Moving on – taking site spoil safely through the streets

Matt Bennett

We’ve all heard the expression ‘without trucks, Australia stops’. Trucks play a crucial role in Australia’s economy, including the removal of dirt and spoil from underground tunnel construction sites.

Yet, despite the importance of using trucks in Australia, collisions can occur. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics reports that each year approximately 12 per cent of truck collisions are with vulnerable road users (cyclists and pedestrians).

There are a lot of heavy rigid trucks on the road, close to 350 000 reports the South Australian Freight Council in 2014. The reality is that trucks, cars and vulnerable road users (VRUs) will always need roads, so we must be able to share roads safely and responsibly. Engineers have a role to play in contributing to the safer travel of trucks leaving construction sites and it’s something Aurecon engineer Matt Bennett has been researching.

Matt’s recent research paper titled ‘Vulnerable Road User Inclusion in Spoil Removal Route Planning’ won the Australian Tunnelling Society technical writing competition in 2018. He was recognised for his research into how tunnelling practitioners needed to consider the safety of vulnerable road users not just around a construction site, but along the truck routes as well.

Sharing the road space with vulnerable road users

Tunnelling is an activity that creates huge quantities of spoil to be disposed of and is usually transported by trucks and dog trailers. This means trucks must interact with vulnerable road users (VRUs). Due to the sheer difference in momentum between the two types of road users, collisions may result in serious injury or fatality for the VRU. Even one fatality is one more than acceptable.

Sometimes haulage route planning doesn’t take enough consideration of the interaction that trucks have after they leave a site with a full load of spoil, such as from Tunnel Boring Machines on underground tunnel projects in urban environments.

This issue was highlighted at a Truck Safety Forum hosted by Melbourne Metro Rail Authority in 2016. In 2017, Matt joined the VRU safety taskforce that was created from the Forum. He saw an opportunity to present additional research into why the tunnelling industry needed to consider VRUs in route planning, and explored how a new type of route selection tool called HIRA may be improved upon to assist route planners. 

The lack of inclusion of VRUs in haulage route selection is not an issue unique to Australia. Some of the largest cities in the world, such as London, are considering how route planning can minimise exposure to VRUs from trucks leaving construction sites in urban environments.

Without structured inclusion in the route selection process, the risk to VRUs can often be overlooked.

A new type of route selection tool

The new route selection tool in development is titled Human Impact Route Assessment (HIRA) and is intended to be one part of an overall route selection process.

It’s a decision-making methodology to compare haulage routes based on VRU safety, and would work best when undertaken as part of a collaborative stakeholder workshop explains Matt. He believes that with government representatives, road authorities, clients, contractors and engineers around the one table, there could be valuable commentary about project risks and how to identify suitable mitigation measures.

The HIRA is a new type of route selection tool that could help the tunnelling industry plan better routes for the safety of VRUs

HIRA decision support flowchart (courtesy of the HIRA working group)

HIRA has been piloted on two projects in Melbourne as part of Matt’s thesis for his Master’s Degree. He points out that he wanted to trial how HIRA could be used on different scale projects where truck haulage from construction sites was involved. The two piloted projects were the large and complex Metro Tunnel project and a smaller development project in the north of Melbourne.

Results from both pilot projects have been overwhelmingly positive. Of the benefits cited, risk identification through inter-agency collaboration was very extremely prevalent. This aligns well with the intent of HIRA.

Arising from the pilot projects, recommended improvements to HIRA are now being addressed as the VRU safety taskforce takes the tool into its next stage of development.

In conclusion

Safety is a vital consideration on tunnelling and other underground projects, but traditionally only extends to the immediate surrounds of the site to ensure vulnerable road users (VRUs) can move around with minimal disruption and maximum safety.

However, particularly with tunnel construction, the interaction with other road users does not end there as large volumes of trucks removing spoil travel between major traffic routes such as freeways and the site. This means there is significant interaction between trucks and VRUs on highly urbanised roads, with a risk of collision between the two users.

What’s exciting is the current research are trials of ways to improve haulage route planning and assessment that allows for a more holistic approach to project safety, expanding from merely the site, to include related interactions further afield.

“Any new practices that allow trucks, cars and VRUs to coexist on roads in a safer way is another step in the right direction to reduce collisions and fatalities on our roads,” concludes Matt.

Click here to download the winning technical paper from Matt Bennett.

About the Author

Matt Bennett

Matthew Bennett is one of Aurecon's transport planners based in Melbourne. He earned his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Melbourne and his Master's in RMIT.

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