As we look into the start of 2012, there is little to be excited about. Rather, the year ahead foresees businesses following strategies for preservation, keeping costs under control, avoiding risks and endeavouring to keep cash flows positive.
A select list of projects provide hotspots for tunnelling activity through 2012 with others pushed out to far horizons
With little chance of rapid recovery from the economic turmoil that so many governments and banking institution around the world are having to manage, the start of new projects is doubtful, if not already cancelled, and the prospect of private funding initiatives providing lifelines for project implementation is slim. While there are projects on horizons for development, activity will rely on the advance of projects already well into construction or at the start of construction after long years of planning and development.
Principal among rail projects that will move into peak construction curing 2012 will be Crossrail in London; the Stuttgart 21 railway developments in Germany; Austria's Koralm railway tunnel on the connection upgrade between Graz and Klagenfurt; and the Lyon-Turin railway link between France and Italy. For highways, the Northern Link project in Brisbane will push ahead as will the Waterview mega-TBM highway tunnels for Auckland, New Zealand and the Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project in Seattle and the Port of Miami link in Florida, while metro extensions and major CSO water projects will advance in cities of the USA including Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Austin Texas, Indianapolis and Columbus Ohio, as well as in London and elsewhere.
Equipment and material suppliers look to China and India to keep order books buoyant. Infrastructure needs in both countries remain high and the year holds promise, providing programme commitments stay strong.
Through Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong have mega projects to progress for the Express Rail Link to China and the sea link to Zhuhai and Macao in Hong Kong and Singapore's Stages 2 and 3 of its Downtown metro line.
In Malaysia, TBM excavation continues for the 44.6km long Pahang Selangor raw water supply tunnel as proposals for construction of the 9.5km of underground works for the new Klang Valley MRT for Kaula Lumpur are being prepared for a 27 January deadline ahead of evaluation and award of contract under the Swiss Challenge rules of procurement.
Despite a major contraction in the pace of investment in the Middle East, work advances on the expansive Abu Dhabi sewer system and plans are revealed for the infrastructure needed in Doha ahead of its hosting of the Soccer World Cup in 2022.
Transportation continues to dominate the world of mega tunnelling projects. As well as those in Asia, Europe is advancing design and exploratory work for the Brenner Base Tunnel railway link between Austria and Italy; the second high speed rail link in the UK from London north to Birmingham, Manchester and eventually on to Glasgow and Edinburgh; and the undersea fixed link across the Fehmarnbelt between Denmark and Germany.
In North America, there is determination in California to build its dedicated high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco with future expansions to San Diego and Sacramento, while in South America, plans for major infrastructure investments include transport links across the Andes between Chile and Argentina as well as nationally through Colombia and Brazil.
On the far horizon
As these and other current projects progress, the world's persistent economic gloom has put a halt to predictions of massive growth in infrastructure and for the tunnelling industry. Warnings of chronic labour shortages and lack of engineers and construction teams ring rather hollow as tunnelling projects are postponed or cancelled and as leading construction companies and engineering firms lay off staff to survive the economic squeeze.
Replacing expertise as current professionals retire is a recurring generational concern and greater emphasis on health and safety issues continues the drive for specific training and qualification of tunnel and underground workers, but until public spending recovers, tunnelling, along with other forms of heavy civil engineering construction, will remain in the doldrums.
Looking to the future, the one glimmer of sustainability is that despite cancellation or postponement, the need for more and improved infrastructure never goes away. It becomes more critical with delay and failure to programme spending on infrastructure stores greater problems for the future as existing system deteriorate and lose capacity.
These issues will be among the topics discussed at the conferences and meetings planned for the tunnelling community through 2012. The World Tunnel Congress for 2012 with the associated general assembly of the 64 nations of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) will gather in Bangkok in May when the role of tunnelling and underground space towards the design, planning and delivery of sustainable cities will be discussed at the conference's open session on Tuesday morning. In June, the UCA of SME's North American Tunnelling conference will convene in Indianapolis and tunnelling societies around the world will host symposia to discuss regional as well as specific technical issues and programmes.
At the start of the New Year, the prediction is for a resumption of business as usual with the overall aim being to get through 2012 unscathed. Any new business will be a bonus and if the team stays in tact through the next 12 months, the focus will be on 2013 and influences outside our own sphere of activity to bring back sparkle and shine to the tunnelling and heavy construction industries.
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