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The complexity of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project requires a new approach when it comes to the delivery of materials and equipment. KH1 solved that with the Zagro Unimog.
In mid-July 2018, then-Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan announced the successful consortium that would build the critical link between the underground sections of Melbourne’s new Metro Tunnel and the existing rail network.
This announcement kicked off a package of works that would include both tunnel entrances at South Yarra and Kensington, as well as improvements to the adjoining Sunbury lines. Working within and beside the operating rail corridor in the inner suburbs of Melbourne meant that the project had an extra layer of complexity, meaning that every effort had to be made to ensure the project ran smoothly and efficiently.
The successful consortium, Rail Infrastructure Alliance (RIA), which comprised John Holland, CPB Contractors, and AECOM, looked to local rail suppliers who were innovating in the delivery of similarly complex projects. They found one in the case of Campbellfield- based KH1.
Daniel Mociak, managing director of KH1, could see that the project required smart thinking when it came to getting materials in and out of the worksites.
“RIA had a lot of restraints around getting materials, plant, people, and equipment in and out of their locations. This is really inner-city Melbourne and once they get into the shutdown, they have a lot of workgroups that can’t get out until the shutdown is over. They can’t constantly move equipment in and out so they have to get a lot of equipment in one lot and then be very flexible about how they can move around.”
Mociak and KH1 were brought in by RIA to look at how the project team could move a variety of pieces of machinery into the worksite. The solution that they came up with was the Zagro Unimog.
“The main benefit is the shunting capacity,” said Mociak.“That machine itself can pull up to 600 tonnes and other Unimogs that we could deliver are able to pull up to 1,000 tonnes with an increased wagon brake system.”
The Zagro Unimog road-rail vehicle can provide shunting and project logistics tasks. The relatively compact vehicle has the capacity to tow rail trailers weighing up to 125 tonnes at speeds of up to 30km/h. The removeable wagon brake system enables the Unimog to shunt up to 600 tonnes. Since being delivered in 2020, the system has already been put to good use.
“RIA needed to bring in plant, equipment, and excavators,” said Mociak. “They have a series of trailers that they were going to attach to the back of the Unimog to bring in all sorts of construction equipment and materials.”
The Unimog could then return to the access points, taking with it unneeded materials, spoil and other rubbish. RIA rail systems delivery manager Rimmy Chahal, pointed out the benefits of using the Unimog as it has reduced the number of single plant movements.
“The Unimog has largely been used to transport plant, equipment and materials in access-constrained rail corridors. This is in contrast to conventional transport methods of rubber tyred plant on railway tracks or a series of rail-bound plant to undertake this task. With the Unimog, we are able to transport large volumes in a single move from the access point to the work location along the corridor in a safe and controlled manner.”
The Unimog is used along with a five trailer consist to transport concrete, steel gantry structures, pits, conduits, quarry material, spoil disposal bins, cable, rail, sleepers and turnout components, among other materials. Being able to tow a lengthy consist also has benefits when it comes to safety.
“The 5-trailer combination also provides an additional benefit of safely and securely transporting long and bulky items such as turnout switch blade assemblies, which would normally overhang on conventional transport trolleys. Other uses have also included the deployment of site amenities and lighting towers to constrained areas improving safety and work environment conditions for our workforce,” said Chahal.
Another challenging requirement was the need to transport concrete along the rail corridor where access was restricted. Traditional methods of carrying in concrete on rail-bound excavators would require numerous movements to complete a single gantry foundation and had a greater risk of quality and safety issues. With RIA needing to deliver over 550 foundations for overhead and signal structures, a different solution was required.
“RIA and KH1 worked together to configure a skid-based concrete transport solution that can be mounted on rail bound plant. For example – on a trailer towed by Unimog to transport large volumes of concrete from access point to work location. This solution enables the complete pouring of a gantry foundation in one movement rather than numerous movements as required using conventional means,” said Chahal.
This solution involved the BlendMX8, a mobile concrete agitator first designed for the Monte Ceneri base tunnel in Switzerland.
“The BlendMX8 connects on to rail trailers and rail wagons via container lock and is then able to transport concrete in and out of the rail corridor without having to drive concrete trucks on top of wagons,” said Mociak. “It gives RIA flexibility in having the concrete on demand whenever they want it and then able to deliver the concrete via a conveyor belt and chute which can place the concrete up to five metres away from the rail.”
With the equipment expected to be used soon, Chahal is looking forward to seeing it in action.
“This unit is currently undergoing commissioning and RIA is very excited to put it into use over the coming months.”
A NEW APPROACH
The approach required for a project as complex as the Melbourne Metro Tunnel has driven innovation in the delivery of plant and equipment. Mociak noted that previous approaches of using wagons and locomotives would not only be prohibitive from a cost basis but limit any flexibility. The ability of machines such as the Unimog to move between road and rail while providing the required shunting capacity is one example of this new thinking.
“In the last couple of years, KH1 has put a lot of emphasis in developing technology and innovation for project logistics,” said Mociak.
The constrained environment of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project meant that new ideas had to be sought out, said Chahal.
“With urbanisation of the areas around railway lines, the ease of access to rail corridors to conduct maintenance, upgrades, renewals and project works is becoming increasingly restricted and challenging. We can no longer rely on driving along the rail corridor to get to the work location. Accordingly, we now undertake careful and detailed planning to manage the site logistics and work sequence to overcome access constraints and challenges,” he said.
With complex tunnelling projects underway around Australia and New Zealand, the planning and logistics behind the project needs to be increasingly sophisticated.
“The major metropolitan based projects that have come to the front in the last couple of years is a big change in the rail industry, so to support these megaprojects, we’re looking at how we can add value of benefit to the project through innovative movement of materials, plant, equipment, and people,” said Mociak.
In these cases, the solution is not so much about the individual pieces of equipment that are involved, but the careful planning and logistics that supports their operation. With targets being set ever higher, new methods are being implemented, said Chahal.
“Construction contractors are being set ambitious KPIs to minimise the impact of construction on community, stakeholders and rail services. These performance targets drive a strong industry focus on continuous improvement and innovation in how we deliver our works whilst minimising associated disruption. RIA’s use of the Unimog is a perfect example of innovation in action.”
Knowing how the machinery, whether it be the Unimog or concrete agitator, can be best utilised can make a world of difference.
“Because they’re highly complex projects with large numbers of work groups, the logistics of getting materials in and out is one of the hardest parts of the project and they’re also the thing that can really hurt the project if you get it wrong. Getting it right can have some significant benefits,” said Mociak.
For groups working in rain on underground tunnelling projects, all materials have to be brought in at the beginning of a shift, if anything is forgotten it stays at the surface. With each work group depending on the one in front of it, any issues can be passed down, limiting productivity and efficiencies
Back in Melbourne, it has been the partnership approach between KH1, its partner suppliers and John Holland that is making the project successful.
“The equipment was delivered over a 10-month period and representatives from John Holland travelled to Germany to be there for the factory acceptance testing,” said Mociak. “We had a lot of input from all parties during the design period and a lot of collaboration from KH1, John Holland and Zagro.”
To prepare the Unimog for use by the RIA consortium, KH1 ensured that it was provided to specification and the requirements of the project. Documentation ran to hundreds of pages in length to enable the machine to be used in the most productive manner.
“We bring knowledge of the local Australian requirements, standards, compliance, certification, and commissioning process to the table while understanding the product that we have available to us and then being able to adapt it to those requirements,” said Mociak.
Putting in 15 years of experience in the Australian rail industry into the delivery of the machinery for RIA has enabled the Unimog to be used for a wide range of purposes, perhaps more than what was even envisaged before the machine arrived on site.
KH1 is also bringing this approach to the maintenance of railway networks. The company is working with German rail equipment manufacturer Robel to deliver new ways of working to the Australian rail maintenance market. Machines such as the Mobile Maintenance Train can provide a significant step change in the way we work in the rail corridor with full coverage for workers on the rail track in addition to all equipment needed for the job. Ultimately, said Mociak, this is about delivering three core outcomes.
“It’s about innovation, safety, and efficiency.”
As a local specialist manufacturer of rail tools, Melvelle Equipment leverages in-house ingenuity to meet emerging demands.
Two years ago, Andrew Melvelle travelled to New York to demonstrate his Newcastle- based company’s latest equipment for rail maintenance and renewal. There, speaking with representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Melvelle understood that there had to be another way to run small tools besides diesel- and petrol- powered engines.
“What they would like to have was battery powered equipment doing the traditional jobs that were done by diesel- or petrol-powered small tools and that led us into coming up with the design to replace our diesel and petrol powerpacks with battery-style unit.”
In New York the reason behind the switch was clear. Confined environments made the fumes from diesel-powered equipment a hazard and being close to residents on elevated sections of track also posed an issue.
“In the underground networks in particular you’ve got an asphyxiation hazard but also when you’re on the elevated track, they do a lot of their maintenance at night, so if you can take away the engine noise you’re pretty much halving the noise output from the work heads. Therefore the environmental impact just in noise is a massive improvement to operator comfort as well as the residents that are near these elevated tracks,” said Melvelle.
Bringing these ideas back home, Melvelle and his team at Melvelle Equipment designed an early version of what would become the company’s battery-powered Track Packs. Demonstrating the tool to a local operator, the safety benefits of the new technology became even more apparent.
“I did a demonstration with one of our work heads in a viaduct and it was amazing the impact of not having the engine noise has on the environment. You can hear the safety officer above all else because he’s the loudest person there, as he’s not competing with an engine. Hearing protection, depending on the operation, is not necessary anymore.”
With traditional diesel engines producing roughly 100 decibels of noise, roughly equivalent to the volume of a noisy motorcycle engine, cutting this out of maintenance tasks can make a dramatic improvement in safety, particularly in a live rail environment.
“You can hear the whistles and you can hear the workers around you calling out, so it’s very much an improvement to the environmental working conditions for the operator,” said Melvelle.
In addition to these operational benefits, moving from diesel or petrol to electric power can contribute to the broader shift towards sustainability in rail.
“It’s the future of technology to try and help the environment and become a little bit more sustainable.”
A COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION IN RAIL
Having seen the benefits that electrically powered track equipment can have, Melvelle Equipment took the design prototypes and turned them into a manufacturable unit. During this process, conducted by Melvelle Equipment’s in-house industrial design and engineering team, further efficiencies were found.
“We have made it modular which brings most modules down into a one-man lift. This is a massive advantage compared to what we have to do with a petrol-powered or a diesel-powered power pack, because once you’ve got it bolted together that’s it, and it’s a significant lift.”
Melvelle designed the Power Pack to be adaptable to the equipment that Melvelle has supplied for decades to the Australian and international rail industry. The system can drive a number of different hydraulic workheads and is built to power each in the most efficient manner.
“There are very few battery powered hydraulic units in the marketplace so what we’ve developed is very bespoke to the operation of small tools. The system will identify which work-head is being used and therefore change the program internally to suit the application,” said Melvelle.
“It was a matter really of looking at what we’ve got and the output or the final performance needed to be and then sizing everything or matching everything to those parameters.”
Having multiple decades of experience in designing and manufacturing hydraulic workheads for the rail industry, Melvelle could calibrate the electric power to be more efficient than a diesel option.
“We know the flows and pressures that are needed and when the flow of pressure is required to be at its peak performance to do the job. Then we matched the performance curves of the electric motors to match the peak performance of the hydraulics we needed. That’s done through staging of pumps and flows and different pressures to make sure that we don’t overcook the batteries or the motor.”
With the design work that went into the Power Packs, the hydraulic heads could also be improved.
“In doing that design it’s allowed us to redesign the boom connections, all of the different workheads, as well as making the hydraulics smarter so that we draw less power from the batteries,” said Melvelle.
As a designer and fabricator of rail maintenance equipment and machinery based in Newcastle with just over two dozen staff, Melvelle Equipment can use its size to its advantage.
In addition to its work designing electrically powered hydraulic tools, Melvelle has also manufactured battery powered inspection and emergency response trolleys, as a direct response to the requirements of rail operators and construction authorities.
“Quite often, innovation is driven by customer need,” said Melvelle. “The electric inspection trolley and the emergency response trolley was driven through inquiries from two customers. Both agencies had a similar need or requirement but with different twists. Sydney Trains was looking for a track inspection trolley so that track workers don’t have to walk along the track, they simply put the trolley on track, and they drive.”
In addition to the base requirement, the trolley had to have a 20-kilometre range, be set up by a minimum of two people in three minutes or less and be able to get on and off track in three minutes.
For the other customer, Melbourne Metro, the trolley was needed to be a safety vehicle that would allow workers to easily access elevated sections of track. Overseas buyers have also expressed interest in the technology, and once Melvelle can get on a plane again the technology will be showcased to rail operators around the globe.
Being a small company has enabled Melvelle Equipment to be nimble in response to these and other customer inquiries.
“Most of our competitors are very large companies that are very reluctant to change from a core product, whereas there’s only 26 of us with a dedicated design team and a depth of knowledge of the rail industry,” said Melvelle.
“If a customer is looking for something special, we’re quite open to developing that for them within the realms of our ability. We’re able to modify something specifically for a customer at the drop of a hat because we do the designs and then manufacture in- house, we’re not reliant on other people.”
Caterpillar’s purpose-built M323F road-rail (RR) excavators are now at work in Australia, providing access to the first true AS7502 Type 1: Self-powered rail wheeled excavator designed specifically for on-rail work in Australasia while delivering a new level of safety and performance for the industry.
Four dedicated two-speed drive motors provide drive directly to the rail wheels, eliminating wear and tear on the machine’s road powertrain, axles, and tyres while providing unmatched on rail performance including operator adjustable hydrostatic deceleration. Dynamic braking performance is easily adjusted by the operator based on total load, speed, grade, or traction conditions and is complimented by large external dry disc caliper brakes on each rail wheel and inboard wet disc parking/emergency brakes. By braking the actual rail wheel any rocking motion induced by friction drive systems is eliminated providing a more stable, comfortable working platform for the operator. While the self- powered rail wheel system is more expensive, its performance is second to none, both in terms of drive torque and braking performance. Such performance cannot be replicated with friction systems traditionally used in Australia
Independently controlled, each dedicated rail axle is housed in a custom high strength cast cradle, incorporating oscillation suspension to absorb energy during travel and ensuring maximum rail contact even when experiencing rail cant. Each axle features a full width derail bar and guide and has been approved for both broad and standard track gauges in Australia, with a simple spacer kit to switch between gauges in the field.
Performance also comes from the custom- built upper structure. This is not simply a modified wheel excavator frame, although it does benefit from component commonality with the Cat M316F Wheel Excavator. At first glance, the full height compact radius counterweight confirms that this machine is designed for purpose, maximising lifting performance while maintaining a tight swing radius to avoid the many hazards that exist within the rail corridor.
A purpose-built factory secondary cab provides certified protection for a spotter or signal person and opens up to also allow full access to the centre and upper service access points of the machine. With open access to the main cabin, this is a perfect environment for a trainer to work with new operators live and on rail.
Safety is a priority and features throughout the M323F RR with double redundancy Rated Capacity Indicator (RCI) and Rated Capacity Limiter (RCL) systems using a proprietary, integrated Cat SMART control system. No more aftermarket, third party systems or suppliers, the M323F RR is truly purpose built from the ground up. A 360° LED beacon system ensures visibility at four metres from any angle and incorporates a unique blue LED lamp to indicate to bystanders and site supervisors when the operator has the RCI/RCL active.
Factory side and rear cameras integrated into the single 12-inch SMART screen along with an extensive LED lighting kit ensure visibility from the spacious full-size operators cabin during the day or night. Intuitive systems ensure the same pedals and controls used when roading the machine are used when on rail and no compromises are made in terms of operator comfort to accommodate the additional functionality of the rail excavator.
Recently independently certified to AS7502 for use on V/Line assets, the M323F features regionalised customisation by Cat dealer William Adams.
“It is very rewarding to see the culmination of several year’s work behind the scenes to take such an impressive purpose-built Caterpillar product now certified for use on rail here in Victoria. It will certainly complement the Elphinstone Railmax track excavator products and the traditional range of Caterpillar construction equipment we offer today, along with our industry leading product support footprint and capabilities,” concluded Glen Slocombe – product manager, William Adams.
Aries Rail have made a name for themselves by providing the Australian market with unique solutions, backed up by engineering expertise.
The professionalisation of railway engineering has come a long way in the past two decades. What was once a disparate and unregulated area with apocryphal stories of bush- mechanics has become a national field with clear standards and precise guidelines. Ewan McAllister, managing director of Aries Rail, has seen the sector move forward in leaps and bounds.
“When we first started out in this industry, there was basically no rules or regulations for hi-rail vehicles. You could just come up with a concept in your head and go and make it and put it on track,” he said.
This first began to change when contractors and customers began requiring sign off from certified engineering.
“There began to be requests for engineering,” said Ewan. “That would just involve a consulting engineer giving you a one-page report saying that he looked at something and liked it and that it was ok to go to work.”
Seeing where the industry was headed, and looking to lead when it came to higher standards for hi-rail vehicles, Aries Rail were one of the first companies to employ a mechanical engineer.
“Not long after that, we employed our second mechanical engineer and we haven’t looked back since, in terms of what we do. Once we started engineering things properly, it significantly improved the quality of work.”
The formalisation of these trends occurred in 2016, with the release of AS 7502, the Australian Standard for Road Rail Vehicles. Ewan was part of the team that developed the standard over three years, which has since been adopted by rail infrastructure managers (RIMs) around the country.
Today, on top of the requirements of AS 7502, RIMs are adding their own, stringent requirements, something that Aries Rail are only too happy to meet, due to their in-house engineering expertise, said Nathan Bender, director at Aries Rail.
“Every project we work on goes through a controlled engineering design process before releasing into manufacture and then again through various ITP, certification, compliance, and accreditation processes.”
One area that Aries Rail have specialised is in the conversion of heavy trucks for working on rail.
“Large trucks have been a specialty of ours,” said Nathan. “8x4s are large trucks with heavy payloads. As with everything in the design of railways, everything has become bigger and heavier, so the trucks have moved to reflect that.”
To ensure that these larger vehicles were fit for purpose when working in a rail environment, Aries Rail have designed and manufactured their own coil springs to match the spring rate of the parent vehicle, which enable the vehicles to reach a higher load share percentage without overloading.
Another specialty has been the development of air-bagged hi-rail suspensions which is the only safe way to convert an air-bagged truck, something not widely understood in the industry.
Ewan explained that the benefit of designing and manufacturing these kinds of specialist equipment in house means that Aries Rail vehicles can provide a superior and more efficient service.
“Without doing that,” added Nathan, “large trucks on rail payload was severely restricted.”
Meeting this requirement has enabled Aries Rail to supply vehicles that can carry greater loads, maximising their productivity and making large trucks a viable plant and equipment tool.
In addition to the larger vehicles, Aries Rail is also a supplier of light hi-rail vehicles, such as its system for Toyota LandCruisers, has been independently certified for use with driver and passenger airbags.
CERTIFICATION AND SERVICING EXPERTS
In addition to their base in Perth, Aries Rail recently expanded its footprint to Melbourne, to be able to provide 24-hour response to the east coast market.
“We made a strategic decision to base ourselves in Melbourne and move up from there,” said Nathan.
“It gives us that direct after sales support and the comfort that brings for customers making the choice to choose Aries as their fleet provider. Even if it’s Sydney, we can be there with the service truck and a set of tools within 24 hours if need be.”
Having first-hand knowledge of their own equipment allows Aries Rail to know exactly the issues facing any piece of kit.
“Particularly for our own equipment, we’re the designer, the engineer, and the certifier, so we do understand it better than somebody else who may not know the intricacies,” said Nathan.
In addition, with their experience in the design and certification process, Aries Rail can provide ongoing certification services for equipment to be used on every network.
“With our strong engineering background, we’re able to offer that certification process for every network. Then with our eastern states presence and a mobile service truck and a workshop we’re able to offer a recertification and a structured planned service program,” said Nathan.
In addition to engineering, Aries have invested in technical and trade knowledge. “We have our own team of mechanical engineers, we recently employed our own compliance engineer, we have a full time PLC programmer, and we have a full-time welding supervisor so that we comply with AS1554 Structural steel welding, which is required under AS7502,” said Ewan.
“All of our weld designs are tested and our staff are coded against them, to certify we fully conform to industry standards.”
Looking to where the industry is moving in the future, Aries Rail have partnered with Holland Co, the largest mobile flash-butt welding service provider in the world to bring the same dedicated, specialist flash-butt welding service model to Australia. Providing these unique solutions is how Aries will continue to service the Australasian rail industry, said Ewan.
“We’ll continue to evolve and deliver the solutions that the market looks for. It’s hard to see what 15 years ahead will be, but we’ve looked to add complimentary products from around the world to what we can offer the Australian market.”
In the same way that the inflexible old oak trees get uprooted in a strong storm in Aesop’s fable, a track support with too high track stiffness will cause premature failure and result in higher maintenance costs than anticipated. Track support that is too stiff does not spread the load sufficiently, resulting in extremely high localised impact loads and stresses (in track, sleepers, and fasteners). This may result in microcracks in rigid sleepers, failure of screws or clips, ballast attrition or ground vibrations. Causes for too high track stiffness include rigid subgrade (including concrete bases such as bridges, viaducts, tunnels) and overly stiff sleepers, such as concrete sleepers. Read more