With the constant ebb and flow of construction projects in the region, it can be easy to forget the equally important range of vehicle and machine fleets supporting this work directly and indirectly — this includes the logistics and aggregates sector, but significantly also the municipal fleets that take over where the contractors finish, delivering the infrastructure that ties communities and commercial projects to the federal roads, landscaping the space in between and taking out the trash.
In Ras Al Khaimah, the man presently handling these responsibilities is Engineer Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Al Hammadi, executive council member and director-general of the RAK Public Works and Services Department (PWSD), and it was ultimately his decision that saw the recent purchase of a large order of Iveco Trakkers heavy trucks equipped with Atlas tipper bodies for the municipal fleet.
The crunch time came six months ago, when RAK PWSD was evaluating bids for a large fleet order. Al Hammadi explains: “Two years ago we went with Mercedes and Mammoet, but in the bidding six months ago, we did the analysis and chose Iveco, because they managed to match the specs of our main supplier, Mammoet, and we are optimistic that they will be better than our old fleet. Moving forward, if the trucks are a success, we will continue with them — so this could see the fleet shift.
“We believe the Iveco trucks will be better in terms of manoeuvring, and technically in operation. However, we are primarily interested in two things, both of which we will only come to know with time: how our drivers will handle this new combination on the road, and in turn, how our workers will handle them under maintenance — because the old ones came with an American chassis, and we have had a lot of trouble maintaining them.”
While RAK PWSD carries out a wide range of different functions within Ras Al Khaimah — in fact, it is one of the largest departments in the local government — for the most part, the tipper-bodied trucks delivered by Iveco have been put to use on a very specific undertaking that is being carried out with all the seriousness of any large piece of national infrastructure.
The work in question is the levelling of land to provide the plots of land as part of the Zayed Housing Project — a presidential initiative to ensure that every Emirati citizen is able to build a house, and to this end is able to purchase a plot of land from the government. As the Emirati population continues to grow, so too does the demand for these plots.
Al Hammadi says: “In the UAE, every local citizen is entitled to a piece of land for free. It is one of his rights: free healthcare, free education, free plots — so what they need from us is to level those plots.”
While this may sound like simple, the scope of the undertaking is significant. Ras Al Khaimah is nowhere near as flat as its sister emirates and its terrain rises quickly from the Gulf Sea over increasingly undulating dunes into foothills and then its mountains, including Jebel Jais, the highest peak in the UAE. The plots being levelled, as per royal decree, require RAK PWSD to pass through whatever obstacles lie in their path. At the present time, that obstacle is dunes, which means sand, and a lot of it — and here we come full circle to the need for an effective fleet of tipper-bodied trucks.
While RAK PWSD has a broad range of regular duties, from waste collection to road maintenance, it is the levelling project that is the main task in terms of its share of the department’s fleet resources — occupying some 50% of the available vehicles and equipment, according to Al Hammadi. By contrast, RAK’s entire waste management operation only accounts for 10% or so of the department’s fleet.
The whole process of plot levelling on a mass scale began four years ago, when it was found that the delivery of plots in RAK was being outstripped by the demand for plots from the Emirati population. His Highness Sheikh Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, subsequently instituted a drive to deliver a fixed number of plots each year, and he calls Al Hammadi on a daily basis for an update on the progress of the work — often visiting the sites himself and issuing direct instructions.
In 2016, RAK PWSD has been set the target of levelling 10,000 plots, but Al Hammadi highlights: “When we started four years ago, we started at only 5,000 — after two years we doubled the fleet.”
It is Al Hammadi’s job to make sure things stick to schedule, and so far they are. This year the total number of plots levelled had passed 9,000 in early October, but the effort has required a non-stop schedule.
Despite the fact that many of the active plot levelling sites are adjacent to existing residential areas, the trucks still work up to 11pm, and they start up again early the next morning. The work is carried out intensively to minimise the length of the disruption.