Olympian logistics

by Perry Lo


In 2004, SNC Lavalin/Serco was awarded the contract to construct and manage Canada’s first direct airport rapid transit system. The Canada Line was Vancouver’s largest transportation infrastructure project for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and, as a result, the most visible, not only to the two million inhabitants of the city but to all Canadians. SNC Lavalin ultimately decided to award the entire rail vehicle contract to Hyundai Rotem from South Korea on November 25, 2005.

A three-year production window was given to manufacture 40 made-to-specification rail vehicles. The system was built with a capacity of 15,000 passengers per hour, per direction. The vehicles needed to reach a maximum travel time between the airport and downtown Vancouver of 24 minutes at speeds of up to 90kph. Each rail vehicle weighed 40 tonnes and was just over 20 metres in length. They would be fully assembled in South Korea and shipped to Canada in batches of eight vehicles at a time. They were due on site no later than November 2008.

Winning the contract
When Hyundai Rotem went shopping for a logistics company in Canada to handle the movement of these 40 rail vehicles, they were looking for a transportation professional who could advise them on how to enter the Canadian market with their product. They had no experience in North America—let alone Canada—and this project was the proverbial foot-in-the-door they needed to win larger contracts in the future.

After meeting with many other logistics companies, large and small, national and international, Hyundai Rotem ultimately chose Canaan Transport Group Inc. We got the contract on September 30, 2007 with the first eight rail vehicles delivered in December 2007.

Managing the transportation
With the contract signed, we ramped up our internal activity to finalize requirements in order to accomplish the move successfully. We finalized the shipping, trucking, crane, Customs and other arrangements. We planned and ran the route the rail vehicles would follow while ensuring escorts, police, fire, ambulance and utility concerns were taken care of.

Canaan also co-ordinated with the BC Ministry of Transportation and other regulatory agencies—as well as various suppliers and stakeholders—to ensure a smooth move. Our senior management traveled to the factory in South Korea to supervise the loading of the first eight rail vehicles. We also ensured tariff advanced rulings were submitted and approved by Canada Border Services Agency for the vehicles.

With a shipment of eight vehicles per ship, the 40 vehicles needed a total of five ocean trips and 10 trips by road, spread over a year, to ensure they were on site in late 2008. With each move, the timeline was the same:

Day one

• 6am: Vessel docks at the Port of Vancouver.

• 7am: Canaan in attendance with stakeholder representatives.

• 8am to 10pm: Cranes unload eight rail vehicles from the ship and place them onto special flat deck extendable trucks.

Day two

• 12am to 5am: Four truck drivers and 12 escort vehicles arrive to start the night move. Due to city restrictions, Canaan was only allowed to move four rail vehicles each night and we could only be on public roads between 12am and 5am on certain nights. The original 21-km direct route was extended to 49km due to height and traffic restrictions. The travel time of five hours (at a maximum of 40kph with some sections as slow as 2kph) left no room for error or delay.

• 9am to 7pm: Rail vehicles were moved from the truck and placed onto the complete and electrified rail track.

Day three

• 12am to 5am: The remaining four rail vehicles take the same route to the final destination.

• 9am to 7pm: Once again, the four rail vehicles are offloaded from the trucks and placed directly onto the rail track.

The results
With the world watching, we delivered the rail vehicles on time and on budget, allowing the Canada Line to open in the fall of 2009, three-and-a-half months ahead of schedule. That’s almost a full six months before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Originally built to a capacity of 100,000 boardings a day by 2013, the Canada Line has exceeded all expectations by handling 228,190 riders per day during the 2010 Winter Olympics. MM&D

Perry Lo, CITT, is a chartered accountant and transportation professional with a licensed Customs broker designation. He is the founder of Canaan Transport Group Inc.