Construction Equipment GLOBAL

Full speed ahead for the Volvo express

About 400 Volvo machines are being used at the South Europe Atlantic high-speed rail (SEA HSR) development in France, that will run for 188 miles from Tours to Bordeaux.

The Volvo A40E basks in the sunlight and  trudges through the water.

The extremely ambitious Tours-Bordeaux railway project will pass through a giant chunk of Western France – Centre, Poitou-Charentes and Aquitaine. It’s the biggest public-private partnership (PPP) contract ever signed in France’s rail sector as well as one of the world’s largest infrastructure projects launched over the last decade. The entire 188 miles (302km) long route will reduce the journey time between Paris and Bordeaux by approximately one hour and as many as 20 million passengers will benefit from the high-speed transport service. 

For the Poitou-Charentes section of work, a consortium of companies named COSEA –led by VINCI Construction, has been contracted to form part of a 21 mile (33km) section of the project.
The entire development is expected to create 4,500 jobs during construction and 150 jobs in the operation and maintenance stage. It will also free up the existing Tours-Bordeaux line for more freight traffic and regional express train traffic.

The whole project will cost some €7 billion Euros and involves removing 46 million cubic meters (1,624 million ft³) of soil (more than half of which will then be reused), construction of 415 new bridges, as well as 10,000 meters (33,000ft) of viaducts. When the line comes into service, trains will reach speeds of around 199 miles (320km) per hour. Work began in the middle of last year and the scheme will take just two-and-a-half years, finishing in September 2014 when the track will be laid and tests carried out. The line is scheduled to open for passengers in 2017.

Digging up the foundations.Hired heavies

In total there are about 400 Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) machines working on the SEA project, out of a total of 3,000-plus machines. Most are articulated haulers and excavators, supported by Volvo CE’s dealer, Sofemat. The terrain surrounding Poitiers has been saturated by snow and rain, but operations go ahead thanks to the durable and reliable Volvo machines. 

“It’s considered to be the biggest project of its type in Europe at the moment,” says Franck Citarel, director of Sofemat based in Nantes. “I have never worked on a project of this size before. It’s fantastic and hugely motivating. The major contractors know what Volvo stands for in terms of durability and fuel consumption. It’s a priority brand for them. The excavators are becoming a reference point for quality here, just like the Volvo articulated haulers and wheel loaders.” 

Sofemat is a family business with a history of success. It began in 1983 with Citarel’s father and three staff – it now employs 110 people.

Getting speedy

“Three quarters of our machines are haulers, mostly Volvo A30Fs with the latest emissions compliant Stage IIIB engines, which meant organizing training courses for operators before the work began,” says Thierry Lenoble, Sofemat technical coordinator. Lenoble is working with a team of seven mechanics to ensure the company’s machines keep to a tight deadline. “Things are going well but you’re continually on your toes. There’s always maintenance work to carry out and the key is to react fast and efficiently if one of our key clients such as VINCI Construction or Guintoli (part of the NGE Group) has an issue. These machines work in a chain. A breakdown has a knock-on effect.”

The F-Series articulated haulers from Volvo CE not only meet the demanding standards set by the Stage IIIB emissions legislation, but also feature a package of improvements in functionality, design, and maintenance. The F-Series ranges from the 24 tonne A25F up to the 39 tonne A40F, each model maneuvering, traveling and dumping in the most efficient and safe way.

The self-compensating hydro-mechanical system also affords exceptionally short turning circles useful in confined loading and dumping areas and on tightly turning haul roads. Durability and strength are the hallmarks of all Volvo haulers. Heavy duty front and rear frames have been designed for severe off road operation and long service life. The load body is also heavy duty, made from HB400 steel, and its design, high dump clearance and tipping angle all promote good material ejection.

The Volvo excavator scoops up the excess earth and rock.Cut and cover

At Poitiers, a cut-and-cover tunnel is being carved out of the earth by a fleet of excavators. To allow for this, an existing motorway has had to be moved. When the tunnel is completed, the motorway will be moved back, to run directly over it.

“When we started, we had to acquire the land, carry out demolition and tree removal, strip away the topsoil and then start work on earthworks, cuttings and embankments,” says Philippe Gutleben, project director. “We will do everything until it’s time to lay the rail track. “I’ve worked on civil engineering projects like this one since 1993, where very challenging terrains are involved. I know all about Volvo’s articulated haulers and wheel loaders and how they’ve kept evolving. You know what you get with a Volvo.”

“It can be a tough job but it’s fun when things go well,” says Bernard Blanchet, a Volvo CE technician. “And things are going very well. Our clients are delighted with the new Tier IIIB machines and technologies. Also if a part is ordered before 5pm, for instance, we can get it on site by 7.30am the next morning in almost all (92%) of cases. Speed is a key element to success, just like the rail link.”

This project is part of an overall regional development scheme that came out of the Grenelle Environment Forum, which opened the door to high-speed rail projects towards Limoges, Toulouse and Spain. It will boost the growth of freight and regional services on the existing line and should provide a positive response to economic development for the Bordeaux metropolitan area and all cities in south-west France.

The Volvo A40E basks in the sunlight and trudges through the water.

Picture2: Digging up the foundations.

Picture3: The Volvo excavator scoops up the excess earth and rock.


Tiffany Cheng

Director, External Communications
Volvo Construction Equipment

Brian O'Sullivan

Tel: +44 7733350307