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It’s seven o’clock in the morning and the teams are already at work blasting, loading and moving up to 100 tonnes of rock every hour – that’s the target to get the tunnel open on time. It’s a familiar routine: blast-crush-move. And to help ensure that all goes according to plan they’re using a fleet of Cat machines 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

Meanwhile on the surface, another routine is unfolding. A routine that’s all-too-familiar to the hundreds of thousands of people who use the main highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa. “If I’m lucky,” says Peter Dietz, a regular commuter, “I’ll be in Joburg by nine o’clock – even though it’s only a short distance it will take me two hours to cover less than 50 kilometres. And if there are any broken-down vehicles on the way, it could take me up to four hours.”

It’s a major congestion problem, causing misery and frustration to the drivers and passengers of the more than 300,000 vehicles that use the road every day. Add to that the damage done to the South African economy and you can see why the local government commissioned an ambitious new rapid rail link – one that aims to reduce traffic congestion by up to 20 percent and whisk commuters from Johannesburg to Pretoria in less than 40 minutes.

Welcome to the remarkable Gautrain – a project of the Gauteng Provincial Government. A project designed to reduce traffic congestion, reduce noise and help improve air quality in this growing city by giving its people access to affordable, clean, green public transport.

The Gautrain will be a network of ten stations that connect the country’s two biggest cities, Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the region’s international airport. More than 100,000 daily passenger trips are expected, at speeds of up to 160 kilometres/hour. And although the network requires just 160 kilometres of track, the project is expected to cost around €2.2 billion. “That’s because we are going through lots of built-up areas, which means either going underground or building viaducts,” says Malcolm Robinson of Barloworld Equipment, the local Cat dealer.

Building a railway under a city

“Obviously some buildings were purchased and demolished but you can’t tear them all down,” says Malcolm Robinson. “That’s why the Provincial Government decided that whom ever won the contract to build the railway would need to tunnel through the southern section. They asked Bombela to tender on how it could minimise the overall environmental impact. This issue also became the subject matter of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) where Bombela described how they were going to do it.”

Construction started at the end of September 2006, and the first section, between the airport and Johannesburg, is expected to open in 2010. The rest of the network, including the section to Pretoria is due for completion nine months later. To achieve this schedule, a total of 45 job sites are manned by more than 300 machine operators using almost 100 Cat machines, working up to 18 hours a day seven days a week.

“Total equipment solution” wins the contact

“Bombela Civils Joint Venture’s original request was for just 33 machines. But they also wanted highly dependable services to keep the machines up and running,” says Malcolm Robinson. “With such a tight deadline, it was essential that they avoided unexpected machine downtime – and they said so in their request for tender. That’s why we put together a package of products and services that amounted to a Total Equipment Solution” – a solution composed of four key elements:

1: Near-immediate delivery
Unlike other machine suppliers that need at least three months lead-time to deliver units to South Africa, the local Cat dealer, Barloworld, could deliver all the requested machines almost immediately – thanks to its massive inventory of rental machines. “We have over 400 machines in our rental fleet, including the big ones such as Cat 740 articulated dump trucks” says Malcolm Robinson. “It’s a deliberate business decision that works well for our customers and ourselves. Rather than commissioning a new machine and waiting for the factory to fit the required specifications and then having it spend two months on a cargo ship, we can supply a rental machine equivalent almost the same day as the customer wants it. When the new machine arrives, we simply deliver and take back our rental unit.”

2: Integrated equipment
Another reason why Bombela awarded the contract to Barloworld was the breadth and depth of the equipment offer. In addition to earthmoving machines Barloworld also supplied generators, compressors, lighting masts, and additional rental machines to cope with peak demands. “We even bundled our tender with Avis, the car rental company, to answer the customer’s inter-site transport needs,” says Malcolm Robinson.

3: Training
All 300 operators were given a full day’s onsite training by Barloworld’s four full-time instructors – no other supplier could offer this degree of professional training. In addition, all of Bombela’s site supervisors attended the Barloworld Academy, where they were given three days theoretical and two days practical training. This helped ensure on-going operator coaching and adherence best practice on the sites.

4: Service and maintenance
“As part of our ‘Total Equipment Solution’, we handle all the service and maintenance of all Cat equipment, so that the customer can concentrate on getting the job done on time,” says Malcolm Robinson. “We have the largest field service organisation in South Africa, backed by one of the most advanced parts centres in the world. This guarantees 97 percent first-pick parts availability.” In addition, S•O•SSM (Scheduled Oil Sampling) is deployed on all the 45 job sites. Up to 600 samples are gathered and sent for laboratory analysis each month, the results are then used to plan preventative maintenance strategies.

Digging the tunnel

The 15-kilometre stretch of underground railway is being ‘dug out’ using traditional drill and blast techniques together with a special tunnel boring machine. All of the excavated rock is then relayed back down the tunnel to the lift shaft, where a Cat 345C loads it into a massive 25 cubic metre bucket. This rock is hauled to the surface and then transported to a crusher plant, where it is used in the project’s cement fabrication plant. “The Cat 345 has never failed us,” says Llewellyn High, Bombela’s supervising engineer. “Even though we work it up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week – it’s never failed. It has more than 5,000 hours on the clock, and although it’s gone through three buckets and countless teeth, its undercarriage is still as-good-as-new. That’s because it has never moved from the base of the shaft.”

ACERT™ better than purifies

Since much of the construction work is being carried out in densely populated residential areas, the control of dust, exhaust emissions, and engine noise were particularly sensitive for this project. Emission control was even more vital in the underground sections. “Bombela originally requested that we fit exhaust purifiers on all Cat machines,” says Schalk Kotze, after sales manager for Barloworld. “However, after initial testing we found that Caterpillar’s ACERT engine technology actually out-performed such purifiers and additional filtration was unnecessary.” The project is now half way complete and is right on schedule for the rail link to open on time. The cooperation and the problem-solving attitude between Bombela and Barloworld Equipment that has been practiced at every level has not only blurred the boundaries between the two companies, it has actually cemented a true team-spirit with one focus: “Let’s get the job done on time.”