Working through the night keeps traffic flowing. Joris Muylaert works as a project manager for dredging and civil engineering construction multi-national Jan De Nul. And it's not been a normal weekend for Joris. Usually, Friday evenings are spent at home with his wife and children, perhaps over a favorite meal and some famous Belgian beer. This weekend, though, Muylaert has had a little digging to do - 26,000m³ (34,000yd³) of it, to be exact. Luckily, he doesn't have to do it all himself - he has a little help from 50 colleagues, a few excavators, the odd crawler dozer and a fleet of no less than 16 Volvo articulated haulers.



Jan De Nul won the contract to totally overhaul and modernize a major motorway junction at Lummen, a small town in a former coalmining region around 60km (38 miles) north-east of the Belgian capital Brussels - while, of course, allowing the traffic to continue flowing.

"The intersection between the E313 and E314 had become a high-speed accident blackspot," says Muylaert. "It was designed about 50 years ago, when traffic volumes bore no comparison to what they are today. It required a major rethink." The roads provide vital links from Leuven, Antwerp and the port of Ostend in the west, to the Netherlands in the north and Germany in the east.

One of the biggest challenges of the 10 million Euros ($13 million), one-year project involves cutting through the embankment supporting the E313 in two places, removing 14,000m³ (18,000yd³) of soil from the first point and 12,000m³ (16,000yd³) from the second, and replacing them with two concrete bridges.

The bridges, built on site, weigh 6,000 tonnes each and stand 40m (131ft) wide, 40m deep and almost 10m (32ft) high. They are to be shunted into place using specialist hydraulic jacks before pavers relay the motorway surfaces across the top. There's a catch, though. Muylaert needs to ensure the entire first phase of the project is completed within a single weekend so that the E313 can be re-opened in time for the Monday morning rush-hour.

"We've cut through the embankment in a single night," he says. "It really was spectacular when the breaches were made. We began at 8pm on Friday and finished at 6am on Saturday morning. The articulated haulers made 2,000 trips to remove the soil, which will be re-used on another part of the junction.

"Of course, it had to snow during the night and this morning. We hardly get any snow in Belgium nowadays but it has snowed heavily this weekend. But it's not problem. I've never had any worries about getting the job done."

Jan De Nul, which operates worldwide, is a great supporter of Volvo haulers. It owns 100 of them, with four new A40Es purchased specifically for the Lummen project.

Muylaert does not mention why the Volvos keep being chosen ahead of rival machines; whether it's the latest generation V-ACT (Volvo Advanced Combustion Technology) engines and their low-speed power and torque output, the Automatic Traction Control ensuring ease of operation and reduced fuel consumption and tyre wear over any terrain, or the increased 43-tonne load capacity. It may be the best-in-class Care Cab and its emphasis on operator comfort, spaciousness, visibility and ergonomic controls.

Many of the haulers were provided by VCM, Volvo CE's exclusive dealer in Belgium. "In the end, you have to be able to trust your vehicles to do an excellent job," says Muylaert. "And we do."

VCM employees are also out in force to support one of their key clients. Leading salesmen Chris Van Haute, who has worked with the company for almost 30 years, and Ronald Boerboom are there to check that everything is running smoothly, while technician Peter Souffriau, along with two back-up haulers, is offering immediate back-up in case of a breakdown. Marketing officer Peter Mutton also makes an appearance. Mutton is used to impressive engineering - he restores military tanks as a hobby - but even he is struck by the scale of the project.

His only concern is to make sure the Volvo haulers operate at 100 per cent efficiency throughout the weekend. Downtime is simply not an option. "We've always majored on service but we're constantly trying to improve," says Mutton. "We're recruiting and training more engineers, extending the hours of service and improving response times. It's an absolute priority to set us apart from our competitors.

"We use express delivery firms to get spare parts to our regionally-based mechanics and our main facilities at Vilvoorde are right next to Brussels airport, so we can get virtually anything flown in from Sweden or Germany at a moment's notice. We work very closely with Volvo. The training and marketing back-up is first-class. I've never known anything like it in any other company I've worked for.

"Belgians like brands. They believe in paying a little extra for quality. And Volvo, across the board from cars to trucks, is a brand that works really well in Belgium. Sometimes, when I tell people I work for VCM they look puzzled. It's easier to say: 'I sell Volvos'."

It's almost time for the bridges to be slipped into position. Kenneth Waeytens, one of Jan De Nul's hauler operators, knows he will soon be reduced to a spectator after a hard night and day's work. He laughs. "Hard? No! The Volvos have so much power, that's the best thing about them compared to their rivals. And there's the cab - I can see everything - and the seat, which I can adjust how I like and really supports you over this sort of terrain. Was it cold last night? Not in here. Will you shut the door behind you, please?"

Mutton wants a final word with Souffriau, but the VCM technician is nowhere to be found. It turns out he's already been sent home by the client. There's been nothing for him to do, explains Muylaert with a smile.
 


Text: Tony Lawrence