separation was built – there were too many large corporations along the road that needed access.  There wasn’t an acceptable detour route that could be put in place either. The architects came up with a plan that would have a large pre-cast concrete tunnel built in place that would later be pushed into an excavated space. Four railway lines would be taken out on the Friday evening of Thanksgiving weekend and be put back in on the Monday so that rail traffic could resume by the following Tuesday morning.

At just after midnight of the Saturday, as one construction crew clocks out and a new crew takes their place, a CN freight train slows to a crawl and slides over the diversionary rail line  Excavation is well under way – with the moving of the tunnel into position scheduled for 5:00 am on Sunday.  Bob Jurk, the city’s senior project manager settles into being on the site all night while General Manager Scott Stewart settles into his bed at home with his alarm set for 4:30 am Sunday to be on hand for the movement of the tunnel into position. The freight train takes 20 minutes to complete its passage – it travels slowly but it is also a very long train.

The solution was to build the tunnel onsite before hand – have it in position ready to be pushed into position using hydraulic jack hammers and air pressure that would lift the 5 million pound tunnel slightly off the ground so it could eased forward.

While all this is being done freight trains continue to roll through the site – slowly and carefully.

Every once in awhile a large back hoe would come out of the excavation pit and scoot along a road – it was going to get gassed up. The contractors had a large fuel truck that would ensure all the equipment ran.

First few minutes of the hydraulic jack hammers moving the 5 million pound tunnel. Circle to the left is the jack hammer assembly that move it all forward. On the right are a collection of workers watching it inch forward. It was the most exciting part of the three day project. If it didn’t work there was going to be a massive commuter problem. It worked.

It was both a mammoth engineering feet and a tricky task given the extremely short time frames. Four rail lines had to be taken out while the excavation work was done. It wasn’t a rail crossing that could be shut down completely.

It all got done.  It was exciting to watch the on line live feed of trucks moving huge loads of earth, highly technical equipment moving earth out and then going back later to return much of it.

What’s next?  Having the tunnel in place is the hard part but there is a lot of work to be done yet.  A creek that was diverted now has to be brought back and it somehow has to cross King Road.  The solution: build an aqueduct and have the water run over the top of the tunnel that was pushed into the excavated space.  That hasn’t been done anywhere before either.  The King Road project really is a construction marvel.

But the first thing was to have the train tracks back in place.  Before that can happen the sides of the tunnel have to be filled with varying sizes of aggregate that has to be tamped down – and that takes time.

With the tunnel moving into position some of the earth taken out now has to go back in.  Jack hammers can be seen on the left and the right sides.

Then the roof of the tunnel has to be covered and a final layer of what is called rail ballast put in place. Once that is done the tracks, which were cut into 30 metre lengths, have to be lifted and eased into position and then everything tightened down so that trains can cross the tracks early Tuesday morning.

Three of the four tracks taken out MUST be put back in place.  The fourth can wait a day or so but it will eventually have to go back in and then the diversionary track that was put in taken out as well.

The schedule lost 11 hours of time and while there was enough wiggle room – there isn’t any wiggle room left – so somehow the project team needs to make up some of the time lost without compromising safety.

The project this long weekend was accident free.  No equipment failures either.

King Road remains closed to traffic until the 22nd. Jurk couldn’t say enough about the neighbours and the noise and disruption they have had to put up with during the construction.  They all seemed to understand what it took to move a concrete box that was 5 metres high, 18 metres wide and more than 20 metres long –and weighing more than 5 million pounds.

The back hoe that did the bulk of the excavating work, is a very specialized and expensive piece of equipment, can’t be just left sitting out overnight doing nothing. CN wanted to get that back on the road and so crews will work around the clock on Sunday night getting the railway tracks back in place.

“It is a little damp out there” commented Jurk who arrived at the site at 4:45 in the morning and wasn’t able to head for home until 6:00 in the evening. “I didn’t realize I’d had nothing to eat until 2:00 in the afternoon when Metric, the company doing the excavation work,  told us all that there was a truck filled with pizza for everyone.  That kind of thing doesn’t happen on construction sites these days” added Jurk.

Tonnes of aggregate were trucked into the site.  With one truck in the tunnel a second waited outside with a full load.  Everything moved very quickly and very briskly.  Not a single accident during the BIG MOVE.

The public viewing stands weren’t in a place where the public could see very much.  Jurk, who had his RIM Playbook with him, videoed some scenes and took them up to the viewing stands so people could see what was being done.  And it was quite a sight.  Watching the back hoes dance around as if they were on a stage in a very, very tight space is not something one gets to see very often.

Helen Walihura, one of the city’s communications specialists was on the site with both still and video cameras filming away commented that “this is really exciting”.

Once the tunnel was firmly in place the hydraulic jack hammers were taken out and returned to Western Mechanical, a company located in Barrie, ON “These were great guys to work with” commented Jurk.

While positioning of the tunnel was the major milestone the project “is not done by a long shot” said Jurk.  The north side creek work has to be done and there is a lot of concrete work yet to be done. Dufferin Concrete  will be back on site next week getting the north side of the tunnel opened up.

This is the trickiest and most critical part of the job.  The jack hammers have been tested, the air pressure system works – but those tests were done in near perfect totally controlled conditions.

At one point the BIG MOVE was 11 hours behind schedule due partly to some rain. Bob Jurk, senior project manager for the city explained that the rain fell when the crews were excavating sand which wasn’t much of a problem.  If they had been excavating clay the site would have been a real mess – we might not have made it.

What is the net benefit to the community when all the work is done?

King Road is in Ward 1, Rick Craven country.  He has been waiting some time for this work to get completed.  In a statement he put out earlier today Craven said: “The new underpass is critically important to the future of Burlington’s west end. It will: make it easier for traffic to get to and from the North Service Road, reducing pressure on Plains Road, improve access to downtown and Joseph Brant Hospital for Tyandaga residents, eliminate traffic congestion in the immediate neighbourhood, caused by train crossings, (which on occasion has completely shut down the adjacent residential streets), and finally, it will serve as a catalyst for the long-term plan to open up the nearby “employment lands”. A next step in the Councillors eyes is the building of the South Service Road which will open up employment lands and create more jobs in the community. 

The city’ has an agreement with Paletta International that has that company building a South Service Road extension at their cost.  The developer hasn’t announced any plans for new commercial development in Aldershot and we hope the city isn’t holding their breath for shovel to go into the ground anytime soon.

Many developers think the city has more employment land than it needs and they would like to use some of their holdings for the development of residential housing.

The city is in the middle of a “big think” on the subject of employment lands.  The Economic Development Corporation hasn’t managed to convince anyone to come to the city and locate here; and the working relationship between the developers and the Economic Development Corporation isn’t as tight as it needs to be if there is to be any significant commercial construction.

The city is currently reporting negative commercial assessment for 2012 – it was flat for 2011 and small, small for 2012.  The developers have waited a long time for the kind of development that suits their bottom line best and they seem prepared to wait quite a bit longer.

King Road will be vastly improved, the bridge over Highway 403 will be widened and improved – which certainly make that part of Aldershot more appealing to the commercial sector – but we aren’t there yet.

Back hoe comes out of the tunnel – the excavation is complete – the tracks for the tunnel to slide in on can be seen in the back on the right and the left . Project is a little bit behind but things are running very, very smoothly.

Tuesday morning thousands of commuters will get to work on time while hundreds of construction workers share the smug satisfaction that they pulled it off without a hitch.

Right now the city is going to celebrate the completion of a major engineering feat – even though they didn’t actually handle the construction – that was done by CN Rail.  However, it was Burlington that pushed CN to move with the project.

For Bob Jurk, a day that began at 4:45 am ended just after 7:00 pm when he got an email from CN saying the tunnel was in place at 6:15 pm.  That brought out a response from Jurk which went like this: Yahoooooooooooooooooo!

Yahoo indeed.


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