Stuart Martin reports on the unique requirements of of remote area roadworks
Roadworks are an ever-present multi-billion-dollar industry and a necessary evil, staffed by crews who more often than not can sleep in their own beds every night.
Rural deployments warrant calling a local motel home for a few nights, but if the work is being undertaken “back of beyond” then digs for the duration become an issue if hundreds of hours are not to be lost in transport to and from the site.
Road crews are away for weeks at a time grading roads and tracks hundreds of kilometres away from an established township. As a result, something more accommodating than a swag or tent and more robust than a normal domestic caravan is required.
Adelaide motor body builders Aldom has built two types of trailers to provide homes away from home for road workers – an accommodation block and a facilities trailer – for deployment as a home for remote area work crews. The units allow for stints of almost three weeks in self-contained accommodation units without having to return to civilisation, although the units are far from rough.
Aldom Motor Body Builders Australia general manager Phil Chamberlain said the company had completed 11 of the accommodation units, each of which sleeps two personnel and are worth around $320,000. The company is also in the process of building 11 facilities’ trailers to supply the residents with power and water, as well as providing tools for works.
“The accommodation units have water storage, a couple of generators, diesel fuel tanks and a crane already installed on each of them as part of the standard fit-out. The units have three 1000-litre tanks – one for replenishing drinking water, one tank for grey water and a third black water tank – with the facility trailer equipped with a 5000-litre tank to re-supply the vital water supply,” said Phil.
“There’s all that you need for remote work out in the outback, where they can live in these comfortably for 18 days at a time,” he said.
Phil said the trailers are built using fully insulated, locally-made panels and can be towed by a wide variety of heavy-duty commercial vehicles to different work locations in the outback.
“You’re talking about 15 tonne for the accommodation units, with the facility trailer weighing in at 33 tonne. They can be towed by a grader or prime mover, or even a rigid with a tipper on the back,” he said.
“The dolly that goes under the front can be hooked up to all three. Sometimes they can hook up both trailers and a ute – using special permits – to move the lot between outback camps.”
Both types of trailers are underpinned by York airbag suspension systems, with automatic height adjustment in the airbags, but the facilities trailers are also fitted with other work-related tools and equipment including a small crane.
“The same Haulmax tyres are fitted for outback duties, they are used on both as well, so they can swap them in and out if they need to,” he said.
The South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure is responsible for managing around a quarter of the state’s road network, which includes around 10,000 km of unsealed roads. Last year the department awarded Aldom the contract to manufacture 11 semi-trailer accommodation units.
Road maintenance crews use the units when carrying out northern outback grading of all the local tracks and roads, including famous roadways like the Strzelecki Track, Oodnadatta Track and other roads within the area.
Each unit has two bedrooms (one at either end), separated by a fully functional kitchen, bathroom and desk area, all of which is accessed by a swing-out folding staircase complete with handrail.
Occupants have access to hot and cold running water, air conditioning (required to offset the harsh weather extremes regularly encountered in the region) and even satellite internet and TV.
“There are two generators on the facility trailers, which connect to the accommodation unit and provide 240-Volt power. There’s also an automatic satellite dish which can be deployed for TV and internet, they’re a good unit,” Phil said.
“It was a pleasure to work with the department on the project, and our team that worked on them were extremely proud of what they’ve achieved.”
The nationwide multi-million-dollar tender – the accommodation unit contract was worth a little over $3.1 million according to DPTEI budget documents – had preferences for using South Australian content.
Employing local contractors and utilising local businesses, as well as sourcing local materials, were critical elements within the tender process and Phil Chamberlain believes the company’s previous efforts for oil and gas company Halliburton and defence company Raytheon Australia stood them in good stead to win the work.
Using a base crew of six staff, the company brought in extra local contractors for the body work and engaged a small family-run local business to complete the 240-Volt installation work.
“We have our base crew of six guys working in the job originally, this increased to 10 with labour hire for key parts of the build, which included a lot of riveting and drilling in the body.”
“Much of the decision making (for the tender) is based on local content. Around 25 per cent of the decision-making process was weighted toward local content and what we as a company could supply.
“We constructed all the panels in our manufacturing facility and used Australian steel whenever possible. The vacuum toilets were about the only thing we couldn’t source locally. They were sourced from Denmark,” he said.
Aldom was established in 1975 and has grown to become one of the industry leaders in designing and manufacturing commercial vehicles, as well as modifying and repairing them.
The brand builds bespoke refrigerated transport vehicles, dry freight transport vans, tray top and race vehicle transporters, as well as custom-built vehicles for the mining and emergency services industries. Motorsport transport trailers and service vehicles, as well as custom-designed trailers with lightweight bodies and tailored loading facilities, are also part of the Aldom company’s core business, but they are always prepared to take on a new challenge.
The company recently made the news headlines as part of a business partnership to build the ACE-EV electric vehicles, starting with a small light-commercial van but with plans to expand that business to include a small ute and sports car.
Phil said the business was keen to make the most of any more opportunities.
“We’ve just finished the designing and construction of a three roomed, completely mobile, doctor’s consulting unit. This will be heading for the Central Australia Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs and used to provide treatment clinics for the indigenous communities. It has a lot of similar gear to the other projects, except this goes on the back of a Mercedes-Benz rigid truck,” he said.
Carried on a Mercedes-Benz rigid truck chassis that features airbag suspension, the mobile consulting rooms’ unit is equipped with fold-out stairs complete with handrails, an awning overhead and – like the accommodation units – are self-sufficient for power and water.
“This was an exciting and interesting opportunity that arose, despite our more normal builds being with Tautliners, fridge bodies, trays and tippers, plant trailers, drop-decks and other flat-tops. The opportunity to expand into new areas and new challenges continues to expand our expertise keeps our work extremely interesting,” he said.