Traditional Welcome to Country opened the proceedings
Traditional Welcome to Country opened the proceedings

Australia examines terrific regional workload 02 Nov 2017

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

Projects from all corners of Australia and from New Zealand and across the globe presented a wealth of information and underground space development detail for discussion and consumption at the 16th Australasian Tunnelling Conference in Sydney this week. More than 600 delegates from 19 countries appreciated a programme of 129 presentations across the three-day schedule of the triennial event.

Proceedings opened with what has become the traditional Welcome to Country by an elder of Australia’s first nation of people, the Aborigines. Uncle Ray Davison explained the tradition and presented the welcome on behalf of the Godigal Tribe whose ancestors were the first inhabitants of the region of Sydney that has developed to include the venue for the conference in Darling Harbour.

Each day then opened with a plenary session during which keynote lectures were delivered to all delegates before subsequent sessions split into three simultaneous tracks. For all sessions, the standard and quality of the papers and presentations was at a high level. As well as updates on the design, construction and progress of major projects in Australia and New Zealand and elsewhere, many presentations introduced and studied other important aspects of project development including community relations, occupational health and safety, improvement of productivity through the planning, design and construction phases, and integration of modern and future technologies into the design and management of underground transportation systems.

Programming of these particular subjects into dedicated sessions was managed well and under session themes including Digital Engineering/Monitoring and Delivery, Improving the Operation of the Tunnel Asset, and Urban Design and Customer Experience, and with papers entitled How to perform real-time monitoring when your reference network is moving and The application of BIM and photogrammatic methods to the inspection and management of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and Preparing a tunneling professional for the future.

Fig 1. WestConnex, Australia’s largest infrastructure project
Fig 1. WestConnex, Australia’s largest infrastructure project

The proceedings, papers and presentations illustrated the vast capital investment currently in underground infrastructure by the States of Australia and the city of Auckland in New Zealand. In Sydney alone there were several papers that tracked the planning, design and construction of its three major transportation projects:

  • The AUD$12.5-13.5 billion Sydney Metro project for which five new Herrenknecht TBMs have been ordered, four EPBMs and one slurry Mixshield for the under Harbour drives, to complete the 15.5km of twin runnings tunnels to connect five new underground stations, two mined and three open cut excavations;
  • The AUD$3 billion NorthConnex 9km long twin tube highway tunnel project and the three stages of the AUD$16.8 billion WestConnex highway complex that comprises 22km of twin-tube tunneling and on which 50 roadheaders are already working on the two stages that are in construction (Fig 1).

Melbourne, the State capital city of Victoria, was represented with two major tunneling projects:

  • The AUD$11 billion Melbourne Metro project that requires 8.4km of twin running tunnels and five new underground stations for which four TBMs and a fleet of roadheaders will be procured, and
  • The AUD$5.5 billion West Gate highway tunnel project for which two mega-TBMs of 15.6m diameter are confirmed ordered with Herrenknecht to excavation the twin tunnels of 2.8km and 4km each.
Recorded data over time illustrates the positive freeing up of traffic (right) after a widening project is completed and solves congestion problems (left and centre) in the Sydney highway network
Recorded data over time illustrates the positive freeing up of traffic (right) after a widening project is completed and solves congestion problems (left and centre) in the Sydney highway network
List and quantities of operating systems to be installed in the Melbourne West Gate freeway tunnels for their efficient operation
List and quantities of operating systems to be installed in the Melbourne West Gate freeway tunnels for their efficient operation

In Queensland, the next transportation tunnel project will be the Cross River rail project in Brisbane which involved a 5.9km tunnel under the river and central business district plus five new stations to link the city’s northern and southern rail networks and in Perth, Western Australia, work progresses on the 8km twin running tunnels of the AUD$1.86 billion Forrestfield Airport rail link project on which two Herrenknecht VDM TBMs have launched.

From New Zealand, papers presented details of three major tunnelling projects:

  • Completion of the NZ$1.4 billion Waterview motorway tunnel in Auckland with cross-passages now being excavated to link the twin 2.4km long tunnels excavated by a 14.5m Herrenknecht EPBM and completed in July 2015;
  • Current early construction works on the Auckland City Rail Link; and
  • The new 13km long x 4.5m diameter central interceptor sewer tunnel for Auckland that is currently in the procurement stage.
Auckland public transport usage since 1920 and projected to 2040
Auckland public transport usage since 1920 and projected to 2040
Central interceptor alignment in Auckland
Central interceptor alignment in Auckland

All of the planned and progressing projects are required and inspired by the rapidly increasing population of the cities and the need for current infrastructure to catch up with demand and provide extra capacity into the future. Each project presentation started with statistics of how the population of each city is set to expand placing extra demands on public services and transportation infrastructure and in her video recorded welcome address to the conference, Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, gave all the professionals in the room warning that the “pace will not be slowing down. There will be tunnelling to be achieved for many, many years to come.”

In his following keynote, Tim Reardon, Secretary of Transportation for New South Wales explained that the population of Sydney is predicted to grow from the current 5 million to 8 million by the middle of the century and that of the State Governments AUD$73 billion budget over the next four years, $41.4 billion of that is allocated to State transportation projects. In her keynote Linda Cantan, Director of the Tunnel & Stations PPP for the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority stated that passengers on the trams, trains and metro systems of the city doubled in the 15 years from 2000 to 2015 and that ridership is expected to double again between 2015 and 2030, with a 36% increase in rail and tram passengers in the last decade alone. To meet the demand, the new $11 billion Melbourne Metro expansion of 9km and five underground stations is scheduled to be complete with nine years, from planning through approvals, into design and six years of construction, and to opening in 2014.

In his keynote address, Tomas Everett, Associate Administrator in the Office of Infrastructure at the US Department of Transport, gave a US perspective for the highway network across the country. A predicted growth in the population of the US of 70 million by 2035 will place greater strain on the country’s road infrastructure leading to regions of major congestion. This will need to be addressed with further substantial investment in roads and public transport projects, all of which will include elements of underground construction.

The conference was a valuable investment of three days for the delegates that also included an exhibition of leading service, materials and equipment suppliers, a post conference workshop to discuss Tunnel Stability – Innovations and problem solving in design, materials and construction; post conference tours to the NorthConnex and WestConnex Stage 1 construction works; and several social events including a Young Engineers & Industry Networking event during a cruise of Sydney Harbour and the Australasian Tunnelling Society Awards Dinner at which current Chair of the Society Ed Taylor was awarded the Allen Neyland Tunnelling Achievement Award for his services to the industry.

Ed Taylor receives Allen Neyland Achievement Award
Ed Taylor receives Allen Neyland Achievement Award

In other ATS society news, it was announced that the Australasian partnership between Australia and New Zealand is to split and rather than being represented together within the ITA, International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, they will once again become individual Member Nations of the ITA and each hold their own seat on the General Assembly of 74 ITA Member Nations.

To close the proceedings, a very moving address was presented by Denis Adams, a young man, husband and father of three young children, who lost both his older brother and his father to accidents in the mining and civil tunnelling industry. His brother was killed by a wedge of rock that fell from the crown of a coalmine drift as he was walking in front of the roadheader he was operating to inspect the profile. His father was on the same shift and in the same heading and managing the cables at the back of the roadheader and cradled his son when the accident happened, the injuries being too severe to survive the blow.

Years later, his father, working on a different tunnelling project, was managing pumping equipment at water treatment sumps when the pressure pipe gave way, striking him in the torso and pinning him against a railing. Internal injuries were again too severe to survive the accident and the time taken to get to the hospital. In an emotional presentation Adams explained the anger felt, demanding to know “Why them? Why me?” and his decision not to abandon his own career in tunnel construction but to continue as a roadheader operator and tunnelling crew member currently working on the WestConnex Stage 1 project. “In all we do,” he said, “we have to make it safe.”

Predictions for future industry professionals
Predictions for future industry professionals

In his closing remarks, Conference Chair Nigel Casey thanked Adams for sharing his grief and his story and expressed the feelings of all in the audience that there was “great inspiration out of such sadness”. He concluded saying that “for all professionals there is more to learn and ATS and all the organisers with Engineers Australia thank you for having come to do so at our conference.”

A copy of the conference programme is available for download and copies of the proceedings can be obtained from Engineers Australia. The next conference of the ATS will be held in 2020 at a city and venue yet to be decided. The vibrancy of the Australasian tunnelling industry together with its current and planned pipeline of projects into the future and the quality of the 2017 event will make the next one equally interesting and well worth attending.


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