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In the lead up to the ARA’s 4th Annual Heavy Haul Rail Conference and Exhibition, we were joined by Greg O’Rourke, Executive Director – Rail at Engenium, to discuss the past, present and future of the Australian heavy haul rail sector, and the important role that engineering geological techniques play in successful railway development.
How far do you think we have come in the Australian heavy haul rail sector in the last few years, and where do you think we are headed?
Greg:My experience in heavy haul railway is very much shaped by the Pilbara experience.
I think enormous steps in efficiency have been gained in recent times by such factors as heavier axles, smarter asset management, automation and the like.
Unfortunately, project delivery was unable to match the technological advances during the recent resources boom. This was caused by developments needing to happen quicker combined with a severe shortage of experienced project managers and engineers.
As a result, project overruns in terms of cost and schedule became more common.
In terms of where we are headed, the name of the game in the future will to be to get smarter in terms of getting more efficiency out of the rail asset that is already there. Projects that have a quick payback of capital will get up and projects that don’t will struggle.
“Sweating the Asset” is a phrase that is used a lot today, and we’ll hear it a lot more in the future. Smart use of collected data will be a key to achieving this.
You will be presenting a session at the 4th Annual Heavy Haul Rail Conference. Could you tell us briefly what you will be speaking about please?
Greg: I’ve been involved in heavy haul rail projects since 1991, and one of the key aspects of developing a successful railway is designing an alignment and selecting the correct corridor using engineering geological techniques.
Why do you think this is important?
Greg:To facilitate the approvals process, which is often the critical path, you often have to finalise the railway corridor boundaries early. Within these corridor boundaries, apart from permanent and temporary infrastructure, all the natural materials and construction water need to be found.
As a result, my assessment is that you lock in at least 80% of the capital value of the railway by the time the corridor is selected. Often there is limited opportunity to collect hard physical geotechnical data to help do this and therefore understanding the geological conditions that are likely to be encountered is critical to selecting an appropriate corridor.
The approach we use we call the Total Geology Method. Applying these concepts, which says that conditions at a site are the product of the history of the site, aids early anticipation of site conditions, which enable informed decisions to be made earlier in the project lifecycle.
What other advantages does this approach offer?
Greg:Traditional approaches rely solely on hard physical evidence, and this tends to relate to a specific alignment as opposed to a corridor. If there is a reason to realign the alignment relying solely on this type of information gathering will mean that if the alignment moves away from the investigated alignment then nothing will be known about the alternative.
Total geology techniques advises the designer on whether conditions will be similar, better or worse prior to making any decisions on realignment without having to conduct expensive field work. There are many other advantages which I will outline in my presentation.