The routine task of hauling a transformer and reactor through Virginia turned out to be not-so routine, to say the least. At one point the convoy involved 31 vehicles. D.Ann Shiffler reports
Late last summer Miller Transfer received a call to perform a routine heavy haul job. The task was to move a transformer and reactor from a rail yard in Berryville, VA to a power plant substation in Purcellville, VA.
The two components were quite large, the first measuring 27 feet 8 inches long, 10 feet wide, 15 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 198,000 pounds. The piece would load out at 201 feet long, 14 feet wide, 16 feet 11 inches tall with a total weight of 436,000 pounds
The second piece was 27 feet 8 inches long, 10 feet 11 inches wide, 14 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 255,000 pounds. Loaded out it would measure 225 feet long, 11 feet 6 inches wide, 17 feet five inches tall for a total weight of 507,800 pounds.
Originally, the job was envisioned as a back-to-back haul, according to Brian Abbuhl, project manager for Miller Transfer. But then things got interesting.
“Given those dimensions, especially the height, the route would need to be carefully determined,” he says. “As things progressed we were getting permits and approvals for the haul. Then the town of Purcellville, VA expressed concern about disrupting the town twice with the two loads.”
The city requested that Miller Transfer move the two components in a convoy, and they had other suggestions as well, Abbuhl says.
“First of all, the town of Purcellville had some concerns about our moving through their town,” he says. “There was a lot of coordination to do between the town and Virginia DOT and the Virginia Motor Vehicles.
"Normally a move like this would take place during daylight hours, but the town didn’t want us coming through during the day, and they didn’t like the disruption we would cause. They requested we move through their town on a Sunday evening.”
He says that normally VDOT wouldn’t allow travel with such a load on the weekend, and this request required much more coordination than normal between the state and local governments involved.
Initially Miller identified two routes through Purcellville. The first route was the easiest and VDOT approved it. But the town of Purcellville didn’t concur.
“But due to their concerns they wanted us to go through town and deal with traffic lights, low wires, the town’s emergency response system and detouring traffic through town,” Abbuhl explains.
But at last all the permits were approved and the long haul began. Normally VDOT would not approve such a huge convoy either, but in this case approval was given.
“We ended up with six Virginia state troopers, Purcellville Fire and Rescue escorts, four city police escorts, a VDOT escort and 11 bucket trucks that hopscotched with the low wires so the load could keep moving.”
Also in the convoy were three pole cars, a service vehicle with two mechanics, and as a safety precaution, two rear escorts and a spare tractor.
“All together there were 31 vehicles,” Abbuhl, says.
The first piece was hauled on a 19-axle tractor-trailer combo. The second piece required the use of a dual-lane transporter in order to keep it as low as possible.
On each of the loads Miller used tractors pulling and pushing. There were five tractors in the convoy, the fifth along for the ride in case something happened with one of the push/pull tractors or if backup help was needed. The tractors were Kenworth and the trailers were Nelson.
While the route was only 28 miles, it was quite the challenge. There were steep hills and travelling across the Shenandoah River there was a steep, narrow grade to climb.
“The steep climb was the reason we needed push trucks on the back of the loads,” says Abbuhl.
Under normal conditions, the route would span about 15 miles, but the route Miller Transfer ultimately got approved by all the entities involved was almost twice as far.
A safety meeting was held about noon on Sunday afternoon, and the job got underway right afterwards at 2 p.m.
“Because there were so many folks involved, you can imagine the communication required. The coordination was essential,” he says.
At the rail yard and at the substation the two pieces components were on- and offloaded using a Liebherr all-terrain crane. The pieces were tied down using chains at tie-down points on both the transformer and the reactor.
Miller used gas pipes to form a skidder system over the top of the components.
“A lot of time is spent on skidding these pieces to ensure the wires move over them easily,” Abbuhl says. “We have found gas pipe is most useful and we can reuse it as well.”
About 40 people ended up with Walkie-Talkies, he says. There were several pre-meetings to coordinate the haul to assure everyone was completely prepared for what might happen. The project was ultimately for Dominion Power.
Critical to the haul was determining how communication would be done and how it would be called out, Abbuhl explains.
“We were crystal clear how the communication would take place. If something happened, anyone could stop the load.”
All the planning was worth the effort as the job was trouble free. It took the long and winding convoy about two hours to get to the town of Purcellville.
They pulled into the substation about 9 p.m. Along the route Miller had leased message boards that had been put up earlier in the week alerting motorists that these loads would be coming through.
The main challenge was communicating with all the governmental entities and making sure their concerns were addressed in a relatively short period of time.
“We wanted to make sure we were cognizant of all concerns,” says Mitch Unger, vice president, heavy haul operations. “Ultimately we wanted to make sure everything was done safely. That was the most important part.”