CIVIL works are by far the most expensive component in the expansion of the high-speed Spanish rail network and the project management team behind the works is pivotal for success. During a large project, difficulties and problems are bound to arise but with the right management it is possible to overcome any obstacle.
The viaduct spanning the Almonte river at the point where it flows into the Alcántara reservoir is 996m long with a main span of 384m, and is due to be handed over by FCC Construction and Conduril Engineering to Spanish infrastructure manager Adif on September 11. It forms part of the planned Madrid – Lisbon high-speed line and the western section from Madrid to the Portuguese border is almost complete. However, the Portuguese section was cancelled following the 2008-09 economic crisis, despite the majority of the project being funded by the European Union, which has already contributed over €500m to the Spanish part of the line. When the Spanish section is completed it will run between Navalmoral de la Mata and Badajoz. However, to keep costs to a minimum, the line will be broad-gauge and single track and will not be electrified.
During the building of the €109m bridge, which began in 2011, several unusual challenges were encountered, which called for special measures to be put into place. An environmental study discovered the presence of seven golden eagle nests, a protected species in Spain. FCC had to build seven new nests a few kilometres away from the site in order to avoid friction with animal protection agencies and help to safeguard the future of the birds in the region.
As the reservoir is also a nature reserve, FCC could not enter the river during the build phase, and this was a key reason for the impressive arch bridge structure. It was also necessary to set up a “bird protection system” on the deck, to prevent birds striking trains or catenary while flying over the viaduct.
“Working in partnership with Adif made things smoother despite the occasional minor issues we have faced,” says Mr Pedro Cavero, railway infrastructure head, railway division at FCC Construction, and the project manager for the railway viaduct. “There have been no reported accidents during the construction of the viaduct despite having over 200 people on site at peak times.”
Work started on the arch from opposite sides but met in the middle last year, and now FCC is completing the deck, so that the bridge will be finished by its expected completion date of September 11.
The bridge was built with a 14m-wide deck using high-resistance materials, including a significant volume of self-compacting concrete to extend the longevity of the bridge without it needing maintenance. Maintenance is a crucial factor when project managers are choosing what materials to use for their construction. Selecting high-resistance materials means that FCC will not have to invest in maintenance for a significant period of time.
The project management of the viaduct has had a positive impact on the local community and its wealth as 71% of the work force were hired from small villages around Cáceres or from cities on the Portuguese border. Cavero saw this as a way of ensuring economic benefit was given back to the local area.
In addition to the viaduct, FCC is also constructing one bore of the Bolaños high speed rail tunnel along the Madrid - Galicia line in north-west Spain. This project, which also required delicate project management by FCC, is a temporary joint venture between FCC (90%) and Collosa (10%) and consists of a single-track 6785m-long tunnel, comprising cut-and-cover tunnels of 18m and 57m each at both portals, and a bored tunnel which is 6079m long. FCC has also formed a temporary joint venture with Acciona which was awarded a contract for the parallel single-bore tunnel. FCC has a 47.5% stake in the overall joint contract along with Acciona (47.5%) and Collosa (5%).
The works are being developed in the province of Orense and the majority of the track stretches are in tunnels. These works account for 88% of the total budget. The tunnel has a circular cross-section with a diameter of 9.9m.
At the beginning of the project, there was not enough power at the site because of its naturally-isolated mountainous location. FCC had to spend €4m of its €209.1m budget on building a 35km powerline to generate enough power to run the site and its tunnel boring machine. However, this is beneficial for the local population which will use the powerline once work on the tunnel is completed.
The Bolaños tunnel project also created a problem in a nearby town, where the alignment would affect a local religious statue. The project managers had to work with the local community in order to come up with a suitable solution. Eventually, an agreement was reached between the community and the contractors to build a new monument located closer to the town and with improved access.
In addition blasting was also prohibited between February and July for the companies working on the tunnel in order to minimise the impact on wildlife, particularly during the breeding season.
Within the tunnel itself, some of the construction work had to be done at separate locations, due to space constraints. Because of the heavy loads being carried on the roads, they began to wear down which worried members of the local community. FCC agreed to maintain the road while they were there in order to ensure the health and safety of the community as well as their own employees. “Health and safety is more important than the time it takes to complete the project, as well as the cost,” says Mr Juan Margareto, FCC’s deputy project director of the Bolaños tunnel, and this is a view shared by Adif which is funding the viaduct.
The viaduct and the tunnel both have an ambulance and nurse on site in case of an emergency during construction. At Bolaños, evacuation shelters are also provided for when there is a lack of oxygen within the tunnel, as well as emergency breathing masks for all employees - fortunately neither of these precautionary measures has been needed to date.
While Adif favours the use of major Spanish railway construction groups particularly for high-speed projects, it is trying to encourage smaller companies to bid by offering smaller packages such as 11km contracts for civil works projects.
Spain has the largest high-speed rail network in Europe, despite the economic crash in 2008, and the line from Madrid to the Portuguese border will eventually be 450km long with the viaduct in Cáceres being a crucial part of the civil works along the line.
The latest budget from the Spanish Ministry of Development was heavily weighted towards the rail industry, which received 54% of the allocation for transport, equating to a total of €5.46bn, €3.68bn of which is being invested in high-speed rail.
FCC is hoping to secure work on the first phase of Britain’s HS2 project, linking Birmingham and London, and is bidding for contracts in a joint venture with Laing O’Rourke and J Murphy & Sons (LFM). Whether they are successful in their bid or not, it is evident that attentive project management will be essential to the success of this £21.4bn project, and other similar railway undertakings.