For the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) Central Subway project, part of the contract for Contex Shipping was to transport two TBMs from San Francisco Pier 80 three miles downtown to the jobsite, Fourth Street between Bryant and Harrison Streets. Since Pier 80 does not have heavy lift cranes, the firm had to discharge the pieces with the vessel’s gear and load directly onto the trucks. To move the 130t piece Contex Shipping had to rent two mobile 350t cranes to lift from the vessel onto a Goldhofer truck.

"We had to bring the TBMs from the prier through Chinatown, which of course is a busy area, to the jobsite. Every time there was a concert on we couldn’t move the machine, and we also had travel curfews during baseball games and rush hour. We travelled mainly at night," explains Bennet Riemeier, VP, Contex Shipping.

"One time, we had to cancel a truck transport because there was a concert that went on longer than planned, and then there was too much traffic. We had to park trucks with the components next to the shaft and wait until the job site was allowed to open the shaft. The shaft that we had to lower the machines into was under a highway, so during the day and rush hours it was covered in order for traffic to flow."

Contex Shipping handled the total transport of the Robbins TBMs – two 6.3m diameter EPB TBMs named Mom Chung and Big Alma – from Robbins’ manufacturing facility Guangzhou, China, to the jobsite. Riemeier adds: "It took us a day or two to load the barges in China, then it was 10-12 hours travel to Hong Kong. It then took a day or two to load the ocean vessel, and a further 32 days to travel from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

"The challenge was to coordinate with the barge company the loading address, and the ocean vessel in Hong Kong to be there at the right time in order to avoid detention charges from either barge or ocean vessel operator. You never want to have an ocean vessel wait somewhere for your cargo; either you pay detentions to the ocean vessel, which you really don’t want to do, because otherwise you’re looking at $30,000 to $40,000 per day, then on the other hand you don’t want to have your cargo sit there for 10 days or longer and wait for the ocean vessel because the barge costs money every day too."

With a complex TBM delivery, Riemeier explains that a freight forwarding company is a clear path to take. "When you have just a container from port to port, that’s easy to do that by yourself, you’ll probably get cheaper rates. But when you have a $30m project, you don’t want to deal with several companies.

"Our great advantage is that we’re in this market and we speak to these companies every day. For the San Francisco project we were dealing with the barge company, the trucking company, the port operators, the shipping line – there are so many different people you need to talk to in order to get this transportation accomplished. It’s hard for a company that is not focused on these things such as TBM manufactures, which are more homed in on creating these machines."