However, building transit infrastructure poses unique challenges. Light rail transit (LRT) projects, in particular, often come with unique complications, since they are generally built across a city’s densest, busiest areas. Their successful construction requires builders that have extensive experience, and a proven record of success, with major transit projects.
“You’re almost always building directly into the existing urban landscape,” says Brad Appleton, a PCL construction manager in Edmonton, Alberta. “It’s the roads we drive on, the paths we bike on. It’s where people live, play, and work.”
Appleton has worked on LRT projects in and around Edmonton dating back to 2005. Besides the complexity that comes from working in and on a dense urban environment, LRT work also gets an exceptional level of public scrutiny, he points out.
“There’s a level of excitement that comes with LRT,” he says. “It’s a new line, a new extension! The public is looking forward to using it, so they pay attention.”
All of which puts a particular premium on communication for LRT jobs — in more than one sense. Builders need a multiprong approach to communicate with stakeholders, and they must work months ahead of time to prepare for communication challenges. The same applies for communicating on site and with the project team.
Appleton also says the right project delivery model can make a big difference for an LRT job.
“Some contract models, we’ve found, lend themselves to collaboration more than others,” he says. The construction management contract model, for instance, brings in the contractor at an early stage to collaborate with the design team and provide feedback on constructability, construction planning, scheduling and labor availability. The construction manager can also assist with trade contractor bid package preparation and selection to ensure trades have the right qualifications and are priced competitively.
“If your primary measures of success are to finishing the build on time, with high quality, and within budget, construction management is a collaborative risk-share approach that’s a good fit,” he says.
Building in an urban environment often means shutting down other infrastructure temporarily to allow a build to proceed. However, PCL has extensive experience making these shutdowns predictable and as short as possible, without compromising the quality of the final build.
“We always build aiming to keep disruptions to a minimum,” says Francesco Contrada, a project manager with PCL’s Calgary team. Contrada speaks from experience. He’s worked on Calgary’s LRT network, called the CTrain, since 2013. Much of that work has involved preparing for and then executing critical work that can only be done when the CTrain network is shut off. Passengers continue moving using temporary shuttle service to avoid active work sites when a shutdown does occur.
“You have to book the shutdowns well in advance, so a lot of planning goes into them,” says Contrada, who is currently working on a major CTrain station redevelopment project in The Culture + Entertainment District in Calgary. “We have several booked for this project, and we do the majority of our work over the course of them.”
This makes every second of every shutdown precious. Contrada and his team plan accordingly.
“We meet consistently with our major trade partners to plan the upcoming shutdown, right from the outset,” he says.
As the shutdown gets closer, the coordination meetings increase in frequency. Contrada and the team develop an hour-by-hour schedule to optimize the shutdown work plan.
“We also build hold points into this schedule, so we don’t delay return to service if something doesn’t go as planned,” Contrada explains. “We have multiple contingency plans in place to prevent train delays or public disruption from happening.”
On top of their complexity, LRT projects also tend to be lengthy—years-long affairs, at least.
Appleton says PCL’s approach to building strong client relationships is well-suited to this.
“We want to work with our clients over and over,” he says. “Repeated opportunities are what we value most. Our greatest resource is our people.”
Great relationships, in other words, are key to success on LRT projects, and an important part of why PCL is a world-class builder of them.
“I’ve spent most of my career with PCL,” says Contrada. “When I started, I met some people at the City of Calgary. Seeing our careers develop in parallel has been great. It really is a small world once you get into the world of LRT.”