A leading member of the UK tunnelling industry during the later part of the 1900s has died. John King OBE died on 20 January aged 88.
King was part of the fraternity of tunnelling engineers in the UK that developed and introduced the transition in the tunnelling industry from traditional hand mining methods to mechanised tunnelling shields and from cast iron tunnel linings to rings of precast concrete segments. These and other developments were introduced principally on expansion of the London Underground system when King and his contemporaries managed an era of engineering research and development and a sustained investment in tunnelling for the London Underground and expansion of water supply and sewerage networks for London and cities across the country after the Second World War.
King worked for most of his long engineering and tunnelling career for Mowlem, one of the leading tunnel construction companies of the time along with Balfour Beatty; Brands, which became Kiers; Kinnear Moodie, which was absorbed into Tarmac, and Edmund Nuttall, now part of BAM Nuttall. Following the management of several tunnelling and underground station contracts for the London Underground, notably on the Victoria Line and the Piccadilly Line extension to Heathrow Airport during the 1960s and 1970s, King made the most significant move of his career to take a senior director’s post in the mid-1980s on the UK side of the successful Channel Tunnel undersea rail link project with France and the Continent. Working with the project through its most crucial stages, King was awarded an OBE for his services to the project in 1996. This was preceded in 1991 when King and his fellow Channel Tunnel colleagues Colin Kirkland OBE 1992 (1936-2004) and Alastair Biggart OBE 1996, were honoured jointly with award of the James Clark Memorial Medal by the British Tunnelling Society of the Institution of Civil Engineers for their contribution to tunnelling and, in particular, the Channel Tunnel Project.
Following his Channel Tunnel engagement, King rejoined Mowlem as a Director and at a time when the company was managing the link under the Thames from Waterloo to Westminster for the Jubilee Line Extension of the London Underground in the late 1990s-early 2000s. This was the highest profile contract of the project with an underground NATM (to become SCL) mined station to link with the main national railway terminus at Waterloo, a deep open-cut station box at Westminster, and twin running tunnels under the Thames, under Westminster Bridge and under Westminster Bridge Road, passing within metres of the Houses of Parliament and the famous Big Ben clock tower.
As a civil engineer committed to the advancement of the UK tunnelling industry, King joined other leading British engineers in the early 1970s to form the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) within the establishment of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). The original committee comprised greats of the industry at the time including Sir Harold Harding and Sir Alan Muir Wood who both held the position of President of the ICE at different times. Through the efforts of the early committee members, the BTS is now one of the strongest associations of tunnelling engineers and professionals in the world. A further legacy of the early committee members is the role of the BTS in the foundation and sustained growth of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) which today has 74 Member Nations.
In 2000, King was invited by the British Tunnelling Society to present the prestigious Sir Harold Harding lecture. Under the title A century of tunnelling and where we go now, King documented the development of the modern tunnelling era through significant developments in the UK starting with the Brunel Tunnel under the River Thames in the 1800s, through the development of mechanised tunnelling shields and earliest experiments with slurry tunnel boring machine concepts in the 1960s and 1970s to the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s and the Jubilee Line extension in the 1990s. He also decried the UK Government’s ‘Stop Go’ policy of investment in construction, plus the ever-increasing competition from new tunnel contracting firms, that forced Mowlem to concentrate on other parts of the industry and “the tunnel team was dispersed.” He continued, “the British tunnel construction industry badly needs a period of consolidation with sensible, not cut-throat, degrees of competition [and for] Clients, Contractors and Manufacturers to resume investment in research and development work for the advancement of British tunnelling equipment and techniques.”
Following these thoughts in 2000, there has been a sustained boom in UK tunnelling over the past decade with completion of the HS1 high-speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel; advance of the Crossrail project in London, approval of the Thames Tideway Supersewer project in London, and significant lengths of tunnelling on the HS2 project well into the design stage.
Other notable quotes in King’s lecture include:
A pdf copy of this lecture is available for free download on the BTS website (see reference list)
King remained a long-term supporter of the Society and its activities, including the establishment of the now long running annual BTS Dinner, and was regular attendee at the BTS meetings at the ICE until his retirement and move with his wife, Jacquie, to their home in France. John will be missed by close friends and family and his many friends and colleagues of a life long career in tunnelling.