DISCUSSION FORUM Tunnelling moves into the mainstream
TunnelTalk reporting
Tunnelling and the application of underground technology is occupying the mainstream in a way it never has before, with television networks, newspapers and magazines increasingly giving over valuable air time and space to features about tunnelling technology and underground space construction projects.
Transport Museum’s Crossrail exhibition 28 Jan 2015
TunnelTalk reporting
More than any other project, Crossrail is capturing the British imagination for the underground and bringing tunnelling firmly into the mainstream in the UK.
Following last year’s acclaimed three-part prime-time BBC documentary covering many aspects of the project, the London Transport Museum provides further evidence of popular interest in underground construction by announcing a new Crossrail exhibition.
Breakthrough: Crossrail’s tunnelling story, promises to give visitors an experience of London’s hidden subterranean landscape when it opens to the public on 1 February at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.
Visitors will be able to experience the tunnel environment, learn about the way Crossrail is burrowing under London, play interactive tunnelling games and hear the first hand experiences of those who work underground. At its heart the exhibition features a 5m high, walk-through installation of a cross-section of a Crossrail tunnel; and a computer simulation of a TBM.
For further information and tickets (which are free for under-17s) contact the London Transport Museum.
In the UK recently, the weekly technology Click magazine programme of the UK national BBC Television Corporation, followed up a feature about the development of ‘smart’ tunnelling technology as applied on the Crossrail project in London that was featured earlier also in TunnelTalk.
Viewers were given a demonstration of how a Cambridge University-based team, from the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, has installed hundreds of hyper-sensitive digital fibre-optic sensors to map, in real time, potentially catastrophic movement in the network of Victorian tunnels that pass within as little as 2m of the new 21km of railway tunnels for Crossrail. In so doing, smart tunnel monitoring is improving safety and enabling researchers to gather data about the effects of tunnelling on other underground installations. This is a crucial contribution in the context of modern urban tunnelling where the proximity to existing infrastructure is a critical concern.
As Jennifer Schooling, CCSIC Project Director, explains in the Click programme: “We have filled this tunnel with so much instrumentation that we now have the ability to understand how it is behaving, [in terms of its movement] in a way that was never possible before.”
Earlier in 2014, it was the giant media broadcasting organisation CNN that was fascinated by the use of steel fibres as reinforcement in concrete and particularly in the concrete of precast tunnel lining segments.
Using the Lee Tunnel project, part of the wider Thames Tideway supersewer project, as its backdrop, the programme features the invention of “tiny hooks” as reinforcement that revolutionised the fabrication of precast concrete lining segments for the project and as part of the 2014 European Inventor Awards hosted by the European Patent Office.
Engineer Ann Lambrechts, Head of Research and Development with Bekaert, Belgium, describes to the CNN reporter how it is the hooks at the ends of the Dramix steel fibres that are vital to the concept of using them as reinforcement to produce durable precast elements.
Proposed fixed links between the UK and Ireland

Proposed fixed links between the UK and Ireland

Again for the UK BBC Corporation, an article describes four truly futuristic but certainly feasible projects in the UK, one of them being a fixed rail tunnel link between the UK and Ireland. The project envisaged by Irish Academy of Engineers is an 80km long tunnel link to provide a 70 minute railway journey between Rosslare, Ireland and Fishguard, Wales.
Bill Grose, a former Chairman of the British Tunnelling Society, contributes to programme and describes two critical issues for siting a proposed fixed rail link tunnel. First, the location that most supports transport demand, and how well served that location is by rail and road links, and secondly, the shortest distance across the sea. Holyhead to Dublin is the more intuitive route, he suggests, and that a rail, rather than road, fixed link would be more realistic, both financially and from an engineering point of view, with twin tube rail tunnels costing about £60 million/km.
Writing in a non-engineering vernacular, an article in The Economist magazine reports that upwards of 1,000km of tunnels will be excavated in the world in 2014 and states that it was the Deputy Editor of the magazine who suggested the names Phyllis and Ada for two of the TBMs working on the Crossrail project.
Earlier glory of the Brunel Tunnel access shaft

Earlier glory of the Brunel Tunnel access shaft

Plugging a skills gap in the UK tunnel engineering and construction industry was the focus of an article in the Financial Times newspaper promoting the MSc course in tunnelling and underground space at Warwick University to help staff the many new projects planned for the UK, that include tunnels for the High Speed Rail 2 project and planned new nuclear power plants and their networks of cooling water tunnels.
An impressive photo feature in the UK Daily Mail newspaper promoted an effort by volunteers of the Brunel Museum of London to progress restoration of the abandoned access shaft of the famous Brunel Thames Tunnel, which underwent its own rehabilitation in the late 1990s. The 15m diameter shaft was rendered redundant and sealed off when the initial river crossing pedestrian tunnel was converted to host trains in 1869. Fund raising and grants totalling about £1.5 million are financing a programme that will restore the access shaft to its former glory and link the shaft to the museum, which is housed in Brunel’s old boiler house on the Rotherhithe side of the Thames in East London.
As well as coverage in the mainstream media, tunnels and underground environments have also featured many times in the film, TV and marketing industries. Let us know of important tunnelling reports in the mainstream media and your list of remembered tunnels in the movies or in memorable commercials.
Send us your contribution via TunnelTalk Feedback
References - To mainstream media features
Smart tunnel technology under London - Click, BBC
Tiny hooks revolutionize concrete - CNN
Fixed links across the Irish Sea and four other amazing plans - BBC
Tunnel vision under Irish Sea
Record lengths of tunnels will be dug in 2014 - The Economist
Push to plug UK’s tunnelling skills gap - FT
Brunel's Eighth Wonder of the World restored: Grand entrance to world's first underwater tunnel will return to glory after 145 years - Daily Mail
References - To the TunnelTalk Archive
Live tests for ‘smart segmental linings’ - TunnelTalk, August 2013
Cambridge researches smart infrastructure - TunnelTalk, December 2010
TunnelTECH: Fibre-reinforced concrete for precast segments - TunnelTalk, May 2014
Links across the waters - TunnelTalk, January 2010
Presenting the tunneling career possibilities - TunnelTalk, February 2013
Brunel’s Thames Tunnel rehabilitation - TunnelTalk, October 2010

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