Professional engineer Ric Snowden is leading the team from Arup SA which was appointed as the independent certifier (IC) for the R25-billion Gautrain rapid rail link project. Arup's job is to check that the Gautrain is designed and built properly.
This includes certifying each of about 1000 "milestones" the concessionaire, Bombela, completes along the way, and reviewing design and construction. Then when the Gautrain is ready to roll, the IC issues the operating certificates.
"The train is not allowed to run until we issue operating certificates and that's quite a daunting task," said Snowden
The first certificate is after 45 months for the completion of the Sandton to O R Tambo International Airport phase. The second, after 54 months, is for the completion of the full service between Johannesburg's Park Station and Pretoria.
"It is not our responsibility to make sure the job is finished on time. That is Bombela's responsibility," said Snowden.
"Our role is to review the progress and to assist them wherever possible. It's a proactive role."
Arup started work in October. By the end of January, the team had certified 132 milestones for work valued at more than R3 billion.
Those 132 milestones include lots of paperwork and orders.
Parts of trains have been ordered, railway track has been ordered from Germany, the Gautrain team is established at various sites, four buildings have been imploded, Park station site is clear and Sandton station site is nearly clear.
Work at Sandton station has started, which involves constructing concrete diaphragm walls with a cutter for a deep shaft so the underground station can be built, a method not often used in South Africa. "It gets up to about 30 metres -- that's quite deep, that's a 10-storey building," explained Snowden.
The team is now starting to certify major work, such as the design of the viaducts and the stations. Construction is starting on these.
"Every milestone has achievement criteria. We spend hours trying to interpret those criteria.
"Some of them are debatable -- there is sometimes a different interpretation taken by the concessionaire, Bombela, as opposed to the client (the Gauteng provincial government)."
The IC must make the final call. So far there have been no major fights.
"We have to work as a team," emphasised Snowden.
Everyone working on the Gautrain is aware of the well-publicised 2010 deadline for the first phase. The public expects it to be ready for the Soccer World Cup.
"There's a strong desire now that everyone works together with a common agenda," said Snowden.
Everything is on schedule, although that may change as the heavy construction gets underway due to problems like weather or unforeseen ground conditions.
National treasury has capped the amount of money that Bombela may be paid each month, depending on the milestones certified. "Up to the end of January they were at the cap each month."
Arup employs consulting engineers, project managers and planners and has operated in SA for about 55 years. They are designers not contractors, working on big projects.
"Arup has probably done 30 percent of the major buildings in central Johannesburg since the 1970s," said Snowden. These include the Carlton Centre, Bank City and the major Standard Bank buildings.
Arup is currently involved in the Coega industrial development zone, the 2010 stadiums, OR Tambo airport's new central terminal building and DaimlerChrysler's transition to producing the world's supply of righthand-drive C-class Mercedes-Benzes.
"The Gautrain role is just up our street," said Snowden.
Most of Arup's Gautrain team of about 20 are South Africans. Snowden qualified at the University of the Witwatersrand and has worked for Arup ever since, including designing stations and viaducts in Hong Kong.
The team has also hired three groups of local consultants and will sometimes bring in specialists, particularly railway experts, from the international Arup group during its five-year contract. "The rail expertise is not here."
Snowden said an IC protected the project's investors and was an independent adjudicator between the contractor and client.
He described the milestone method as a "very good process" for major projects.
Using milestones, "it's either complete or it's not". If the milestones are not achieved properly, the IC will not certify them.
The milestones method is not widely used in South Africa, where assessing of project progress usually relies on the lump-sum method, or the rates and quantities method. Snowden described the milestones method as simple, effective and convenient for assessing payment of contractors on a big project.
"It means, for example, that we don't have to argue about how many cubic metres of concrete went into Sandton station."
The Gautrain project is now four and a half months into the 45-month phase. The World Cup deadline looms.
"We've got less than 41 months to go and we need to finish it a bit earlier than that as visitors will arrive before the games," said Snowden. - Sapa