In the cab of a yellow 250-ton Grove GMK 6250 crane, Mel Lajeunesse, a Local 793 crane operator with Mammoet Canada Eastern Ltd., is sitting and waiting for instructions.
Nearby, under the glare of bright industrial lights, a huge tunnel boring machine (TBM) is slowly being hoisted from below ground level by a large red gantry crane.
Crews at the site, and 100 or so onlookers behind wire fences, watch with interest as the behemoth, cylindrical TBM — 10 metres in length and 6.5 metres in diameter, to be exact — is meticulously and carefully raised to road level from the depths of a large extraction shaft.
The machine, weighing in at 400 tonnes, was extracted from the ground under Eglinton Avenue and moved 100 metres from the west side of Allen Road to the east side. During the operation, the TBM was cradled in two large slings held by four massive hooks attached to the gantry crane.
The original yellow paint on the machine was worn off in spots, and the front was a gun-metal grey.
The TBM lift took most of the night. The exercise was repeated with a second TBM the following night. The TBMs, affectionately named Dennis and Lea, were moved in order to bypass a TTC subway line.
The TBMs have been tunneling a segment of a 10-kilometre underground tube that is part of the $5.3-billion Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit project.
After the first TBM was raised it was gently loaded onto a trailer specifically designed for the move with 13 rows of six wheels.
When it got to the other side of Allen Road, the procedure was reversed. The machine was taken off the trailer and lowered by another gantry crane into a launch shaft.
All in a night’s work for the Local 793 operators. There were nine Local 793 operators from Mammoet on site helping with the lift and one from Crosstown Transit Constructors.
“This was a heavy lift,” operator Lajeunesse of Stoney Creek explained shortly after the first TBM was raised and lowered onto the trailer.
Lajeunesse was working on the west side of Allen Road. He and other operators were at the site for several days, helping to build the gantry crane that made the lift. They hoisted steel beams used to build the crane. They were also called on to lift smaller TBM parts out of the tunnel shaft.
“We were here setting up the gantry crane. Our heaviest lifts were 70,000-pound beams that went into building the structure.”
Great care was taken to prepare for the lift.
Crews spent more than a week setting up the gantry crane. The gantry crane was operated by Local 793 operators Karson Donn and Alex Parker.
When lift day came, it was all hands on deck. Workers from several different companies mulled around on the worksite.
Local 793 operators and members of the crews were like a team of surgeons, albeit wearing hardhats, coveralls and workboots.
The move began in the late evening and continued until daybreak the next morning.
Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher, who paid a visit to the site in the morning hours, said he was impressed with the skill and efficiency of the Local 793 operators.
“This was a truly amazing operation that was carried out by our operators,” he said. “They went about their work like true professionals and have certainly made our union proud.”
While the move unfolded slowly, it was not dull. Every move was calculated and crews methodically went about their duties.
Watching such a mammoth structure emerge from the tunnel and then hang deadweight for a lengthy period of time, caused many passersby to stop and take notice.
Lajeunesse, who’s been with Mammoet just over three years, said it’s one of the biggest operations he’s been involved in during his nine years as a licensed crane operator.
“There were some heavy lifts,” he said. “We had a bunch that were right near the chart.”
Lajeunesse said he worked with many of those involved in the project before and the crew was excellent, so it made the work that much more enjoyable.
“It makes everything go so much easier when you know what they want and they know what you’re expecting.”
Jeremy Wilhelm of Aberfoyle, a second-year crane apprentice with Mammoet, was helping Lajeunesse at the site.
“We were more or less helping out and shimming stuff up and helping to move whatever needed moved, and doing some rigging,” he said.
Some of the lifts were tricky because of the sheer weight of the parts, said Wilhelm.
“But the guys we’re working with, we’ve worked with them before so we had a good rapport.”
Wilhelm has been busy since becoming an apprentice. He worked with Lajeunesse on a bridge-moving project in Ottawa. He also spent five months working on cranes at a wind farm project.
“I’ve been all over,” he said.
Wilhelm, who’s been in the construction industry about 20 years, got into cranes because it was always something he wanted to do.
He’d been delivering concrete and drywall and had his 8-ton boom ticket, but wanted to do more. A friend of his who was a crane operator explained how to get into training and he made the move.
“It’s the best career move that I ever made,” he said. “They’re just amazing machines. The job is always interesting and you’re always doing different stuff.”
On the east side of Allen Road where the TBM was lowered into a shaft, Local 793 operator Chuck Leffler of Hamilton was running a Kobelco CK 2500 conventional crawler.
“Basically, I’m on standy in the event any lifting has to be done,” he said. “For the last two weeks, I’ve been helping them put all this together.”
For Leffler, it was the first time doing that type of work.
“I usually run a 500-ton Demag so this is kind of different.”
Leffler, who works for Mammoet and has been a Local 793 member since 2002, has worked on all types of jobs over the years, “everything from windmills to demolition work to tower cranes, just about everything.”
He started as a mechanic with Latta Crane Services in 1996 and when an opportunity arose he signed up to become a crane operator.
“I served my apprenticeship and I’m still here today,” he said. “I now work all over, wherever the job takes me.”
Leffler said the TBM lift was complicated work for the crews — not just because of the weight but also because of the conditions.
“The challenge,” he noted, “is just bringing the TBM up under very tight conditions.”
Both TBMs will continue their tunnel drives east toward Yonge Street to complete the 6.5-kilometre western segment of the Eglinton Crosstown tunnel.
The TBMs have already traveled 3,547 metres from where they started at Black Creek Drive.
Each TBM installed 14,124 precast concrete tunnel liners, which formed 2,367 rings, for a total of 4,734 rings, to form the eastbound and westbound tunnels.
The Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit project is a line that will run across Eglinton Avenue between Mount Dennis (Weston Road) and Kennedy Station. It is part of The Big Move, a 25-year, $50 billion plan by Metrolinx for co-ordinated, integrated transportation and transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in a statement that he’s pleased the project is proceeding.
“It’s great to see we’ve reached another milestone on this important transit project that will benefit Toronto riders,” he said.
“This project is proof of our government’s commitment to making the daily commute and quality of life better for Ontario families.”
Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx, said the progress being made on the project is exciting.
“The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is a significant undertaking and it will transform the transit landscape in Toronto when complete.”
Construction on the Crosstown began in 2011 with the west launch area at Black Creek Drive and Eglinton Avenue. The TBMs began tunneling from the west in June 2013. Humber and Don, the TBMs that will dig the east tunnels, will begin their drives in late fall.
Following is a list of Local 793 operators that worked on the TBM moves:
Dave Mityurin (apprentice)
Chad Martin (apprentice)
Jeremy Wilhelm (apprentice)
Crosstown Transit Constructors