Martin Knights, President of the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) has had a packed year of travelling, conference attending, and executive committee meetings, culminating in a six week period with three major events - the ITA World Tunnelling Congress in Budapest in late May, the RETC session in Las Vegas in mid-June, and the Strait Crossings symposium in Trondheim, Norway in late June. Knights presents a year-end account of ITA business and a statement on where he feels the global industry is headed in the coming years.
President, Martin Knights, addresses the ITA delegates in Budapest
- "Our industry has lots of opportunity over the coming decade. Clients are planning underground infrastructure at an ever-increasing rate. There appears to be a realisation that our urban areas need to use surface space more rationally and use the underground for efficient movement and storage.
- However, I detect an interim slowing down of the market as clients decide how to progress with planned infrastructure spending in the face of the financial downturn. This downturn is causing clients to delay projects, either because funding is difficult to get (tax revenues are falling in some cases or PFi funding is harder to get) or projects are being postponed, or in the case of some well publicised projects in the USA, cancelled.
- Obviously bad news is publicised more than good news, BUT... our industry is doing better than others and in some cases for example in China and the USA, there are nationally coordinated efforts to stimulate the local economies by bringing forward infrastructure spending to create jobs. Tunnelling will benefit from this stimulus.
- The 'pipeline' of tunnel projects planned or being built during the next 10 years is astounding in complexity and scale. Infrastructure needs to be built to replace ageing assets and in many cases new infrastructure is required to deal with the growth of population and its needs for transport, health and social and commercial requirements. Planners are either deciding that going underground is the only way to solve these needs, or are deciding to do so for enlighten reasons, to preserve scarce surface space in our cities and rural areas for more appropriate needs.
At the ITA Banquet with Pál Kocsonya, President of the Hungarian Tunnelling Association
- An example is in Seattle, Washington in the USA where the State has decided to replace an ageing city centre highway viaduct that has divided the city from the coastal strip, with a road tunnel. The recent decision by State politicians and authorities reversed an earlier decision to replace the existing viaduct with another. This demonstrates that lobbying and constant promotion of the benefits of going underground can affect the decisions of those in authority if a rational and vote-winning strategy can be presented. All that is needed is a few well publicised examples, like Seattle, and other government and client organisations will take notice.
- Communication to the public and clients is key to ensuring a good future for our industry, particularly were clients show signs of abandoning projects and schemes. Our future can be influenced by our proactive actions. There will be more examples of the Seattle 'turn around' in future.
In Trondheim with Eivind Grøv, of Norway's SINTEF and a Vice President of ITA
- ITA has a role to play in stimulating the promotion of underground space and our two new Committees-ITACET (Training and Education) and ITACUS(Committee for promoting underground space) are set up to address this.
- My visit to the Straits Crossing conference in Norway revealed to me the extraordinary efforts being made by Norway to ensure efficient transportation links along its Atlantic Coast. Sea ferries have for a long time served the need to link communities along that difficult and spectacular terrain. These time-honoured links are now being challenged by fixed link bridges and tunnels. Norway is a rich country and is investing and spending its oil revenues wisely for the benefit of future infrastructure needs. Connecting communities 24 hours a day is an essential social driver.
- The conference demonstrated that economic arguments are being laid out, and won, in the decision to use fixed transport links. Technology has again risen to the challenge and innovative solutions are being used as the market opportunities increase. The market will generally respond if clients can provide the confidence of an assured infrastructure programme. This partnership is an essential ingredient in stimulating the tunnel business.
- Following the recent WTC in Budapest, I am happy to report that the accountability of our 13 Working Groups (WGs) will increase and that we will publish a number of Working Group reports in the next few months. These include:
Guidelines for underground construction contacts (WG3)
Structural fire resistance in rail tunnels (WG6)
Sprayed concrete use: A state of the art (WG12)
Environmental and sustainable reasons for going underground (WG15)
Long tunnels at great depth (WG17)
Urban problems, underground solutions and key decision factors (WG20)
Working Group Reports on Safety (WG5) and Conventional Tunnels (WG19)
were published shortly before the WTC in Budapest.
Details for obtaining copies of these reports and publications can be found at the ITA website at
Hand over of the ITA mantle from Hungary (right) to Canada (left) for the WTC congress in Vancouver, May 2010
Passing the baton
I am conscious also that during my third and final year as President, the Executive Committee of the Association (ExCo) needs to prepare a strategy for the next President from June 2010. Our current strategy, agreed in 2007, is generally on course, but membership categories need to be addressed to ensure that ITA gives and receives the full value for its role in facilitating the network, training, awareness, knowledge collection and dissemination, safety culture, standards, communication and forum services, that it is in a prime position to provide.
- The next meeting of the ExCo is in Zahgreb in early September this year with the Croatian Tunnelling and Civil Engineering Community. We will also meet again at the beginning of the STUVA Conference in late November in Hamburg. In the meantime I will be supporting the promotion of the tunnelling industry in the Middle East and Asia from October of this year. The work continues."