Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
The world's largest ever TBM; its longest ever high-speed railway line; its highest ever activity on a global scale; and the busiest order books for many in the business - all these are achievements in the tunnelling industry in 2012. TunnelTalk takes a look back at a year that brought the tunnelling world closer through conferences and gatherings in more remote corners of the globe and had work start on some of the world's most ambitious underground projects. In between, the industry's greatest area of activity for the urban utility sectors, continued without great fanfair to better the lives of citizens.
- Floods at the end of 2011 in Australia and Thailand were remarkable as much for the resilience of underground infrastructure as for the devastation they caused at ground level. By contrast the scenes witnessed in New York and New Jersey in November this year (2012) were a stark reminder of just how important is the three-year initiative of the ITA Committee on Underground Space on contributing towards the design of future disaster-proof cities.
Flood damage in USA
New York region crippled
Superstorm devastates New York region
Post Sandy pump out begins
Vulnerability of cities exposed again
Tide gates save Midtown tunnel from floods
WTC 2012 - Planning better and resilient cities
Tunnel Plug innovation for flood protection
- The eastern seaboard of the United States may have weathered Hurricane Irene of 2011, but its underground infrastructure proved horribly exposed in the face of Superstorm Sandy of 2012. In spite of ample time provided by forecasters to lockdown the region's underground infrastructure in preparation for the worst, inundation of subway, highway and railway tunnels, as well as tunnels under construction, took considerable weeks to recover. For a while even the Presidential election in the USA looked to be under threat, but in the end it went ahead as planned, resulting in President Barack Obama, with his pledge to maintain infrastructure spending in the face of a world economic slowdown prevailing over the challenge from Republican Mitt Romney.
- The scenes of devastation along the Atlantic coast of the United States brought into sharp focus the theme of May 2012's 38th ITA General Assembly and WTC - this year held in Bangkok and attended by more than 1,300 delegates from more than 60 countries - Planning Better and Resilient Cities.
- The cost of pumping out, cleaning up and repairing heavily-damaged electrical systems will surely force the city to carefully weigh the cost of implementing more effective and long-term measures to protect the underground subways, traffic tunnels and stations that are so vital to its prosperity.
Spotlight on Canada
Salzburg marks 50 years of NATM
Russia considers sustainable urbanization
Doing business at WTC Bangkok
Bangkok betters expectations at the WTC
NAT delivers in Indianapolis
Exploring possibilities in South East Europe
- It is, of course, always easier to design in protective structures for new projects, rather than retrospectively, but it will not have escaped notice that the tide gate system installed at the nearby Midtown Tunnel in Norfolk, Virginia, ensured the Elizabeth River crossing escaped the rising flood waters intact. This situation more than justifies the early decision there to design the second Elizabeth River immersed tube crossing at Midtown - construction of which will be well under way by the end of 2013 - with a tide gate system.
- Elsewhere, the on-going spectre of financial cuts to public spending programmes in the wake of the 2008/2009 financial meltdown never really materialised, except in debt-ridden Euro regions of Portugal, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy. But a severe economic slowdown in China, which in previous years has witnessed a boom in mega-project spending while almost single-handedly driving a beleagured world economy forward, brought other regions back to the forefront in 2012.
Sporting events drive growth
None more so than South America and the Middle East, both of which will benefit from hosting major world sporting events in the coming years - Brazil for the soccer World Cup in 2014 followed by the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro; and Qatar as a surprise choice for the 2018 soccer World Cup.
- International sports tournaments have always been good for infrastructure spending, and Brazil in particular progressed a number of traffic tunnel and subway projects in 2012 to prepare for the events.
- Herrenknecht is selected to manufacture the machine that will drive the long-awaited Line 4 metro extension in Rio de Janeiro that will connect the Olympic village with the city centre, while fit out was completed for the the city's drill+blast Grota Funda tunnel that is a key element of the TransOeste highway to improve road connections to different venues for the Games.
Brazil and Middle East growth
Rio de Janeiro Line 4
Doha progresses towards metro construction
EPBM tested for Rio Olympic drive
Prequalifiers selected for Riyadh metro
Final tunnel awards on STEP project
- In Qatar preparations for the 2018 soccer World Cup had the prequalification process for up to five tunnelling and underground station contracts for the Doha Metro attract huge international interest. Successful companies and JVs are likely to be invited to submit bids early in 2013.
- Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, also moved forward with an ambitious metro project, and 33 companies grouped into four international consortia are prequalified and currently in the process of making final bids. Plans for ambitious LRT projects in Mecca and Jeddah also moved into design during 2012, and with Abu Dhabi progressing to the final stages of its ambitious STEP project, as well as progressing proposals for a new subway, prospects for the underground in the Middle East look brighter now than this time last year (2011) when UK-based Halcrow partly blamed project cancellations and unrecovered debts in its Middle East portfolio for its takeover by American rival CH2M Hill.
Major project progress
World's first VD-TBM for Malaysia MRT
East Side Access breakthrough
Crossrail launches TBM tracker
Sydney North West Rail Link
Extreme Andes rail tunnel planned
New-design TBM ready for Malaysia MRT
Major tunnel awards on Stuttgart-21
NATM breakthrough on East Side Access
First drive through for Miami Port link
Governor signs California HSR funding bill
Tunnels take 11 of world's top-100 projects
As the global construction sector in general came under pressure, tunnelling and underground projects continued to buck the trend in 2012, largely due to the resilience of the transportation sub-sector which continued to attract both public and private funding.
- In the UK, tunnelling on the £14.5 billion Crossrail project in London finally got under way with four of the project's eight Herrenknecht machines launched and SCL works at station locations underway. Again in the UK, the Government gave the go-ahead for the London-Birmingham first phase of the £36 billion High-Speed 2 railway project, with several awards of design and planning contracts in preparation for the Parliamentary Bill that will be needed to secure the project. Australia prequalified three bids for the 25km underground alignment of its Aus$8.5 billion North West Rail Project in Sydney and a private initiative in South America unveiled details of a record-breaking 52.5km Aconcagua trans-Andean rail tunnel that it expects to begin prequalifying international construction consortia in 2013. India progressed multi-TBM driven metro tunnels in Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi while in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, MMC-Gamuda was awarded the 9.5km of challenging twin running tunnels for the city's new Klang Valley MRT line - for which the world's first variable density TBM was completed by Herrenknecht in November. In Germany, key underground construction contracts were awarded for complex tunnel alignments and stations along its Stuttgart-21 project that aims to slash east-west rail journey times across the European network.
- With so much activity, and with a healthy pipeline of projects that are reaching ever-more-advanced design and consultation stages, little wonder that tunnel projects were well-represented in the list of Top-100 Global Projects as prepared by KPMG.
- The USA also featured strongly. - Just three months after appearing on the list, a key milestone was reached on the long-running US$8.2 billion East Side Access railway project when the Schiavone/Kiewit JV completed complex NATM excavations on the top drift of a challenging 120ft section of tunnel. The breakthrough, in September, means that for the first time a continuous tunnel connects the already-excavated TBM tunnels under Queens and Manhattan.
- The Miami Port Tunnel, which also made an appearance in the KPMG Top-100 projects, made significant progress in 2012 with the 12.95m o.d. Herrenknecht hybrid TBM successfully holing through to complete the first 4,200ft (1,275m) underwater drive of the twin-tube highway tunnel in August.
- A third US project appearing on the KPMG list, and one of the most ambitious (and expensive) the world has ever seen, also made progress during 2012. The estimated US$100 billion California High Speed Rail Project, which envisions an 800-mile link between Los Angles and San Francisco, some 30-50 miles running underground in twin tunnel alignments, received a major funding boost when State Governor Jerry Brown signed into law US$4.7 billion of State investment (to be matched by a further US$3.3 billion in Federal funding) that should enable construction to start in 2013. The State Senate approved the High-Speed Rail Funding Bill in July by just a single vote.
Major transportation projects advance
As always, there are simply too many projects to list that achieved significant advances during 2012. Suffice to say that the range of countries using TBM technology for the first time increased yet again, as did the list of ITA member countries, whose ranksnow swell to 68 with the addition of Myanmar, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Macedonia at the ITA General Assembly in Bangkok in May.
- Among projects of note, Argentina was due to break ground in September on a Phase I of a three-phase US$5.8 billion project to place underground a 35km section of the busy Sarmiento rail line in the western suburbs of Buenos Aires.
- Moscow progressed multiple subway extensions using TBMs manufactured by a range of manufacturers including Caterpillar, NFM, Robbins and Herrenknecht; Norway's Ryfast mega-project, which comprises under-sea tunnels of 14km and 5.5km, moved towards the tender stage; the first of two tunnelling contracts on Toronto's long-awaited Crosstown LRT in Canada, which was hit by a 50% cut in tunnelling scope earlier in the year, was awarded to Obayashi Canada in joint venture with Kenny, Kenaidan Contracting and Technicore Underground; in the USA Seattle Sound Transit completed 5km of difficult U-Link LRT extension twin tube tunnelling well ahead of program and moved immediately to confirm North Star, a JV of Jacobs Consultancy and CH2M-Hill, as the construction management team for its next project, the 7km Northgate LRT immediately north of the U-Link.
Three EPBMs completed U-Link drives
Multiple TBMs are progressing Moscow subway
TBMs mobilise for Moscow metro extensions
Norway's mega-project to tender in Autumn
First tunnel award for Toronto Crosstown LRT
Toronto axes 17km of tunnels
Construction management for Seattle Northgate LRT
Seattle pushes on with LRT extensions
- In Canada, Rideau Transit Group was selected in December to deliver Ottawa's long-planned US$2.1 billion east-west LRT link, to be known as the Confederation Line, a critical central section of which runs in SEM tunnel alignment under downtown Ottawa.
- Meanwhile, the world got its first view at the end of 2012 of the now-completed-and-ready-to-ship biggest TBM ever built. The giant 17.48m Hitachi Zosen machine will start work next year to excavate the double deck 2.7km SR99 Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Tunnel in Seattle.
Extreme tunnel projects
First 9.93m Aker Wirth TBM for Koralm rail tunnel
TBM excavation conquers Peruvian Andes
Crossing the Himalayas by rail
Mountain drives for water supply in Malaysia
Four TBMs for high altitude Andean hydro
Singapore awards 35km cable tunnels
First TBM delivered for Koralm rail tunnel
Long and extreme tunnels
In the long and extreme sub-category of tunnel projects, 2012 got off to a fine start for Robbins with the completion of the Olmos Trans-Andean tunnel in Peru, following four years of excavation through 12.5km of extreme geological conditions and under mountain cover of up to 2,000m.
- In Malaysia progress continued on the 44.6km Pahang-Selangor raw water delivery tunnel, with three Robbins 5.2m diameter TBMs having excavated more than two-thirds of the project's 33km of mechanized headings by the end of 2012.
- As predictive technology improves, serious consideration is being given to the feasibility of a railway link through the Himalayas to connect China with India via Nepal, and in April, the TunnelTalk China correspondent, Zheng Yan Long, joined an expedition to investigate possible routes for what is increasingly being seen in the region as a vital transport artery.
- Meanwhile Strabag and Hochtief/CMC di Ravenna JV secured contracts in late 2012 to excavate 66km of tunnels - half by TBM - for the Alto Maipo project high in the Chilean Andes. Procurement of the TBMs for the project is anticipated to start in early 2013. In September, four companies and a JV were awarded six tunnelling contracts for delivery the Singapore Cable Tunnel Project comprising of 33km of 6m i.d cable tunnels running east-west and north-south across the island state. A mixture of up to 10 TBMs and EPBMs are expected to be procured for the US$1.25 billion mega-project. In Austria, the first of two 9.93m-diameter telescopic shield TBMs were delivered by Aker Wirth for excavation by Strabag of the 18km heart of the 35.2km-long Koralm rail link, while in the USA, assembly began on site of the refurbished Robbins machine that will excavate the 12.2km Indianapolis Deep Rock Tunnel Connector CSO in the New Year.
- Next week we will look forward to the New Year and present our predictions of what 2013 might hold. In the meantime we at TunnelTalk wish a Happy Christmas to all our readers, advertisers, friends and colleagues.
Education and training
Engineering careers in tunnelling
Royal visit for Crossrail Academy
ITACET training course attracts global audience
Prospects and payscales attract new recruits
UK training academy expands course range
Building tunnels and building lives
Tunnel accidents and safety
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BBC report of Swiss tunnel crash tragedy
Swiss tunnel crash leaves 28 dead
Five feared dead in Japanese tunnel collapse
Fatal ring-build accident at Lake Mead, Nevada
Full scale tunnel fire testing
Safety violation fine for East Side Access JV
Tunnel ceiling collapse kills in Japan
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