Make the High Road

Big Project ME joins specialist contractor Al-Fala as it carves a logistics artery through the mountains of Fujairah

Part-quarrying operation, part-road building, contractor Al-Falah is currently taking on the formidable task of constructing a truck route through the mountains that lie to the west of the UAE city of Fujairah.

The road is being built to ease congestion into Fujairah’s port. The city itself provides an open water access point to the Indian Ocean for the oil and gas industry and is thriving as the UAE looks to form a gateway from its Gulf-locked metropolises of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to global trade.

(In the event of another Gulf war or an Iranian blocking of the Strait of Hormuz, Fujairah could also be its lifeline to the rest of the world.)

While the Gulf coast cities have the advantage of space to build their infrastructure and roads and can afford expansive six-lane highways, the more frugal Fujairah is penned in by mountains on almost all sides. Both existing routes westward travel through passes that can cope with truck traffic but there simply isn’t the room to push more traffic through the suburbs. As freight traffic continues to grow, the port’s location at the remote end of the city presents city planners with a challenge. How can they allow it to grow without leaving its residents living in smoggy gridlock? The new high road out of town is – hopefully – the answer.

Al-Falah’s work on the project can be described as cut and fill on the grandest of scales. The route selected takes in the lower peaks of a natural pass but with the entrances to the valley close to sea level it is using a fleet of excavators armed with breakers and buckets to scrape and remove material from the mountain’s sides. Large articulated dump trucks take the material and clear the way; Al-Falah is taking down a mountain bit by bit.

Early morning blasts are being used to not only create the route but to also provide much of the material that will be used in the construction of the road.

This process is overseen by the local authority; and one of the Al-Falah team in on-site suggests that Fujairah has been highly supportive to the operation within the emirate.

In March Al-Falah completed 14 blasts and the programme is set to accelerate.

“We have a programme for drilling and blasting. We need to keep the production moving. We need to finish,” says chairman Abdullah Farhat.

At a rate of almost a blast every two days it is a rate that would be unusual even at the busiest of quarries.

Having seen the size of the task at hand – and the extent of how much rock is still needed to be excavator – it is understandable why the contractor is keeping such a tight schedule even if the completion date is not due for another 12 months. In total 10,000m3 will need to be shifted.

Out of the 3 million tonnes of rock the contractor has to move, 1.2 million is being used as fill. The remaining 800,000 will have to be used to protect the edge from landslides.

The articulated trucks being used to move the material will need to complete 130,000 journeys before the route is complete.

Al-Falah was begun as company in the Lebanon in the mid-1990s but quickly began looking further afield for business. It is just ten years since the contractor began operating as a road contractor in the UAE, but recognition from the local municipality bolsters its reputation as the mountain road builder in Fujairah.

A recently completed project in Masafi typifies why it is now being trusted with major projects in the northern emirates. Building a service road in a remote location, Al-Falah entered into the contract not knowing the type of material was going to be excavated in the absence of a full geographical and geological survey. According to the company, one kilometre into the route it encountered 150m high hard rock faces.

The fact that it managed to still complete the project on time is testament to that burgeoning reputation.

At the site office near the end of the route on the road to Fujairah, the head of Al-Falah says the company has made the leap from the Lebanon to the Gulf by building on years of experience.

“It is the same environment, like these mountains. Although is not the same rock as here you have gravel and limestone, but it is the same kind of job,” he explains.

Farhat adds that his current fleet of 40 machines will need to be expanded to more than 50 as the operation steps up its pace. The fleet he currently owns is rigorously cared for to ensure they keep their considerable value.

“I kept some machines from 2007 for three years, and then sold them on. After 10,000 hours they were gone,” says Farhat. “I don’t like to maintain workshops. I like Caterpillar’s 740Bs… I need ten more!”


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