Civil Designer Showcase

Welcome To The Boomtown

Five years ago Cape Town may have been the boomtown, but now the Eastern Cape is growing at an astronomical pace and civil engineering technicians like Dallas Dewey of Arcus Gibb are thankful for the advent of modern technology such as computer-aided design and draughting.

"Without it you would never be able to achieve the larger jobs in the time that the client requires," says Dewey explaining that today's six-month job could easily have taken up to two years before sophisticated software became available. By way of an example Dewey describes the redesign of a 20 km stretch of road in the Carla area that, although using Civil Designer software, was not as easy as another similar project completed just a few months later. "Now Civil Designer has a little add on in the form of design criteria that allows you to use the software to tell you where you went wrong," he said indicating that the second project consisting of the redesign of a 30 km stretch of road was facilitated by this new function. "I found it very helpful."

Rail upgrade focus of attention
But it was a rail project that Dallas says really "tickled my fancy" recently. Usually more involved in the "bread and butter" type projects such as township design, this contract to design the upgraded rail system between Umtata and East London certainly stands out on their landscape of recent work.

"The old line was designed in 1907 and only has a design speed of 40 km an hour," he said, adding that the aim of their client, the Department of Transport, was to reduce the entire journey to four hours. According to Dallas this translates into creating a rail with a design speed of 120 km - a massive project that required a complete re-assessment of the route, the curves and the alignment along the entire 290 km length of the present railway line.

The focus of the project is of course aimed at the upliftment of the Eastern Cape region and is linked to the IDZ zone being developed around the East London harbour. The upgraded rail is likely to be used extensively for the carriage of timber into East London. And of course, with a number of small stations, particularly closer to Umtata, the rail is also envisaged to undertake the carrying of passengers in an attempt to better link the small villages in the area.

With the preliminary design phase of this project due for completion by the end of the year, Dallas once again emphasises the need for design packages. "If you haven't got it, you're lost - you have to keep up with technology," he said.

Apart from the limited time frame that they are working within, the project has also presented some other obstacles on the ground. "It has been a real challenge going through the Kei Cuttings - a massive gorge with bad terrain - making it difficult to get a rail through there," he said. This design challenge has been overcome with a "series of loops that spiral down over the river and then spiral out on the other side".

  According to Dallas there are a number of design options available in a situation such as this, but that the client's budget will eventually govern an engineer's solution. "There are different options: one is to spiral and one is to start tunnelling," he said adding that a number of new tunnels have been designed into the new system along the route.

"It's the length of the tunneling that counts. Obviously if you hit a mountain you can either go around it or straight through it," he said describing the balance between budget and design. "That's the whole idea of the preliminary phase. You design it and quantify it and put prices to it. Then the powers that be can see if the price is feasible."

Bread and butter projects
While the railway project has seen them use sophisticated and very specialised software from the UK, Dallas says that their bread and butter projects such as township design is done using the Water, Roads and Survey+Terrain modules of Civil Designer. He adds that as an engineer who can trace his origins in computer-aided design and draughting back to the early days of the program when it was still a DOS-based package called Stardust, he is pleased that the East London office of Arcus Gibb has chosen to use it and is working on acquiring further modules.

"It's not everyday that you get a rail upgrade of 290km," he says explaining that much of their recent work has centred on the upgrading of basic informal settlements in and around Carla, Ugie and Mclear.

Providing full infrastructure to these areas including water, electricity and roads, he says that they have seen these informal settlements emerge as small townships complete with all the necessary bulk services. "It's no use putting a little town there with no main feed of bulk electricity or sewage works. Everything needs to be upgraded," he said adding that schools and clinics have also been built.

With plans to double the size of the office due to the current workload, Dallas reports that there are a lot of projects in the pipeline, but prefers to keep these under wraps for the time being. "We are very busy compared to the other regions and we are looking for new premises to accommodate the predicted growth in the company," he said.

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