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Smith Bros. & Wilson leads TransLink’s $81M SkyTrain station upgrade

Jean Sorensen
Smith Bros. & Wilson leads TransLink’s $81M SkyTrain station upgrade

TransLink’s Commercial Drive-Broadway SkyTrain station is a merging point for two major rapid transit lines yielding 90,000 trips a day by users, a stop for 99 B-Line express buses and a loop for regular transit buses totalling 60,000 daily trips by passengers as well as a street junction for two busy Vancouver street arterials.

“The junction was always full of people,” said Tim Harrington, president of Smith Bros. & Wilson (B.C.) Ltd. (SBW) which served as general contractor on SkyTrain’s $81 million station upgrade, the largest in its history.

“That in itself was a challenge for the project,” said Harrington, but the other major logistic hurdle was access to the congested worksite with a ravine — the Grandview Cut — the only alternative. (The Cut, a narrow gorge running east west on the north side below the station, was created during the First World War, providing fill for the False Creek area where the CN Rail station now sits on Main Street as well as levelling ground for rail tracks, today’s CN Rail line). Smith Bros. & Wilson had built a work platform under a bridge over the ravine to serve as access and work area.

But, when trains were running, crews could not work on the platform as a precaution against any materials falling onto the track. “They had two CN Rail trains a day when we started,” Harrington said, and that worked not too badly for the first few years. “They changed the rail volume to 12 a day. That had a huge impact on our work.” On an eight-hour shift, crews often had only achieved a three-hour work day.

The ability of Smith Bros. & Wilson and subcontractor Glastech Glazing Contractors Ltd. to meet the challenges of the access to the site and work in one of TransLink’s most congested sites has earned both companies Vancouver Regional Construction Association Silver Awards of Excellence. SBW earned its silver award in the category of general contractor on a contract valued at $15 million to $50 million while Glastech received an award in the Founder’s category for a trade contract valued at $2 million to $4 million.

The Commercial Drive-Broadway SkyTrain station, part of the original Expo 86 line, had an elevated track. When the $1.2 billion Millennium Line opened in 2002, its station was across Broadway (connected via pedestrian bridge) and ran from Clark Drive to Lougheed Mall, using one slope of the Cut for a portion of the guideway.

The station reflected years of additions; TransLink looked towards better integration of the lines with an eye to the future Broadway addition. The upgrade called for a new platform for westbound Expo Line trains, a new walkway above Broadway and a connecting platform to the Millennium Line, as well as an expanded entrance and concourse area for the Broadway stationhouse. The SBW-led station upgrade also included the Broadway bus stops.

The SBW crew’s only space in the Cut was a small yard approximately 400 metres away with limited lay-down area. Larger components had to be prefabricated off-site, brought into the small yard, assembled and then craned into place. Materials were brought in via a small rail shuttle along the Cut; the shuttle train also had to coordinate with the 12 trains utilizing Cut track. “At times, it was very frustrating,” said Harrington.

A connection existed between the Commercial and Broadway stations through an overhead bridge crossing Broadway. “We doubled it up,” said Harrington, allowing the overhead access to accommodate twice the volume of travellers arriving from trains on both sides of Broadway.

One of the major lifts involved placing the new Broadway foot passenger bridge on new piers. The busy street arterial was shut down on a late Saturday night and into Sunday as two large cranes set the new bridge on concrete bases. Electrical bus lines and street light had to be removed to facilitate the lift across five lanes of Broadway. A new access bridge was also placed the same night to the Millennium Line.

The new platform on the Expo Line now allows all doors of the train to open. “There was one platform originally on the west side and now there is another on the east side,” said Harrington. SkyTrain users can disembark and load on both sides of the cars, making it easier to either connect street side to buses or cross over to the Millennium line.

Passenger management was integral to separating transit users from work sites.

“We used hoarding all through the project,” Harrington said. “We were working with TransLink and they were also helping with signage — which was a big part and helped to keep things going.” Where hoarding would not work, SBW crews worked during the night when the station was shut down.

The busy area also meant safety crews had to be ready to respond to any situation. They were occasionally called to deal with outside issues such as when a man jumped into the ravine. Flocks of pigeons, attracted to the station’s food concession stands and sheltered areas, left guano on the site.

“They were perching in the stations and we had to deal with their mess daily,” said Harrington. Once a project was finished, crew erected spiked wire to dissuade squatting pigeons.

Originally slated as 2.5 years, the project took four years to complete as the rescheduling of the trains expanded the time frame. Harrington credits SBW foreman Bill Sparks and project manager Michael van Senden with keeping the project moving forward despite challenges and frustrations.

Glastech Glazing’s crew, ranging from two men to 18 at project peak, took 18 months to complete the installation of 23,000 square feet of glass throughout the station upgrade.

“Access was really one of the biggest challenges,” said Cody Quick, Glastech project manager as over 700 pieces of glass had to arrive on site for installation on both the inside and outside of the station. His crew used custom scaffolding to allow access over the CN Rail area and onto the station roof. But, all materials arrived via the rail shuttle and with little lay-down area, Glastech worked on a just-in-time delivery basis that counted on receiving the right sequence of pre-cut pieces.

Glastech provided all the aluminium framing and glass throughout the project including glass for enclosing the new bridge, the new additions to the stations, elevators, glass guards and railings. Quick said his company faced scheduling challenges with CN Rail trains as the large crane and a boom lift were used to lift glass onto the site. When a train was due, work stopped. “We had to shut down and tie everything down,” he said. “It did absolutely slow us down.”

Although Glastech crews worked as high as 120 feet above the rail line and on all faces of the station, Quick said the placement of the glass went fairly smoothly. Despite transport by rail, and lifting by cranes, panels arrived intact and were placed. Quick credits the logistics coordination by SBW and a CN Rail representative with keeping the work going.

“It was a seamless project for us,” he said.


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