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Full Speed ahead for the Volvo Express

LONDON/ENGLAND, December 30, 2013 - 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 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.

400 Volvo machines are being used at the South Europe Atlantic high-speed rail (SEA HSR) in France

About 400 Volvo machines are being used at the South Europe Atlantic high-speed rail (SEA HSR) development in France. | photo: Volvo CE

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.

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.”

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.

heavy machinery from Volvo at the Europe Atlantic high-speed rail (SEA HSR) in France

Running 188 miles from Tours to Bordeaux, the project is considered to be the biggest of its type in Europe at the moment. .| photo: Volvo CE

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.”

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.
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.