The Gautrain rapid-rail project is one of the most complicated transport endeavours ever undertaken, within South Africa. An intricate combination of civil engineering and electrical and mechanical work is being under- taken, to create South Africa’s first rapid-rail link. The Bombela Turnkey Contractor (TKC) acts as the liaison between the parties involved in the construction and operation of the Gautrain rail.

“We are going out to build something that is at the forefront of technology, maybe not cutting edge because you want something that has already been tried and tested,” says Bombela TKC CEO Ian Thoms, of the Gautrain rapid-rail link project.

A joint-venture (JV) consortium was established between local construction specialist Murray & Roberts, the train maker Bombardier, French construction giant Bouygues, and the Strategic Partnership Group, which provides the black economic-empowerment partnering element. Each has an equal 25% share in the Bombela JV consortium, and it is through this consortium that the Gautrain railway will be built.

The development period, which is currently under way, entails the design, construction and testing of all facilities that form the complete railway system, including the technology being implemented in these facilities. Thoms says the first developmental period is divided into two sections, according to location. The first section follows the route between Sandton station and OR Tambo International Airport station, as well as the route between Sandton station and the depot, located in Midrand. The construction of the first section of the Gautrain will be completed within 45 months, and Thoms says the aim, if possible, is to have the railway along this section running in time for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

Nine months later, the balance of the railway section will be up-and-running. This will include Park station to Sandton, from Midrand to Pretoria station, and from the Pretoria station to Hatfield station. “After the construction period, there will be an operational period which will last for 15,5 years, when the operator will run the train on behalf of the concessionaire,” says Thoms.

The scope of the project is thus divided into two comprehensive contracts, namely the civil engineering contract, and the electrical and mechanical (E&M) works contract. The civil contractor, Bombela Civil JV, says Thoms, is responsible for the civil engineering on the project, which includes building the route alignment, that is earthworks cutting and embankments, the tunnels, the viaducts and other bridge structures, as well as the ten stations and the depot. The civil works also include the mechanical and electrical engineering systems in the stations and the depot, which entails the ventilation systems, the lifts and escalators, the lighting and electrical power, and the tunnel ventilation in the 15 km of tunnel.

The E&M contractor is respon-sible for all the linear railway systems. “This includes the track work, the overhead lines, the power system for the overhead lines, the trains, and the signalling system,” says Thoms. The E&M contract also includes the supply and installation of the automatic fair system which, Thoms says, will either be operated with smart tickets or smart cards, with value-add capability. The telecommunications system, which includes the telephone system, the trunk-radio system, the platform information displays, closed-circuit televisison, and fibre-optic transmission systems, will also be installed by the E&M contractor, as will the main control system for the operator known as the supervisory control and data acquisition.

“Building the civil engineering structure is challenging but relatively straight forward as it involves reinforced concrete and prestressed concrete. Building a railway system means installing an E&M brain in the civil works body, and making sure everything works efficiently,” says Thoms. He adds that the secret to success lies in the complete integration of the civils and the E&M contract. “Civil and E&M have an obligation to liaise and coordinate with each other. This will ensure that the railway system by E&M will fit into the built civil infrastructure, to create a completely integrated and efficient system.”

Thoms says that this is where TKC fits in. The TKC acts as an integrator and coordinator, liaising between the civils and the E&M contractors, and acts as the point of contact with third parties such as Airports Company South Africa, and the South African Rail Com-muter Corporation. “TKC coordin-ates the process and sets up meetings where all the parties can go and discuss what needs to be done. “We also assist in getting the necessary permission from the relevant parties to go ahead with construction.”

Every single possible hazard is identified, including not only the areas accessible to the public, but also the hazards that might affect the operations and maintenance teams. “We make sure that all the risk areas and all the dangers are mitigated in the design or the construction. If we can not mitigate them down to a level as low as reasonably practicable, then the hazards have to be mitigated by operational procedures.”

Thoms says the operational procedures will have to be devised by the operator during the establishment of working rules and pro- cedures. “For example, in areas of the railways where there is a high risk, the operator will have to ensure that the access to that area is locked off, and that anyone who goes in there would have to be fully trained in a set of working procedures.”

Besides to the hazards, TKC also runs a risk management programme and a change management programme. The change management programme comes into effect when one of the contractors wishes to change an aspect of the design owing to extenuating circumstances. “TKC then has to make sure that this is managed, and that everyone involved knows about the change, and that it can be accommodated in the overall design,” says Thoms. Risks are similarly managed between the entities, the concessionaire, TKC, the civils JV, the E&M contracts, and the opera- tor and maintainer, using a struc-tured risk management system.

Although the TKC, the civils JV, and the E&M contractors may be considered to be short-life com- panies with a lifespan of about six years, Thoms says these companies endeavour to leave behind a legacy of skills transfer. “We hope to achieve training and development of professionals and site operatives in the local communities, so they can continue to build the railways, and maintain and run them.”

The project currently has a site workforce of about 2 000, working mostly on the civils JV. Thoms says the civils contractor is pioneering the way for skills transfer at site operative level. “The civils JV has recruitment centres in places such as Alexandra, where they screen possible employees to identify those who already possess the needed skills, and those who can be trained and developed.”

The candidates are then sent to training centres for skills-specific training. During this time, safety training is also introduced. Thoms says one of the objectives in building the Gautrain rapid-rail link is to do it safely. “We are in the pro-cess of setting very high objectives, in terms of safety, and we put a lot of emphasis on training our employees in safety.”

It is possible that all the skills needed to complete the rapid-rail link can be sourced locally, but, Thoms says, with the possible time constraints and skills shortages, it might be necessary to import parti-cular scarce skills. Such imported expertise can also be used to train and develop local operatives, adds Thoms.

While TKC has the contract with the Bombela Concession Company to build and commission the Gautrain, the second contract that exists is between the concessionaire and the operator, for the operation and maintenance of the railway. The operator, in turn, has awarded a maintenance contract and is also responsible for running the Bombela feeder and distribution bus ser- vice. Thoms says about 125 buses will service defined routes around each station. “The idea is that those buses will actually service the catchment area and pick up those passengers who are not within walking distance of the stations.”

PUBLICATION: Engineering News
AUTHOR: Esmarie Swanepoel
DATED: 29th June 2007