WINNIPEG, Man. – It was a show that gave Winnipeg-area insomniacs – as well as those involved and interested rubberneckers – a trio of opportunities to witness something that doesn’t come along every day: the sight of...
WINNIPEG, Man. – It was a show that gave Winnipeg-area insomniacs – as well as those involved and interested rubberneckers – a trio of opportunities to witness something that doesn’t come along every day: the sight of giant electrical transformers inching along area roads on the backs of an even more gigantic transporter.
Transformers and transporters might sound futuristic, but this was indeed a real-life situation that unfolded for all to see over the new year – starting in early November 2012 – with Manitoba Hydro and its partners apparently bringing it off beautifully.
“It was an amazing thing,” said Scott Powell, media relations and production supervisor for Manitoba Hydro. “We had a pretty big crowd out for it.”
Powell said that, while the sheer size of the undertaking was undoubtedly the biggest attraction for sightseers, there was more to it than pure bulk. There was also the sight of watching the entire shebang maneuver its girth in some surprising ways:
“Just the work they had to do to get around some corners is pretty impressive,” he said.
The odyssey of enormous electrical equipment was made necessary by Manitoba Hydro’s purchase of three new power transformers for use on lines linking the province with the state of Minnesota. The transformers, according to Manitoba Hydro, are meant to enhance “the reliability of the 500,000-volt line that Manitoba relies on for the bulk of its power exports and imports.”
“They’re some of the biggest transformers in our system,” Powell said. “They basically change the voltage from 230,000 volts to 500,000 volts or 500,000 volts to 230,000 volts and allow us to feed power to that line from a different location.”
The transformers were purchased locally, through the Winnipeg branch of CG Power Systems (who also contracted the move). The Self Propelled Modular Trailer (SPMT) itself was brought in from Ontario, in pieces, and assembled at CG’s operations on the west side of Winnipeg for the trip from there to Manitoba Hydro’s Riel Station on the east side.
Powell said the SPMT was built by Goldhofer, a German manufacturer of such heavy-duty equipment. “They’re modular and they come apart so they can be hooked onto a semi and towed,” he said, “and once you have them (at the location) they’re reassembled.”
Once the SPMT gets to its destination, Powell said, “you unload the item and then (the trailers) come apart and you hook them back onto a semi and they’re hauled back at a more regular speed to where you started and then you put’em back together and put the next item on and away you go again.”
Sounds like quite the rigmarole, but tearing them down for transport back to CG Power made more sense than crawling them along at their 3 mph cruising speed and blocking off all the roads again for a deadhead trip back to base. At least they didn’t have to worry about speeding tickets.
And speaking of rigmarole, “there was a lot of planning between Manitoba Hydro and CG power systems and Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation to, first of all, develop a route that could take the weight of these units and also minimize disruption to traffic,” Powell said. “Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation worked very closely with our supplier – and with us, too – to get this route planned.”
The trip was only about 45 kilometres as the mosquitoes fly, but because of the unique cargo and the logistics involved, the actual 144-km route curved around the southern outskirts of Winnipeg, creating a slow crawl that took three nights to accomplish, with days taken off. So did they just pull off to the side of the road and pitch a tent for the “overday” rest stops?
“There were parking areas set up,” Powell said. “They had to be off the road by 6 a.m. and we had areas set up where you could pull these units off the highway and they’d sit there during the day and at eight o’clock the next night, the units would come back onto the roadways for the next leg.”
As you can see by the pictures accompanying this piece, finding a parking spot suitable for such a rig can be a challenge: you can’t just pull off the road and into a convenient parking lot.
“Some of the parking areas were service roads, gravel pads, etc.,” Powell said. “We planned the route to have these areas available as they moved along.”
And as it turned out, there weren’t a lot of big asphalt parking lots available anyway, since the chosen path went primarily through somewhat rural parts of Manitoba. Each transformer was moved individually, not only to minimize disruption – and the need for more than one SPMT – but also because of the delivery timeline for the transformers themselves.
“Weather has some impact on it,” Powell said, noting however that the more important factor was that the transformers had to be checked out completely before they could be moved: they had to be sure they worked before hauling them around Winnipeg.
As of this writing, the third transformer had yet to embark on its meandering mission to its new abode. As for the first two trips, Powell said they went off without a hitch. “It went very well; we’re very pleased.”
While the sheer bulk of the transformers as configured for their journey was, indeed, spectacular, Powell said they had actually been disassembled for shipping. Each transformer, as perched on the SPMT, measured approximately seven metres tall by four metres wide, but when they stick all the bushings, insulators, cooling units and other stuff to the transformers on-site, each one will be nearly 12 metres high, and just shy of 10 metres across. Each unit also requires over 112,000 litres of insulating oil.
When they’re finally all put together, each transformer will tip the scales at nearly 295,000 kilograms. That means they also need a heckuva base on which to sit.
“There’s specially-prepped concrete pads – all electrically tied in – they’re special bases constructed just for them. You just don’t park these things on the ground,” Powell said.
All that ancillary stuff – bushings, oil, what have you – was shipped to the site in regular trucks. Powell said the SPMT itself is an interesting vehicle to behold. “There are 320 tires on each of the units,” he noted. “And the tires can articulate and turn. It can go sideways. Imagine all 320 tires going 50 degrees to the right, the whole unit just slides laterally.”