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End of the fourth mechnical ballast-cleaning (undercutting) project for Colas Rail Morocco

The Colas Rail Morocco team delivered their fourth mechanical ballast-cleaning (undercutting) site for the ONCF.

End of the fourth mechnical ballast-cleaning (undercutting) project for Colas Rail Morocco

Mehdi OMALEK, Project Engineer and Mohamed YOUSSEF, Works Engineer, who worked on the project for Colas Rail Morocco tell us more about these operations that are crucial to the maintenance of the rail network.


Civil engineer, specialised in public works and infrastructures, who graduate from the University of Cergy-Pontoise (France), Mehdi joined Colas Rail Morocco four years ago. Since 2016, he has been incharge of these ballast-clearing sites for our client ONCF.

#1 Tell us more about the ballastcleaning campaigns for our client the ONCF. Do they have special requirements?

Colas Rail Morocco won its first ballast-cleaning contract with ONCF in 2013. With over 1,200km of lines on its network, our client ONCF needed a reliable service provider to maintain the tracks. To meet this demand, Colas Rail has a ballast-cleaning machine over from France, which can achieve a higher yield.

What you need to know is that these projects are very demanding. For this fourth campaign, teams have been working mainly at night, both weekdays and weekends for almost 2 years. They can only work for short periods of between two and three hours at a time as they have to ensure that the tracks are open to traffic again each morning. No error is possible.

#2 How did the end of the works go?

Started in July 2018, we completed our fourth ballast-cleaning campaign on April 30, 15 days ahead of schedule, despite the special situation linked to COVID19 and the start of the Ramadan. A feat that could never have been achieved without good cooperation with the ONCF and the total commitment of the team!

Experienced in undercutting projects, our employees have a good knowledge about this type of works and hence very autonomous. This is the second site on which I have had the chance to work with them and I hope to be able to repeat this experience very quickly.

#3 What next for the ballast-cleaning projects at Colas Rail Morocco?

We hope to be able to continue working with ONCF on its future maintenance operations and to win a fifth contract.

#4 A final word?

Congratulations to the Colas Rail Morocco teams, which I hope to find on future projects and to our client ONCF for their renewed trust!


#1 What is the purpose of the ballastcleaning project for our client ONCF? What is it for?

Mechnical ballast-cleaning is a project whose objective is the renewal of the ballast. In more simple terms, the track is laid on a layer of ballast whose thickness is on average 250mm. Over time and train traffic, the ballast layer degrades and loses strength and elasticity. Therefore, it no longer fulfills its primary function: maintaining the track, sometimes forcing trains to run more slowly and causing a reduction in passenger comfort.

Hence the relevance of this mechnical ballast-cleaning for our client ONCF. The project is not limited to the undercutting process, it also includes several activities necessary for the rehabilitation of the track such as the remplacement of sleepers, etc. All these operations are carried out under 4 to 6 hour track interception. Once the area has been completed, the track is returned to traffic with a speed reduction to 40km. In these conditions, our teams must remain vigilant 24/24 and 7/7 to monitor the area and take action if necessary.

#2 How did the end of the works go? Especially considering the COVID19 situation.

On this DEG4 project, we worked on a single track between the cities of Youssoufia and Safi on which 18 phosphate trains and 4 passenger trains run every day. For this, we had to ensure increased performance and quality for the satisfaction of the track users: ONCF and OCP.

At 90% progress, we were surprised by the sanitary containment measures due to the COVID19 pandemic, which forced the worksite to stop all activities on March 22, 2020. After a period to implement the various sanitary measures (50% of the workforce mobilised, social distancing, cleaning of our means of transport and work equipment), we completed all of the works on April 30, 2020.

I would also like to thank the Health and Safety department that accompanied us during this difficult period and ensured the supply of the site with masks and hand sanitizer.

#3 Do you have a funny anecdote to share with us about this project?

On the day of departure from the site, after 4 months of continuous work between midnight and 8 am, instead of taking the road from the site to Safi, we took it in the opposite direction to Youssoufia! We lost our sense of direction.

#4 What next for the ballast-cleaning projects at Colas Rail Morocco?

According to the testimony of our client ONCF, the quality of the works carried out demonstrates the experience and professionalism of Colas Rail Morocco. I think this is a project to be developed on a national scale and even beyond the borders of the Kingdom.

I take this opportunity to thank all the teams in the field but also the HR, Accounting and QHS departments for their efforts, involvement and responsiveness. Thanks also to the Management for their support and encouragement.

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