Reflecting on 2014 22 Dec 2014

Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk

As 2014 draws to a close it is time to reflect on yet another hectic year for the international underground construction industry as the pace and scale of project development shows no sign of slowing. Significant progress on Crossrail in London has seen tunnelling activity reach 90% completion, with only the last two of eight TBMs yet to finish their drives; in New Zealand mega-TBM Alice has completed turnaround following successful completion of the first tube of the Waterview highway tunnel and has relaunched recently into the second parallel drive; the third phase of Delhi’s metro expansion continues at pace; rollout is completed of the last underground contracts for the 30km all-underground Thomson Line in Singapore; while in the USA breakthrough earlier this month (December) at Lake Mead Intake No. 3 in Nevada completes excavation of one of the most technically challenging drives ever attempted in the history of tunnelling.

As usual, TunnelTalk has provided the industry with in-depth project reports, the latest research papers, details of the most important technological advances, and news of projects as they emerge from design through to prequalification, tendering and construction award; as well as reporting on the latest market consolidations, mergers, takeovers and acquisitions that have shaped the design, supplier, manufacturing and construction sectors that together comprise the underground construction industry.

Once again, reshaping of the industry has been a significant feature of 2014 as market consolidations and new partnerships continued to be forged. Chinese companies continued to look for opportunities to gain footholds in established manufacturing and construction businesses, with two of the most significant deals being takeover by Liaoning Censcience Industry Co (LNSS) of all the assets of Caterpillar Tunneling in Canada (formerly Lovat), and at the end of 2014 acquisition of Australia-based John Holland by the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).

This added to the takeover at the very end of 2013 by the China Railway Tunnelling Equipment (CRTE) of all the TBM and shaft boring intellectual property rights of the Wirth business, an acquisition that adds further to a Chinese portfolio of well-established names and brands that already includes CIFA and Putzmeister.

The sale of John Holland into Chinese ownership comes in spite of that company’s strong involvement in the growing number of road and rail infrastructure developments that went into construction in Australia in 2014 (Sydney North West Rail Link), or are scheduled to move into construction in the coming 12 months (Melbourne East-West Link). December’s Aust$1.15 billion sale of John Holland represents an attempt by its parent company, the Hochtief-owned Leighton Group, to stabilise the Group’s financial position going forward into 2015.

On the consultancy and design side, two mega-deals dominated 2014. In July AECOM, already the world’s largest engineering design consultancy, took over rival URS, the third largest, in a deal valued at approximately US$6 billion. Two months later Parsons Brinckerhoff was sold by its owner, Balfour Beatty of the UK, to Montreal-based WSP, in a deal worth US$1.25 billion.

Smaller, but nonetheless significant, deals included global engineering and infrastructure design consultant Parsons’ acquisition of Canada-based multidisciplinary engineering, planning, management and technology firm Delcan; a merger between Jacobs Associates and McMillen in November; and the creation in June of a joint venture sales and distribution partnership between tunnel lining reinforcement specialists Bekaert and Maccaferri.

For the TBM manufacturers 2014 was a busy year. Herrenknecht of Germany completed a clean sweep of all 15 machines for the now-in-construction Doha Metro mega-project in Qatar; NFM of France launched the first of its clean sweep of four machines for Sydney’s North West Rail Link; and Terratec of Australia made significant inroads into Indian and southeast Asian markets by recording a series of successful breakthroughs for Delhi Metro Phase III, a machine order for Istanbul Metro, and another order for a hydro project in Laos.

Meanwhile Robbins made significant inroads into the potentially lucrative mining market in Australia with successful completion of the first of two steep inclination coal drifts in Queensland – the first example of a TBM being used on this sort of project. With Chinese demand for coal fuelling an export boom from Australia, this is potentially a huge growth market for the TBM manufacturing industry. Mindful of the potential, Australian contractor McConnell Dowell revealed to TunnelTalk details of its development of a “one-size-fits-all” TBM solution for mining companies interested in benefiting from the longer design life and lower maintenance costs offered by mechanised excavation of drift access tunnels – as well as development in collaboration with Herrenknecht of a flat-invert TBM for in-seam excavation.

New world records were set in the 6-7m diameter category by Robbins as its refurbished machine completed 12.2km Indianapolis Deep Tunnel Connector in July, and the American company continued to secure orders for its machines from all corners of the world.

On the technical side, Herrenknecht announced production of what will be the world’s largest diameter TBM for the ambitious 4.2km-long Tuen Mun – Chek Lap Kok Link (TM-CLK) subsea highway project in Hong Kong. With an o.d of 17.6m the Mixshield will be 12cm larger than the current world record Hitachi Zosen machine that spent most of 2014 stuck in the ground in Seattle after suffering bearing seal failure barely 1,000m into its Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement drive.

Herrenknecht also successfully proved its innovative Variable Density TBM (VD-TBM) concept in 2014. At the British Tunnelling Society Conference in London in October, Satpal Bhogal, Project Director for Underground Works for Line 1 of the Klang Valley MRT reported that the six of the new machines had successfully negotiated the significant karstic limestone geology along almost half of the 9.5km underground alignment. The VD-TBM incorporates a design that enables it to alter the density and viscosity of slurry according to geological conditions, reducing the possibility of slurry loss into voids, subsequent loss of face pressure, and, ultimately, surface ground movement and blowouts through fissures.

A number of long-running mega-projects moved closer to construction in 2014. In the UK the 26km Thames Tideway CSO project achieved planning permission, with owner Thames Water also launching a competitive tender for an Infrastructure Partner to fund the construction costs. UK High Speed 2 also advanced towards construction procurement, with an outline civils strategy put into place for Phase I London-Birmingham ahead of the final planning approval that will be required before the project is secured. As evidence of the UK’s continuing investment in underground rail infrastructure, longer term plans for Crossrail 2 and High Speed 3 continued to be developed throughout 2014, while construction of the long-awaited 3.2km Northern Line extension was awarded to a JV of Laing O’Rourke/Ferrovial Agroman.

In the USA, Los Angeles Metro broke ground on the 6.25km of running tunnels for the Purple Line Westside extension Phase I, adding to underground construction that continued throughout 2014 on the 1.9km Regional Connector project to connect the Blue, Gold and Expo Lines under Downtown LA; and the 13.5km Crenshaw/LAX light rail line that will run between the Expo Blue Line and the Metro Green Line with a link to the LAX international airport. Progress was also made on the many CSO and storage tunnels that are under construction as part of Federally mandated schemes for compliance with the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Australia, meanwhile, progressed the first two of three phases of the WestConnex highway project around western Sydney; awarded construction of Melbourne’s East-West highway link mega-project; launched the first of four TBMs for the Sydney North West Rail Link (NWRL); and unveiled plans for two more Sydney harbour crossings, more surface level and underground extensions to link the NWRL with the southern area of the city under the harbour, and numerous other underground projects.

Throughout the year Tunneltalk continued to attend the major conferences and exhibitions, with the highlight of the calendar year being the annual gathering of the WTC, this year held in Iguassu Falls, Brazil.

Of course all of the above is only a selection of the many, many projects – large and small – that are ongoing or in planning across the globe. For a broader reference of the year’s activities look out for the 2014 TunnelTalk Annual Review which is currently in production and will be published in time for next year’s WTC event in Dubrovnik, Croatia. In the meantime we wish a Happy Christmas and a joyous and prosperous New Year to all our readers, advertisers, supporters and the many friends and colleagues we have within the industry.

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