It is an annual occassion of black ties and tuxedoes, long frocks and finery that celebrates the current activity of tunnellers in the UK. The Annual Gala Dinner of the British Tunnelling Society last Friday evening (8 May) gathered together a throng of more than 800 diners - hosts with partners and guests - at The Porter Tun dining room at The Brewery venue in the City of London.
As a celebration of tunnelling activity in the UK, the evening was in turn a celebration of international contractors, consultants and suppliers contributing to the design, construction and fabrication of current and planned tunnelling projects in the country.
Roger Bridge, Chairman of the BTS, welcomed one an all and hosted – among other guests on the top-table – Søren Degn Eskesen, President of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA). BTS is the UK society representative on the general assembly of more than 70 nations of the ITA and is a founding member and a member nation of the Association since 1974. In the crowded room of tables were guests and tunnelling professionals from the world over, with many from Germany, Austria and Spain and from home bases in Asia, North America and as far afield as Australia.
At the Dinner, the BTS Chairman launched the invitation by the UK to host the WTC-World Tunnel Congress and the 45th Annual General Assembly of the ITA for 2019. The invitation will be presented officially to the ITA Executive Council and General Assembly at the WTC 2015 event to be hosted by ITA Croatia in Dubrovnik this month (May 22-28, 2015) and will be voted on by the member nations of the General Assembly of 2016 at the WTC next year, hosted by the UCA, the Underground Construction Association of the USA, in San Francisco.
The Chairman also promoted the ITA Tunnelling Awards and encouraged those operating in the UK market to enter their projects and achievements for one or several of the nine award categories, with the winner for each to be announced at its gala dinner at the Hagerbach underground conference and test gallery in Switzerland in November this year (2015).
TunnelTalk was a guest this year on a table hosted by Spanish companies Dragados and Acciona and together with an independent engineer from Austria now working for UK consulting firm OTB and with the Secretary of the BTS and partners. Dragados is lead JV partner in construction of the largest tunnelling contract on London’s Crossrail project, as well as the design-build contractor for the London Underground Bank Station upgrade, and Acciona is positioning itself in the UK to bid for construction contracts on the planned HS2 project after recently being awarded the mega hard rock TBM railway tunnelling project in JV with Ghella of Italy for the Oslo-Ski Follo Line in Norway, and being involved in major transport tunnel projects in Australia.
Other international friends and colleagues met and greeted at the London gala were representatives of Strabag (Austria); Bouygues (France); Hochtief (Germany), with a long association of working in the UK and currently working on the Thames crossing for the Crossrail project; Ferrovial (Spain) currently in JV with Bam Nuttall and Kier on the Crossrail Project. Ferrovial is also with Laing O’Rouke on the recently awarded contracts for the Northern Line Extension to Battersea for London Underground, and on the Central Contract for the Thames Tideway super sewer tunnel project. Vinci and Bachy Soletanche of France are in JV with Costain for the East Contract of the mega Thames Tideway project. These international contracts were hosted by their UK construction contractor JV partners including Morgan Sindall, Balfour Beatty, BAM Nuttall, Costain, Sisk, J. Murphy & Sons, Taylor Woodrow, Kier, TGTunnelling and others.
On the consulting side tables were hosted by CH2M (formally Halcrow), Mott MacDonald, AECOM, Arup, OTB, LBA, Donaldson Associates (now part of COWI), and the UK office of Dr Sauer & Partners and Gall Zeidler Consultants.
Other tables were hosted by the UK representatives of the many international manufacturers and suppliers of materials and products to the busy UK tunnelling market. These included Herrenknecht, Bekaert, Mapei, Normet, and with UK companies VIP-Polymers, Soprema UK, Shotcrete Services Ltd and so many others.
To the crowded room, Tim Smart, International Director, High Speed Rail, CH2M Hill, gave the address by the Chairman’s Guest and entertained with many an anecdote about his career in the tunnelling industry. Many were anticipating detailed news about the immediate progress of the HS2 Phase 1 project through Parliamentary Approval and into design and construction procurement, particularly in light of the result of the UK general election of the day before that saw a majority Conservative government elected with a narrow majority to the House of Commons on Thursday 7 May. But perhaps internal project politics between rail infrastructure owner Network Rail and the HS2 Delivery Partner and funding issues are too complex at the minute for bold public statements to such an informed and eager audience.
But that didn’t undermine the positive vibe in the room about all things tunnelling, with partners and guest riding along on a wave of good humour and camaraderie. It was another most enjoyable evening for all and left everyone looking forward to next year’s chance to enjoy the same buzz.
Click here to see the Gallery of professional photos take during the evening by the TunnelTalk-sponsored photographer. Spot yourself and your fellow guests in the crowd and order copies for your private photo albums.