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Taking it slow

Moving the largest single piece of equipment ever on Manitoba roads is not a job to take lightly

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It takes 14 minutes to drive from Fort Garry east to Manitoba Hydro’s Riel Station just past the Perimeter Highway off Highway 207.

It will take three whole nights to transport a new 175-tonne transformer that distance.

The operation began Sunday night for the largest single piece of equipment ever moved over Manitoba roads.

The circuitous route is "to ensure we pass over the strongest bridges," explained Mason Tucker, special project manager with Equipment Express of Ayr, Ont., which performs 40 to 50 such moves each year. The route is 144 kilometres long.

The transformer is one of three being installed at the Riel Station to enhance the reliability of Manitoba Hydro’s 500,000-volt line linking the province’s grid to Minnesota. The line handles the bulk of the utility’s exports and imports.

The move won’t be getting any speeding tickets. The trailer will travel an average speed of five kilometres per hour on this trip, Tucker said.

The trailer is double the width of a regular vehicle, and will span two road lanes. So it will tie up traffic and require traffic to be rerouted. When possible, it will try to pull over onto the shoulder to allow backed-up traffic to pass. That’s why it’s travelling through the night.

The first leg travelled down McGillivray Boulevard starting at 8 p.m. Sunday, and headed down Highway 3 before stopping at Brunkild at about 6 a.m. today.

The transformer looks like a giant BFI bin. It’s seven metres high by four metres wide. However, when fully assembled at the site with bushings, insulators, cooling units and other attachments, it will stand 12 metres tall and measure 9.6 metres across.

The trailer is another story. It’s a self-propelled modular trailer, similar to one used to transport the space shuttle Endeavour. You could call it a 320-wheeler, because that’s how many inflatable tires the weight of its haul is distributed over.

In fact, it’s all 33 metres of flatbed trailer except for a tiny, one-seater Plexiglas cab in front. You don’t actually drive it from the cab except around curves. For straightaways, the driver walks alongside and operates the thing by remote control.

It can haul up to 1,200 tonnes. It could actually carry all three transformers in one shot that Manitoba Hydro is moving to Riel. But if it did, the Manitoba government would need to rebuild some bridges. Manitoba bridges aren’t built to withstand that much weight, said Tucker.

In the past, Manitoba Hydro has used a specialized rail car to move transformers, but CN Rail modified one of its bridges on the route and the transformer can no longer fit underneath, said Hydro spokesman Denis Wittevrongel.

Getting the transformer onto the trailer required a series of jacks and beams beneath the transformer to get it onto a rail system. From the rail system, it slid down onto the trailer, Wittevrongel said.

While only one person is needed to operate the trailer, it will have an entourage of about 30 people, including five police cruisers.

Rolling road closures will accompany the trailer, so drivers may want to avoid the trailer’s route. The second leg today leaves Brunkild at 8 p.m. and heads down Highway 305 to Ste. Agathe, and then north along Highway 75 before stopping at 6 a.m.

The third leg will travel north on Highway 75, taking Highway 210 east to Highway 59 to the Perimeter, the Perimeter to the Trans-Canada and north on Highway 207.

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