Page 6 - TunnelTalk Annual Review 2016
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Made in China equipment on display at the bauma construction equipment exhibition in Shanghai
As far as events and developments in a single year go, 2016 was the year that changed the status quo more than any other in recent times. From dramatic political change to celebration of remarkable human achievement, the world closed the year on something of a precipice, unsure of what the future might bring but with a surge in general public self-determination and individual empowerment through the rapid development and accessibility of outstanding technological advances.
Tunnelling and underground space excavation and construction played its part in bringing about these new possibilities and thresholdswiththeopeningtocommercial traffic of the Gotthard Baseline railway under the Alps in Switzerland and the advancement of similarly bold and boundary-pushing mega-projects across the world including the new Brenner Baseline railway tunnel under the Alps between Austria and Italy; the Fehmarn undersea immersed tube crossingbetweenDenmarkandGermany; the advance of super-sized TBMs on the Seattle double-decked highway tunnel in the United States; and the excavation of more than 112km of segmentally lined metro running tunnels constructed within 26 months using 21 TBMs for the new metro system in Doha.
Political change
Without doubt, the two most significant political results of 2016 – the UK vote to leave the European Union (EU) and the election of Donald Trump as the new President of the USA – will have impacts on the underground construction industries in both countries.
President Trump has promised a significant increase in Federal investment in public infrastructure across the country, from long overdue repair and rehabilitation of existing ageing underground facilities to the expansion and development of new projects for water, road, railway, metro,
energy generation and more.
The wide extremes of speculation about
the departure of the UK from the EU are hard to reconcile as the leave negotiations begin, but it is certain that the ability of engineers and professionals, machinery, goods and supplies crossing the Channel freely to engage on UK tunnelling projects, as they have done freely for current and recent major tunnelling projects, is foreseen to come to an end.
Another major event of 2016 was the staging of the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero for which significant underground projects were advanced in preparation. Such high-profile international events attract tremendous capital investment in the host city, as the Summer Olympics did in London in 2012 and are for the Games in 2020 in Tokyo, but while it is the glamorous projects for metros, roads, railways and urban regeneration that attract the attention, water projects, particularly for supply of clean drinking water and upgraded management of wastewater rarely get a fair allocation of the investments. Perhaps it is the selection to host major sporting events of the world that will eventually assist the mega-cities of the world to finally have the attention and focus needed for these vital public service underground facilities. It was the winning as host of the World Cup Soccer Tournament in 2022 that prompted Doha to invest so intensively in its metro construction; and the World Expo in Dubai in 2020 is concentrating efforts in drainage projects and extensions of its metro system.
2016 was also the year that the word ‘hyperloop’ came to prominence among engineers, investors and the general public via the technical and mass media. While based on ideas that are centuries old, the hype surrounding the two or three companies promoting the concept of supersonic public transport in pods travelling in vacuum tubes and powered by mag-lev and other super-power energy sources, did
grab the imagination and held the promise that vast amounts of money needed to build a prototype, could be available to bring the futuristic ideas to reality. For the tunnelling industry, the excitement is that the reality of hyperloop development could herald a new age of excavation with much of the proposed new infrastructure aligned underground. As is perhaps typical of the more conservative, cautious and sceptical side of the industry, leading tunnelling experts have voiced their doubts about the reality of the proposals, citing safety, third-party risks, overestimation of users versus cost of procurement and many other reasonsaspointsofconcern.
More than the technical limitation and boundaries, it is perhaps the grappling with the sums of money needed to develop even the most moderate of underground projects, together with the time taken to bring such proposals through public approval, design and environmental processes, and construction phases, that pull most heavily on the reins of enthusiastic promotion and excitement.
Projects are now valued in terms of the multi, multi-billions, where to mention the hundred of millions was extraordinary just a decade or two ago, and the time needed to realise projects from concept to opening seems to be lengthening rather than becoming more expedient. The speed of excavation at a single heading, be it an open face, drill+blast or TBM heading, is also no faster than it was in the 1980s. There is much room for improvement on these aspects of our industry.
Nonetheless, it is, and was, on just such futuristic and courageous visions that much of the achievements of today have been realised.
Gotthard triumph
After 17 years in construction the trans- Alpine Gotthard Baseline railway tunnel
From left: NHI acquired NFM Technologies in 2007 and Robbins in 2016; NHI manufacturing facility in Shenyang in northeastern China
TunnelTalk AnnuAl Review 2016

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