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Technical Paper: Successful use of the Total Geology Approach, using Reference Conditions for the design and construction of heavy duty railways in the Pilbara, Western Australia


This brief case history is of the investigation, design, construction and operation of some of the World’s major iron ore railways during the last two decades in the ancient cratonic region of Western Australia.

The overall geo-approach was based on the development of a thorough understanding of the geological and geomorphological history of the area and adopting strategies such as staged investigation; definition of investigation objectives; investigations to answer specific questions; an emphasis on geo-mapping; establishment of reference conditions; the development of geo-models and the application of the observational method.

In general, this approach is not restricted to railways. Other linear structures that can traverse wide ranging geological conditions, such as tunnels, roads and pipelines as well as projects involving extensive ground engineering (hydroelectric schemes for example), have been built efficiently using similar approaches.

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