Projects resume and conferences go online 14 May 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

As some countries appear to be past the peak of coronavirus cases and others are yet to flatten the curve, there are tentative efforts towards a new normal.

In the UK, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveils a new plan to help some businesses get back to work under certain conditions, there appears to be hope on the horizon. Construction on the London Tideway sewer project has resumed with special safety measures in place, and further safety regulations are being introduced to allow other construction projects back to operation in the near future.

Meanwhile, while some industry conferences have been postponed, cancelled or are under review, others have found new ways to operate online.

Hope as Tideway resumes
Hope as Tideway resumes

Tideway resumes

After having to halt work amid Covid-19 restrictions in the UK in mid-March, construction on the Tideway sewer project to clean up the River Thames has resumed. All but essential and safety-critical activities were put on hold. Work is now taking place on 21 sites, following a series of detailed safety reviews that led Tideway and its contractors to implement measures to protect workers and the wider community. The measures fit within the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) guidance and official public health advice, and include social distancing and personal travel plans.

“It was absolutely right that we paused our activity at the start of the pandemic,” said Andy Mitchell, Tideway CEO. “Only by planning very carefully what activities are safe are we getting our teams back to work. Our measures have been developed with our workforce and contractors and are being introduced after detailed safety reviews of every one of our sites. The measures mean we are able to get more of our work back up and running, safely, minimising delays to this vital project and contributing to wider efforts to support the UK economy.”

Individual site travel plans have been drawn up to reduce the impact on the public transport network. With about 1,000 staff back working on the project, the majority will be using private transport, walking or cycling. Those who are travelling by public transport will be avoiding peak times and following public health guidance. Tideway will be keeping all activities and the new measures under review, in collaboration with contractors and the wider workforce.

Conferences postponed

In France the ITA-AFTES conference, due to take place on 21-23 September this year, has been postponed by a year to 6-8 September 2021. In Austria the Geomechanics Colloquium scheduled to be held in October 2020 is under review, as movement in public places is under restriction, citizens are in self-isolation and all events have been cancelled to the end of June 2020. To allow sponsors, exhibitors and participants to plan ahead, organisers will decide by early July 2020 whether to go ahead.

Conferences go online

In keeping with the changing times, many industry events are now offering virtual services. Organisers of NAT, the North American Tunneling Conference, have converted the conference gathering in Nashville in June to the NATWeek from 8-12 June. The Virtual Experience will allow delegates to access industry experts to share information about current tunneling projects as well as best-practices and successes throughout North America and from the comfort of their home offices. Topics will include technology, design, planning, and an underground construction demand forecast. The event will be delivered via two hours of sessions and a live question and answer panel each day. There is also to be organiseda virtual trade show.

The Swiss Tunnel Congress and Colloquium which was due to take place in Lucerne, Switzerland from 2-4 June will now be held online as a webinar on 3 June 2020.

“So nobody needs to miss our highly appreciated colloquium,” explained Stefan Maurhofer, President of the Swiss Tunnelling Society (STS). “All presentations will be presented as a webinar, available free of charge for every tunneller worldwide.”

The video of the recorded congress will be posted on the STS website on 3 June 2020 from 8am CEST (duration about six hours) and will then be available for over a month. The colloquium will be broadcast as a stream on the same day, 3 June 2020, from 1pm CEST and will then be available, also as a video, on the STS website. The question and answer session after the colloquium will be broadcast live and questions can be submitted using the form on the STS website.

Presentations on the Gotschna, Albula II, Bypass Luzern, LEB Lausanne, RBS Bern and Ligerz tunnels as well as the FCC project at CERN will give information about the current status of these Swiss projects. Major European projects such as the second S-Bahn main route in Munich, the Koralm tunnel, the High Capacity Railway Milano – Genova, Grand Paris and Mont-Cenis tunnel are further highlights.

The focus of the 2020 colloquium is Innovations in the construction of tunnels with presentations dealing with the development of tunnel construction over the past 30 to 40 years. Innovations include robot-assisted production of segments, logistics and drilling and measuring technology for ground freezing application, as well as digitisation and BIM.


To ease or not amid more 2020 cancellations 30 April 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic globally is now presenting the dilemma of how and when will governments and officials ease out of the imposed lockdown. There are no easy answers and what is becoming evident is the effectiveness, or otherwise, of how different nations have managed the impact and the consequences.

More mass gatherings cancelled for the remainder of 2020
More mass gatherings cancelled for the remainder of 2020

For mass gatherings in the industry, the latest to cancel for 2020 is the Innotrans exhibition in Berlin in September. In order to contain the spread of the virus, the State Senate of Berlin has banned the staging of large events, in particular trade fairs with an attendance of more than 5,000, until 24 October 2020. As a result, InnoTrans has been rescheduled to April 2021. Of equal or greater disappointment to many may have been the cancellation of the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, or the Chelsea Flower Show in London, or postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

For early 2020 industry events that postponed to the second half of the year, including the WTC in Kuala Lumpur and EUROCK in Trondheim, the query is will they be able to go ahead. Will international attendees be willing to travel by then. Will international borders be open, and will international flights be back to operating regularly by then. The uncertainty continues. Looking back at the WTC of 2019 in Naples, Italy, of less than 12 months ago seems like the reality of a different era, and, in so many ways, it is.

For construction projects around the world, some have been considered essential operations and are progressing through the normal lockdown. The Line 2 KVMRT contracts in Kuala Lumpur are progressing, Line 4 excavations in Milan, Italy have restarted and regarding the work on tunnelling projects in the UK, it has been the contractors and the project owners who have had the responsibility to either carry on or close down.

In Washington DC in the USA, Carlton Ray, Vice President of DC Water and its Clean Rivers CSO program, said in a recent interview: “Initially, we divided our office staff into three groups, with one group reporting to the office and two groups teleworking. As the level of risk increased in the District, we have migrated to all office staff teleworking. On the current Northeast Boundary construction contract, we have continued working. There is no slowdown of the TBM, and the Salini Impregilo Project Manager has established working procedures where all on site observe physical distancing. Site workers use gloves as part of their PPE and are wearing face masks, and there are no physical team meetings. These are conducted online. For site deliveries, the drivers are required to stay in their trucks and vehicles. There have been some scares among colleagues, and it is a concern for us all. We are working to keep everyone as safe as possible. Safety is our first priority.”

As we look forward to how we will all behave in the future, engineers are beginning to study how the world will need to change and adjust to foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. Will the general public and the working public want or need to begin commuting again to central city office towers. Will the roads and highways and the public transport services be once again crammed to bursting in the morning and evening rush hours. What will be planned for 6-8-16 lane highways in major cities that are now used by only 50% or less of the congested traffic of old. Will the internet and virtual communications highways become the congested highways of tomorrow. Engineers are already turning their attention to these broader considerations and publishing the suggestions and discussions will be of interest.

For the time being all in business are struggling with realities of keeping staff employed, of keeping the business viable, of planning for the recovery when it comes, of planning for the alternative if it does not come in time. No-one can see the future and society and business will turn again to governments and those in authority to provide the leadership to shape the changes that will be developed and proposed as a result – or will they?


Covid-19: Considering the ramifications 23 April 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

Oil at a negative rate, for the first time in history, to pay a buyer to take away overproduction and compensate for overloaded production storage capacity, is another indicator of the economic impact of the global reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for oil is reported as down by 30% but production down by only 10%.

Current norm for metro systems of the world
Current norm for metro systems of the world

Other economic and social indicators are many: the waste of food that is now not being consumed and not being processed for consumption in the first place; the loss of jobs and rise in unemployment; the sharp reduction in travel leading to dramatic losses for airlines, trains, and toll road operators; the disruption to the education industry; to the leisure and retail industries and for the greatest and smallest of businesses.

Counting the damage is now perhaps less important than shaping how the world will operate once this virus disappears, which could be as quickly as it appeared. In an online message, President Paul Sheffield of the Institution of Civil Engineering said that following the global financial crisis in 2009, there was some well researched data to show that for every £1 spent on construction, the contribution to the UK GDP was £2.84, a major multiplier and helped persuade the Government that investment in infrastructure was good for national recovery. “I feel the same may well be just as true today,” he said.

In the interim, the UK Government has published two procurement policy notes setting out information and guidance for public bodies ongoing relationships with providers, urging public sector bodies to relax normal payment controls and adopt a new approach to claims for amended payment terms from suppliers.

ICE President Paul Sheffield

In an online address, ICE President Paul Sheffield warned against falling into “the trap of spending 90% of our business focus on Covid-19 and its effects on our businesses” and explained that “it is critically important that we quickly put this into an active risk management work stream so that we can spend 70% of our time taking care of our usual business, staff and customers and looking to the future.”

The policy notes suggest payments be based on:

  • Usual rates
  • Revised or extended timescales or milestones
  • Interim payments
  • Forward ordering
  • Immediate payment
  • Advance payment (capped at 25% of the contract value)
  • An average of the previous three months’ invoiced amounts
  • No payments for profit on as-yet undelivered services

They also recommend that clients should:

  • Review suppliers and identify the ones at risk
  • Notify the supplier that it will be paid as normal at least until the end of June 2020.
  • Put in place the most appropriate form of support in terms of payments
  • Pay invoices on receipt and not return them in the event of minor administrative errors or queries.

All of these actions support getting money into the supply chain quickly, with the Government expecting the money to flow onward to employees, suppliers and subcontractors.

Through it all will be the resort to legal action for accountability against governments and banks and any organisation that is considered to be taking advantage or doing another wrong under the circumstances.

Within the construction industry, the ICE, Institution of Civil Engineering, headquartered in London, has taken steps to share information about the legal processes for coping with Covid-19 disputes and issues. It is already a reality that employers of civil engineers are using the UK Government-funded coronavirus job retention scheme that pays 80% of the salary of workers placed on temporary leave or furlough.

Informative video for staying safe on construction sites

With delivery of ongoing projects being challenged by site shut-downs, material supply issues and shortages of personnel and the future workloads uncertain, with many teams missing key members, it is inevitable that contractual and legal issues will arise as projects try to remain on schedule.

The ICE states that in many cases the application of the NEC contract is likely to be key. To help with this, NEC4 Contract Board Chair Peter Higgins has been leading on providing advice to NEC users, producing guidance and hosting online information sessions. These address, among other things, cases of misinformation the term force majeure and how it is applied. The ICE explains that force majeure is a legal concept in many countries, but that in England and elsewhere, where there is no civil code, provisions to deal with force majeure should be set out in the contract and often varies from contract to contract. NEC3 and NEC4 contracts, it reports, do not use the words force majeure at all, but make an event that looks like force majeure a compensation event, indicating how complex is the concept.

The ICE also recognises the fundamental challenge of ensuring that public infrastructure remains safe with civil engineers needing to be aware and alert to safety-related issues. It has prepared a series of publicly accessible ICE Strategy Sessions to explore these issues.

As the pandemic has unfolded and progresses, the ICE is looking for case studies of civil engineering projects that continued to work through the recommended shutdown period to investigate the role of civil engineers and how they have altered their practices and routines during these transformative times and how changes might be carried forward in order to deliver projects for the future. Email contributions to with an overview of the project or programme and reasons why the work was considered essential in respect to the fight against Covid-19, or to ensure public safety.

For the future, the ICE addresses three overwhelming threats the world now faces – climate change, recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, and unknown, socio-economic changes in its aftermath. Understanding what these mean for infrastructure systems and the future for roads, railways and other vital communication networks are topics that ICE will create workshops and engineering-mind thinktanks to consider.


Economic cost and lockdown easing conflict 16 Apr 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

The economic cost of the COVID-19 impact is beginning to be estimated and amid the uncertainty, even the most pessimistic cannot be dismissed as unrealistic. According to the World Economic Forum, there is no returning to normal and the IMF warning that the crisis is threatening global financial stability with graphs on its website illustrating the dramatic effect on principal indicators. In many countries the indicators are repeated, unemployment at levels not seen since the years of the Great Depression of the 1920s-30s, GDI economic activity falling dramatically, national emergency budgets rising exponentially into the billions and trillions, and the citizens being forced into poverty all around the world rising to exceptional percentages. There is criticism also that emergency funds are not easily accessible and that many businesses, particularly the vital small businesses in the economies, will fail and are failing.

Informative video about safe working on construction sites

While there are concerted efforts to keep public spirits positive and cooperative, there is global concern about the dissemination of false information, including by leaders of countries, against the collective scientific evidence and advice and criticism of global assistance organisations including the World Health Organisation. There is concern also about the growing infringement of civil liberties and growth of authoritarian actions to manage and quell riots that have occurred at food distribution centres, in public spaces where citizens are disregarding stay-at-home directives, and in prisons where overcrowding is an issue in itself and where the pressure is amplified by the arrest of more as a result of imposing coronavirus restrictions. Critics are becoming more vocal about the reaction by governments to restrict activity quite as severely, as has been the case, and in response to predictions of years of austerity and high taxation as a scenario for economic recovery from the impact.

But as the World Economic Forum suggests there is a path forward and there is cautious optimism for getting through the crisis.

Primary and nursery schools have opened in Denmark; there is easing of lockdown in some rural areas in India; and construction projects in different countries are being allowed to carry on.

NAT Nashvillle in June cancelled

As another in a list of postponed or disrupted conference events, the NAT in Nashville in June is cancelled and will not be rescheduled, due to travel and business environment uncertainties caused by the need to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

The UCA and SME organising staff are working on the potential of offering alternative online presentation options and printed and digital copies of the conference proceedings will be available in May through the UCA bookstore.

For those who have registered to attend as delegates and exhibitors:

  • Full registration refunds are being processed;
  • Hotel rooms booked via the event block booking reservation system will be cancelled automatically and at no charge, those booked through a third-party will need to cancel separately; and
  • Exhibitors and sponsors have two options – to take advantage of priority booth selection, and apply the NAT 2020 booth booking to the SME organised RETC 2021 event that will take place in June 2021 in Las Vegas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, NAT is the latest event to cancel or postpone events in June of this year when the expectation was that by June travel and business environments would be returning to what can now only be described as somewhat normal. The IRSM Eurock 2020 conference in Trondheim, Norway, also scheduled for June has also been postponed and rescheduled for October.

For other event scheduling alterations, visit the TunnelTalk Diary Dates page.

In Malaysia selected construction sites are permitted to continue operating. These include six sites of the KVMRT construction project by the MMC Gamuda JV where six TBMs are progressing. “These sites are considered as critical,” said Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa. “The tunnel-boring works cannot be halted. If they are stopped, it can lead to settlement or sinkholes.” Construction works requiring deep excavations, up to 40m depth, and long span structures on the highway project are also permitted to progress with a limited number of workers and providing crews adhere to guidelines for safe work site practices issued by City Hall, the Health Ministry and the Public Works Department. “These companies, however, need to apply for a permit to work and submit the names of the workers,” said Annuar.

In Italy, one of the most affected countries in Europe, work has resumed on the Milan Metro Line 4 project, and approval for the HS2 high speed railway project to move into the final design and construction phase has presented a much needed boost to the construction industry morale in the UK – now among the top three most affected COVID-19 countries with Italy and with the USA as the country suffering the greatest impact.

In the UK, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) published another updated version of its Site Operating Procedures to protect workforces while complying with pandemic directives for social distancing. It also voiced concerns over payments – the risk that clients and firms will seek to invoke contractual clauses to the detriment of other firms through the supply chains. It called for payments to continue, as per contract terms, and to avoid resorting to penalty or other confrontational clauses.

Issues around contract management were also a focus for FIDIC, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers, which stressed the importance of good communications rather than adversarial stances to sustain effective supply chain relationships. In a FIDIC webinar, Contracts Committee Chair, Vincent Leloup, said that force majeure was one of the first things to mind over question of handling delays or stoppages. He added that FIDIC contracts do not give specific, expressed rights to monetary relief under the force majeure clauses, although it may be more likely that extra time could be granted.

Download updated advice from the CLC for safe close down of construction sites
Download updated advice from the CLC for safe close down of construction sites
Download the pdf

In the same webinar, Angus Rankin, partner at international law firm Hogan Lovells, said that good record keeping would be vital. “This is a case where different streams of communication will need to exist in parallel, including without prejudice discussions. Take contemporaneous records and build any case from the ground up. It does no-one any good to take a purely contractual route.”

FIDIC President Bill Howard said there was an opportunity now to convince clients to improve procurement systems. He said: “This crisis has shown that you can have quality and efficient procurement in a short space of time.”

Amid the uncertainty and economic forecasts for business, several more events in the calendar of meetings, seminars, conferences and events have either cancelled or postponed fixtures now from June. As well as cancellation of the NAT in Nashville in the USA in June, and postponement of the Eurock conference in Trondheim, Norway, from June to October, the Swiss Tunnel Congress has cancelled its onsite event for 2-4 June and is preparing now a 1-day online event on 3 June instead.

The capabilities of the global internet services continue to be relied upon in a rapidly growing trend. As well as online conferences and meetings, supply and service businesses are turning to online options to stay in touch with customers and supply chains. The in California, Metro, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is among many now conducting Board meetings online and webinars are growing in popularity. Some companies, including The Robbins Company and the Master Builders Underground Solutions division of BASF, have been using webinars for many years to conduct tutorials and short courses for attendees around the globe. More are realising the advantages and possibilities.

High speed rail promoted as a new way forward after the pandemic crisis to protect the environment and public health

These changes will be part of the new way of doing business once the pandemic is over and many are hoping also for a global change in attitudes towards local and international travel and the control of pollution and waste in our societies. The promotion of environmentally protective systems and infrastructure will have renewed impetus within the public. High speed rail is a potential beneficiary as an alternative to short-haul air flights and will boost the promotion of new systems around the world including the Brenner base rail line linking Italy and Austria, the Lyon-Turin Italy and France link. the Fehmarnbelt undersea immersed tube link between Denmark and Germany, and the HS2 project in the UK. In the USA, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has released a video promoting the project in its effort to improve air quality for future generations. The Authority is also to hold its publicly open board meetings online and for pre-registered citizens invited to make contributions.

In the meantime, the urgent need for PPE (personal protective equipment) for essential and vital health care workers continues. This too has prompted a wide social response with companies using 3D printer resources to produce visors and companies turning their capacities to manufacturing and supplying gloves, gowns and overalls. As before, the call remains for construction companies to assist with donation of PPE supplies they can donate to the health care services and the response to the calls remains generous and supportive.


Coronavirus impacts in steady flux 09 Apr 2020

Patrick Reynolds for TunnelTalk

Wuhan, China, the original breakout site of the coronavirus is beginning to open up again and rising daily infection rates in the West fluctuate. It is too early to tell if the latest data in the UK and the USA are trending for the better or simply more flux. Daily briefings by governments continue, along with widespread lockdowns to enforce, in varying degrees, the social distancing to suppress the contagion spread.

Guidance for controlled shutdown of construction sites
Guidance for controlled shutdown of construction sites
Download the pdf

Within the construction sector, the trend is toward more clarity in what constitutes essential works. The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) of the UK said it is fronting a task force of many industry bodies to help coordinate contact with Government.

CLC issued site operating procedures in late March and is planning an update based on questions and feedback. Among many clarifications to be included is advice on what happens to work or projects if the 2m social distancing restriction cannot be achieved and, advice for those living with others who need shielding or showing signs of Covid-19 infection. Given the feedback CLC has delayed publishing the update while the responses are reviewed. Recommendations in the existing version still stands.

Works suspended at Paris Grand Express
Works suspended at Paris Grand Express
Initially boxes of face masks were being donated to China, now they are coming back in return
Initially boxes of face masks were being donated to China, now they are coming back in return

Even with the clarification from governments on essential works, many large new works projects remain suspended to significant degrees. Oddly, in northern Italy, one of the most affected areas of Europe, works resumed on the Milan Metro Line 4 project this week. Extra safety measures have been introduced including distribution of face masks, safe distancing, regular temperature checks, hand sanitisers, disinfecting of both work and common areas, and limiting numbers in groups travelling together to and from construction sites

FIDIC, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers, held its first global webinar to hear from national bodies about experiences of the Covid-19 impact on projects and economies in different countries. On 9 April, FIDIC is holding a webinar on contract issues, and supplies and labour, arising from having to manage contagion risk from the pandemic. A key factor is how force majeure is handled.

Most health services internationally continue to be short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, and sectors such as construction continue to be asked to help with donations.


Covid-19 shutdowns and calls for support 2 Apr 2020

Patrick Reynolds for TunnelTalk

As the number of coronavirus hospitalisations rise, so too does the impact and closing down of the construction industry in many countries. In the UK, the list of project sites suspended now includes early works on the HS2 high-speed rail link and the Woodsmith potash mine development while works on sections of the Phase 2 London cable tunnels continue under enhanced health and safety measures.

Tideway project sites in London closed down to all but essential operations
Tideway project sites in London closed down to all but essential operations

To ensure a controlled shutdown of construction sites, the UK Construction Leadership Council issued advice to help construction companies and clients achieve temporary suspension of work sites. The guidance notes that the UK Government has not called for all construction sites to close and that each site is responsible for its own risk assessment.

With the Government demanding effective lockdown and isolation to defeat the contagion, seeing construction workers commuting and continuing to work has caused confusion and worries over virus spreading risks. All are supportive, however, of efforts by construction workers to establish emergency hospitals in vast conference centres around the UK.

In issuing its guidance and as contractors start laying off workers and cutting salaries, the CLC called on the UK Government to boost cashflow for the construction industry by releasing contract retention monies.

Meanwhile the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) called for engineering support to the health service efforts in the UK and for people to train to operate, maintain and service medical equipment and provide support at the emergency hospitals being established. Computer data science modellers are also being called for to help in contagion planning efforts.

Guidance for controlled shutdown of construction sites
Guidance for controlled shutdown of construction sites
Download the pdf

An urgent call went out also for all construction companies that are suspending job sites to donate PPE equipment, especially face masks and disposable gloves and overalls, to hospitals and health care workers to meet a severe shortage of such equipment globally.

In Europe, works have been suspended on many projects, although partial restarts are underway in Austria.

France has seen suspension of large-scale tunnelling activities on the Paris Metro while in Italy, there is widespread tunnel works suspension, including a halt of excavations on the Milan Metro, on the Milan-Genoa high-speed rail project and on the Brenner and Lyon-Turin base railway tunnel projects.

In Denmark, official celebration of the opening of the new Nordhavn extension of the Copenhagen Line 4 Metro is not possible as it is not being used due to the virus.

In Austria, Strabag CEO Thomas Birtel said: “We will look at each of our 1,000 sites in Austria to see how the health precautions and distancing limits between workers can be kept.”

Copenhagen Metro Line 4 Nordhavn extension finished but awaiting its grand opening
Copenhagen Metro Line 4 Nordhavn extension finished but awaiting its grand opening

Sudden and dramatic lockdown in India has works on many sites suspended or sharply reduced. These include at the Vishnugad Pipalkoti hydro project where its headrace TBM was just getting started. Works are suspended also on the Tapovan Vishnugad hydro project, and on the Mumbai Metro where the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation is rolling out efforts to safeguard workers.

For TBM manufacturers, Terratec told TunnelTalk its offices in Hong Kong and Japan remain open, and factories continue in production with strict health monitoring and hygiene measures imposed. Sales and Marketing manager Bruce Matheson said: “We are doing our best to provide our customers with service, parts and deliveries while keeping the health and safety of our customers and personnel the utmost priority.”

Herrenknecht told TunnelTalk: “As a globally operating company with three manufacturing and assembly locations as well as three additional sales and service locations in China, we have been dealing with preventive measures in connection with the coronavirus since January 2020. Our engineers are available to provide the best possible support.” CEO and founder, Martin Herrenknecht, said in the statement that: “Mutual trust and unshakeable stamina have always driven us forward together. Our customers and partners can continue to rely on our full commitment. I am confident that our international family of passionate tunnelling and mining pioneers will emerge even stronger after the global coronavirus crisis.”


Continuing COVID-19 impact 26 Mar 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

Just a week on and the situation in the battle to defeat the coronavirus around the world has taken a new and more dramatic turn. Countries are in Government ordered stay at home directives and subject to law enforcement. This includes for the 1.3 billion population of India which is beginning to feel the impact of rising numbers of infected individuals.

Current spread of the virus on a global scale <br>(Dated 26 Mar 2020)
Current spread of the virus on a global scale
(Dated 26 Mar 2020)

Projects are being closed down, except for critical staff for safety and minimum safe-mode operations, and all workers, except vital health workers, food suppliers, and emergency services personnel, are to stay at home, not venturing out unless absolutely necessary and for brief periods of exercise.

Cancellation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo from July/August for a reschedule in 2021 has been the most telling event impact with the schedule for most others during the rest of 2020 either in doubt or already cancelled. For industry events, the World Tunnel Congress in Kuala Lumpur has been postponed from May to September 2020 and the ACUUS meeting in Helsinki in September 2020 has been moved to 2-4 February 2021. In South Africa, the Africa Rail congress at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg has been postponed optimistically from 30 June - 1 July 2020 to 25-25 August 2020.

In the UK it has been confirmed that the BTS meetings at the ICE in London are suspended and the Annual BTS Gala Dinner scheduled for 8 May has been cancelled for rearrangement at a later date.

Face masks the norm rather than the exception, but crowding now banned by law
Face masks the norm rather than the exception, but crowding now banned by law

As life as normal withdraws to within the four walls of homes, the consequences are also being felt. Most immediately has been the surge in internet usage as office meetings and school classes move to internet and video streaming alternatives. Local broadband services have slowed as they become overloaded. There are tips to be found on the web for conserving broadband width, and Netflix, among other internet businesses, have stopped high resolution streaming. An indication of the dependence now on worldwide internet connectivity, a Festival of BIM & Digital Construction webinar free to attend between 14-30 April 2020, is being promoted as the largest ever internet connected virtual event.

On the lighter side, there are many providing tips on how to adjust to home working and the reporting by TV journalists and their guests from their home offices are giving viewers a glimpse into their homes and home offices.

On a more serious note is the welfare of workers and their families as businesses close and salaries are suspended. Financial aid packages of extraordinary proportion are being agreed by Governments to stimulate economies and provide soft landings for those in most need.

Exponential spread of the infection from one infected person
Exponential spread of the infection from one infected person

The one cause for being positive is that the spread of infection in China, where first signs of the illness were recorded, is slowing down and some sectors of the economy are returning cautiously to operation. Elsewhere in the world, efforts to isolate and practice social distancing are proving effective in slowing the exponential nature of the spread of infection with the saving of just one person contracting the virus saving several layers of others.

The other positive note is the overwhelming sense of people pulling together to help and support each other – a call for volunteers to help health, emergency and support organisations registering more than 400,000 in the first day – with only the few flouting directives and taking advantage of the situation for ill-gotten gains.

The prediction for all is that this is a crisis that will take time to be resolved and the wish for all is to stay safe and to look after yourself in order to help others.



Unprecedented times 19 Mar 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

Around the world the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is impacting life as we knew it just days ago.

Putting aside the medical need for these unprecedented times, the social impact has created disruption and significant change to business plans for the remainder of 2020.

Signs of the times: Empty streets, empty meeting rooms

Already reported is cancellation of the WTC World Tunnel Congress 2020 and its 46th General Assembly of the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) in Kuala Lumpur in May and its reschedule for September 2020. The ACUUS conference in Helsinki in September has also been cancelled and rearranged for February 2021.

For offices around the world, engineers and staff are being advised to work from home where possible and others have positively closed offices for the duration.

At universities and colleges, students are at home and participating instead in video link classes and online tutorials.

For the many tunnelling and underground excavation projects around the world, project job sites are closed to all but essential workers and managers and the same applies to associated factories and production facilities. For the moment government guidance in most countries falls short of closing project job sites and factories with the advice to send workers with coughs, cold or fevers home and for anyone with those symptoms to stay at home and to isolate.

Postponement to September also crowds an already busy month of industry events including AFTES 2020 in Paris, the TAC conference in Canada, ACUUS 2020 in Finland and InnoTrans in Germany. Ability to attend two or three events in one month will be expensive both in time and money for delegates and exhibitors.

London Underground running limited services
London Underground running limited services

A statement from the Institution of Civil Engineers in London has also confirmed cancellation of all meetings and events at the ICE in Great George Street in London until 1 May 2020, including the scheduled monthly BTS meeting on Thursday 16 April. Provisions for live streaming meetings and conducting video link meetings are being developed for launch as soon as available.

For the moment some other industry meetings and events remain on schedule for the coming months with optimism that all will normalise for them to go ahead as planned. Contingency arrangements and the provision for registration and booking refunds are being examined. The processes regarding the liability for cancelling events and the terms of any insurance coverage in place are also being reviewed in detail.

Similar to most airports, airlines, railway stations and train services, metro systems around the world have closed underground stations and are running limited services.

The advice to all is to stay at home and check before venturing to attend any meeting or event, office or business place.

As news within the international industry becomes available, TunnelTalk will update the information. Thank you for sharing the actuality of the impact of these times in your country and for the projects, factories and offices that you work for.


WTC2020 postponed to September 2020 26 Feb 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

It is official. A World Tunnel Congress in May for 2020 is cancelled. Instead the WTC congress for 2020 will be postponed to 11-17 September 2020 at the same venue and in the same host city - at the KLCC Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

WTC2020 postponed from May to September 20
WTC2020 postponed from May to September 20

The change is confirmed as being caused by the impact and spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Asia and now to other parts of the world.

In a joint statement from the ITA and the Malaysian Tunnelling Technical Group of the IEM of ITA Member Nation Malysia, WTC2020 Organizing Committee Chair Dr Teik Aun Ooi, and ITA Executive Director Olivier Vion, explained that the health and safety of travelling delegates and exhibitors is the “utmost importance” - as is the success of each WTC event. The statement reads: “It is not possible at the moment to predict the evolution of this virus and many people could have been forced not to participate. For the time being the World Health Organization recommends limiting mass gatherings.”

The statement also acknowledges that for many this change is not ideal and that if required, documents can be made available for changing flight and hotel bookings.

The change is disruptive on several accounts.

Many have registered and paid for the congress and may not be able to attend in September; many have booked non-refundable flights and hotel rooms that may not be transferrable to new dates; and the postponement is rescheduled on the assumption that all will have returned to normal by September.

Postponement to September also crowds an already busy month of industry events including AFTES 2020 in Paris, the TAC conference in Canada, ACUUS 2020 in Finland and InnoTrans in Germany. Ability to attend two or three events in one month will be expensive both in time and money for delegates and exhibitors.

ITA and IEM announce postponement of WTC2020
ITA and IEM announce postponement of WTC2020

The vulnerability of international events is not unknown and disruption has been caused in the past. Notably in 2010 when the volcano in Iceland in May caused the grounding of all flights for several days and had an operating impact on bauma, the major international construction equipment trade show held every second year in Munich, Germany. The event went ahead as there was no time available to cancel or reschedule but exhibition space was left with the crates of materials on the booths with no one to unpack them and manage the stands and delegate numbers were substantially down with trains and highways overcrowded and congested and visitors and participants made travel alternatives to flying.

Had the WTC gone ahead in May, exhibitors and delegates choosing not to travel and attend would have undermined the success of the event and there would have been criticism that the event was not cancelled or postponed.

For the moment the 2020 NAT North American Tunneling conference in Nashville in early June is going ahead and on a broader much higher impact scale, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, from 24 July to 9 August remains a fixture.

In its statement, the ITA and WTC Organising Committee concluded that postponement “is the best solution to be able to organize this major event for the entire tunnelling industry”.

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