STP management changes enable Bertha restart 23 Feb 2016

Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk

After 41 days of zero progress, Bertha resumes tunneling in Seattle following project owner WSDOT’s decision to lift the ‘suspension for cause’ order on Tuesday (February 23).

Sinkhole measured 35ft x 15ft
Sinkhole measured 35ft x 15ft

The decision follows an independent expert review of the root cause of a 35ft x 15ft sinkhole that appeared behind the TBM drive path on January 12, and a series of follow-up discussions and meetings between contractor and owner over the last six weeks.

As a result of those discussions, Dragados, as lead partner in the Dragados/Tutor Perini contractor JV (Seattle Tunnel Partners), has installed a new tier of project management and drafted in four key new personnel. During a media conference call attended by TunnelTalk on Tuesday (February 23), Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said: “We have got a significantly improved team. I think of this as changing the quarterback out, or at least the tight end, and I think that is important.”

WSDOT program manager Todd Trepanier explained: “A part of this personnel change is in response to [our requirement] that STP demonstrate their whole team can function differently during this period of the conditional lift [of the ‘suspension for cause’ order].”

Chris Dixon remains as STP Project Manager, but will now be supported by a permanently appointed Tunnel Manager. Additionally, three temporary appointments are made for the duration of the demonstration period that will be imposed for the next 25 rings (160ft) of TBM advance. This period will then be reviewed again, prior to a final, and also supervised, 100ft drive into Safe Haven 3.

TBM Bertha in the recovery shaft
TBM Bertha in the recovery shaft

The three temporary appointments include the head of the tunnelling technical directorate of Dragados, plus two further specialists: one in tunnelling and soil conditioning, the other in TBM operations.

WSDOT says these specialist positions are aimed at ensuring there is no repeat of the “over-excavation” of the face that it says caused the sinkhole to appear in the first place. It is also aimed at ensuring there is sufficient expertise in place to take immediate and appropriate mitigation/soil conditioning measures should over-excavation occur again.

Trepanier said: “We came to the conclusion that the sinkhole did have something to do with the management oversight and the decision-making that was taking place.

“STP did talk at the time about some ground calculation reconciliation not taking place during some of the ring-build in question. This is a key piece of tunnelling work that is important for making sure there is not a problem with voids, and something that is [now] being taken care of as far as we are concerned, thereby enabling us to authorize this conditional lift [of the suspension].

“This is being done in two ways: the additional management oversight, and changes in the quality oversight. This [latter] is an independent quality team that is typical to have on design-build contracts whereby the contractor has a separate wing that watches their work.

“This is being changed in terms of an increase in the number of individuals watching STP, and having them play a larger role in double-checking that all the activities that need to take place are actually taking place; and they are bringing matters to attention both verbally and in writing.”

TBM Bertha operators have undergone extra training
TBM Bertha operators have undergone extra training

Trepanier also said that WSDOT had sought assurances from STP during the latest lay-off period that all its TBM operators were sufficiently well trained. STP responded by sending to the owner a register of the individual qualification history of every operator on its team. However, Trepanier said that some of the training listed in the training registers supplied had taken place after the imposition of the suspension order. “This was essentially training them how to do their jobs within the tunnelling operation,” explained Trepanier.

Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor joint venture of Dragados and Tutor Perini, was ordered to shut down TBM operations on January 14 pending the outcome of a full independent safety and operational review.

The suspension for cause order – which under the terms of the contract can be invoked by the owner if it is felt there is a safety risk in continuing – was imposed on STP two days after a sinkhole appeared along the drive path and just days after the restarted 17.48m diameter mega-TBM broke out of the recovery shaft.

WSDOT imposed the order in a bid to iron out what it sees as potential operational, management and systems flaws during the final 260ft “safe” section of the drive before it takes a heading out of safe Haven 3, under the viaduct, and on to Downtown Seattle.

Table 1. TBM Bertha stoppage chronology
Date Event Delay length
23 Feb 2016 Drive resumes after WSDOT satisfied that STO management additions and additional operational
protocols will prevent a repeat of the sinkhole incident
40 days
14 Jan 2016 WSDOT issues a forced stop order, pending an independent safety and operational review, and
further discussions with STP
12 Jan 2016 Sinkhole appears above a section of the 100ft advance made by the TBM since breaking out
of the recovery shaft previous week
22 Dec 2015 Drive resumes, with TBM breaking out of the recovery shaft – progress of 12 rings (73 ft) is made 270 days
14 Dec 2015 STP begins backfilling the recovery shaft  
12 Nov 2015 TBM testing program begins – on Nov 24 the cutterhead is subjected to sustained rotation  
25 Aug–8
Sept 2015
TBM lowered in pieces back into recovery shaft  
05 Jun 2015 Newly designed outer and inner seal systems installation begins; repairs include a new
main bearing plus other major modifications
30 Mar 2015 TBM lifted out of recovery shaft over a 2-day period using specialist hoisting equipment  
02 Mar 2015 TBM shut down after being driven through 57ft (9 rings) into recovery shaft  
18 Feb 2015 Drive restarts 158 days
02 Sep 2014 TBM advanced 3ft to rest against the outside of the piles of the recovery shaft 216 days
May 2014 Excavation of 120ft x 80ft recovery shaft begins  
29 Jan 2014 TBM advances 2ft before same heat readings prompt shutdown – a damaged bearing seal,
allegedly caused by contractor’s failure to account for a steel well casing along the drive path,
is blamed. Main bearing seal damage is diagnosed, plus possible damage to main bearing itself
28 Jan 2014 Drive restarts 75 days
06 Dec 2013 High temperature readings prompt precautionary machine shutdown and 158 hours worth
of hyperbaric inspections are carried out between Jan 17–28
05 Dec 2013 TBM reaches 1,000ft milestone  
14 Nov 2013 Drive restarts 14 days
31 Oct 2013 Stoppage for machine adjustments and fitting new cutting tools  
23 Sep 2013 Drive restarts 34 days
20 Aug 2013 Breakout of labor dispute with Longshoremen’s union over muck handling at the wharf  
20 July 2013 TBM Launch  
  TOTAL days lost 817 days


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