As haulage contractor on the Britain's biggest road job, the M6 Toll, Brian Hill's fleet has the task of making sure almost 700,000 tonnes of fill is delivered to the right place at the right time, while also looking the part. Paul Thompson reports
FOR MOST muck-shifting contractors a dry winter day is a bonus. It provides welcome relief and allows teams to catch up on days lost to rain. But not for Wayne Hill and Rob McNaughton, directors of Brierley Hill-based haulage contractor Brian Hill.
For them it is just another day making sure Britain's biggest road job, the £460 million M6 Toll, stays on schedule for its early 2004 opening.
With the pressure of ensuring almost 700,000 tonnes of stone and fill gets delivered to the right place on the 45 km-long site, they cannot afford to worry about incidentals like bad weather.
So far, they have managed to avoid getting any trucks bogged down in the M6 Toll mud - quite an achievement when material has to be delivered using on-site haul roads wherever possible.
'Generally, the haul roads are in good condition.
Some are on finished concrete, some on the cement bound sub-base and others are brick hardcore, but there are areas of poorer quality, ' says Mr McNaughton.
Those poor quality areas mean Hill's fleet has to be roadworthy, as well as reflect the public image of Cambba, the consortium responsible for the construction.
'We knew the haulage company we appointed would have a high public profile, because it is seen out on the road and there is tremendous public interest in the project, ' says Peter Alford, Cambba quarry manager.
The consortium also wanted a haulage contractor that had a large enough fleet to manage the whole scheme without having to subcontract out some of the work.
'We felt this would be better for safety and site access control reasons, ' says Mr Alford.
Hills has a mixed fleet of 19.5-tonne, eight-wheeled wagons all under three years old. But it still has to conform to the inspection regime of Cambba's plant inspection department.
Fortunately for Mr Hill and Mr McNaughton, their company has an equally tough maintenance contract with vehicle specialist Lex Commercial.
'That's one of the reasons we like to keep down the age of the fleet and not rely on one make of vehicle. We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket, ' explains Mr Hill.
'It's a bit of an extra safety net for us and Cambba, ' adds Mr McNaughton.
Much of the distance covered by the Hill fleet is open to the glare of the public. Most of the site is accessed at its two extreme ends, which can mean battling through some of the heavy traffic the scheme is designed to relieve.
Even just getting the wagons loaded with the correct fill and dropped off at the right points on a 45 km site is a logistical challenge, but it is one the Hill team has taken in its stride.
Designated rendezvous points - 52 in all - have been set up along the route where engineers hungry for fill can meet the wagons and direct them to the nearest tipping point.
'At two o'clock each day we get a complete list of all the next day's requirements, covering types of material, access points and rendezvous points. This is sent to our transport office in Brierley Hill, ' says Mr McNaughton.
The volume of stone and specialist fill can vary daily but all of it is sourced from the central quarry and stockpile at Weeford, roughly half way along the scheme. This is where most of the quality material excavated during the initial earthworks ends up, and where the Hill fleet is sent back at the end of each day to load up for the first delivery in the morning.
'The transport office works out how many wagons we will need and where we can get them from, ' says Mr McNaughton. 'Our on-site foreman then makes sure all the wagons are filled with the right material and going to the right points.'
Hill's foreman is Carlton Branham and it also falls to him to assess which section has priority on deliveries if there is a breakdown or a truck gets stuck in traffic.
Luckily, Mr McNaughton, Mr Hill and, perhaps more importantly, Mr Alford, all have supreme confidence in him.
'He's been with us two years, so he can't be doing too badly, ' says Mr McNaughton.
But Mr Hill recognises the difficulty involved in making the complex haulage contract work for his firm and Cambba.
'This is the biggest single contract we have ever undertaken and it has been extremely challenging, ' he says.
This is a point echoed by Mr McNaughton, who adds: 'Everything has been different to our normal schemes. Even dealing with one client on a long-term basis is different.'
But if everything continues as it is, by summer 2004 it may just be possible to travel to north Birmingham without getting stuck in stationary traffic on the M6.
Now that really would be different.