The experience and expertise of Bermingham Foundation Solutions meet the challenge of the historic Desjardins Canal

By Deb Smith

Bermingham Foundation Solutions has been putting down roots in Canadian history since its first contract in 1897 to build the CPR track bed through the Rocky Mountains at the Crowsnest Pass in British Columbia. Today, almost 120 years later, the company continues to play a strong role in developing Canada’s infrastructure as an experienced foundation contractor, equipment manufacturer and leader in research and innovation.

When Dufferin Construction Company recently took on the job to widen the CNRail Bridge across the Desjardins Canal as part of expansion of the GO Transit service into the city of Hamilton, they looked to Bermingham to handle the foundations. The new addition to the bridge meant working in a very tight and difficult location along the east side of bulky stone foundations that had been laid down a century-and-a-half earlier.

Those old stone blocks once sup-ported the infamous Great Western Railway Bridge that was the site of one of Canada’s worst railroad disas-ters. In 1857, just as the locomotive started across the timber suspension bridge, a front axle broke, causing the train to lurch off the rails and crash through the wooden deck, dragging 59 passengers to their deaths on the frozen surface of the canal 60 feet below. A new pre-stressed box beam bridge now sits on the same strong stone abutments, and tight along-side, below the steep slope of the bank, is where Bermingham had to find a way to set piles to support the new bridge structure.

Bermingham would have to use all its expertise to come up with successful solutions to some big on-site challenges.

A strong working base

“The scope of our role in the project encompassed several stages, spaced out over the last year,” said Andrew Morrisey, project manager with Bermingham. “First, we needed to con-struct a protection system to support the existing tracks during construc-tion. Because the new footings and pier are immediately adjacent to the very old existing abutment, there were some concerns about the stability of that structure.”

Keeping mindful of the vibrations while working next to that 150-year-old structure meant constant monitoring during driving operations.

The next step was to construct the abutment. Because the Desjardins Canal is too narrow to accommodate barging equipment, all the work had to be done from land.

“It was a tight workspace at track elevation, wedged between converg-ing railways and the sharp slope to the canal,” said Morrisey. “Throughout the project, this lack of room to manoeuver was a major challenge. Usually the piers PROJECT SPOTLIGHT

are constructed first and you work your way back towards the abutments, but because the pier location was to be 15 metres below the nearest access point, the abutment had to be built first to support and provide enough space for a crane to work from above.”

Once Dufferin Construction com-pleted the abutment, Bermingham could begin installation of micropiles for the piers embedded in the bottom of the slope.

Custom-built solutions

Typically, micropiles are drilled using a stand-alone micropile rig, but because that wasn’t an option in this location, Bermingham had to use a hanging system to drive the 36 piles within an area that was seven metres by seven metres. It also meant combining tech-niques and customizing the tools – a challenge that was well within the scope of Bermingham’s manufacturing and equipment divisions.

The installation of the piles was per-formed with a modified CFA method using a hanging system.

“We started by driving permanent casings using a Berminghammer B9 diesel hammer inside a Bermingham-mer BL32 hanging box lead,” said Morrisey. “Interpipe Inc. suppled the 340-mm, six-metre-long casings, while Con-Tech Systems handled the 18-metre-long #20 bars that formed the centre of the micropiles. We placed those bars through the hollow stem of the auger and grouted the whole thing through the auger during extraction.” Using a continuous flight auger turned by a HPSI 20 hydraulic drill on the BL32 hanging box lead, the crew was able to install three piles per day.

Morrisey explains how they made it happen.

“We built a custom steel template that the leads would engage into so we could control all our locations and maintain tolerance. Also, that template ensured consistency; when we took the hammer off and put the drill on the leads, we wanted to be able to get back into that exact location.”

The template and the way it engaged with the leads was custom-built for the project, allowing the installation of 18 piles, then was turned around to do another 18 in a different spot. This was done at each of the two piers.

Clean to the finish

Another challenge with this project was the environmental aspect of work-ing on a waterway. With conventional micropile techniques, there is a cer-tain discharge of fluids. In this project, Bermingham was able to eliminate the need for drilling fluids, extracting dry or naturally wet material and replac-ing it with grout. In that way, the crew controlled the spoils, alleviating any environmental concerns.

“Our part of the overall cost came in at about $1.2 million,” said Morrisey. “There is no doubt that the project has been a challenge, but then every project has things to work out. We are unique in that we have the ability to develop new equipment and procedures for whatever is needed. Each project can be a learning experience.”

With a projected completion date towards the end of 2016, another new CNRail bridge will soon be in place to provide safe transportation and conve-nience to travellers. Since its beginning, Bermingham has built a strong, long-standing relationship with Canada’s rail companies, turning more than a century of challenges into opportuni-ties for innovation and excellence in the deep foundation industry.


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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.