A new era begins for ITA at WTC2019 09 May 2019

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
China is elected by the now 78 Member Nations of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) to lead the organisation as Jenny Yan takes the post as its first woman president for the coming three years and as up to 2,000 delegates, visitor and ITA officials convened in Naples, Italy, for the 2019 World Tunnel Congress and the 45th annual General Assembly of the ITA.

It was all set to be a transformative session of the ITA General Assembly this year and it has proven to be the case. In a close result, the 78 Member Nations voted of 30 to 32 to elect Jenny Yan of China to be its next, and first woman, President, with Eric Leca of France proving a formidable fellow candidate. Yan takes over from Tarcisio Celestino of Brazil to mark what will be a significant change and new direction for the Association.

A new President and new ExCo members were elected by the 78 ITA Member Nations at the General Assembly
A new President and new ExCo members were elected by the 78 ITA Member Nations at the General Assembly

At the session four new Vice Presidents were elected with Lars Babendererde (Member Nation Germany) as first Vice President and Randy Essex (USA), Arnold Dix (Australia), and Giuseppe Lunardi (Italy) as co-Vice Presidents. New members elected to the Executive Council include Jamal Rostami representing Member Nation Iran; Abidemi Agwor, Nigeria; Hamdi Aydin, Turkey; Choi Hangseok, Korea; Jeyatharan Kumarasamy, Singapore; and Andres Marulanda, Colombia.

The other main news of the session is that Mexico is elected to host the WTC and ITA General Assembly in 2022 at the resort of Cancun, winning the accolade against competing host Member Nation India and its proposed venue in Goa. Cancun, Mexico, might be expected to be a more popular choice but India undoubtedly presents a great potential market for underground infrastructure as the nation addresses urgent needs for city sewers, water supply lines and metros as well as national needs for hydro energy, intercity highways and railways, and irrigation networks. Next year WTC 2020 will be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in 2021 WTC will convene in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jenny Jinxiu Yan
Jenny Jinxiu Yan

In being elected as the next President of the Association, Jenny Jinxiu Yan said: "It is an honour to be the new ITA President. I understand that it means responsibilities, commitments and dedication. To meet the new challenges, it is important to make a joint effort to find new solutions to contribute to the UN sustainable development goals 2030. To achieve this we must first, enhance communication with related international organisations, national policy-making forums, and well-known international banks to increase the contributions of tunnelling to the implementation of sustainable development goals. Secondly, to improve communication and exchanges between Member Nations and the industry by encouraging experience sharing through organising symposiums, training courses and other similar events. Thirdly, recognise the achievements of our industry and promote knowledge sharing and the application of well-recognised new technologies among all parties involved, including decision makers and investors. Finally to focus on the common concerns and challenges of our industry and endeavour to seek new solutions through collective efforts by all ITA members and industry." Yan will be President for the coming three years when her term ends and her successor will be elected at the WTC2022 in Cancun, Mexico.

Additional business of the ITA included:

  • approval of applications from three new Member Nations – Kenya, Albania and Lebanon
  • approval of the budget of the Association which for 2018 totalled an annual income of more than €900,000 with an expenditure of about €850,000 to create a surplus of about €50,000
  • approval of the proposal from Norway to commission an external audit, described euphemistically as a health check, of the organization, operation and governance of the Association as a one-off investment in its strategy for the future
  • publication and release of the new Emerald Book form of contract prepared specifically for underground construction contracts by the ITA in collaboration with FIDIC
  • approval of the proposal by Iran to establish a new Working Group on the Design and Construction of Shafts
  • approval and publication of reports and developments by the other Working Groups and the four Committees of the Association – ITACUS, ITACOSUF and ITAtech

New publications include from Working Group 2 new guidelines for the design of segmental tunnel linings; from Working Group 5 a client's guide for high pressure compressed air work and from Working Groups 14 and 15 a joint report on handling, treatment and disposal of tunnel spoil materials.

The ITAtech Committee produced new reports on a practical approach for controlling blasting vibration and optimising advance in tunnelling and a second updated guideline on the rebuild of machinery for mechanised tunnel excavation. The ITACOSUF Committee on safety in underground spaces, published a report on the current practice for design of cross-passages to support safety in rail and metro tunnels.

Highlights of the WTC 2019 event

WTC programme and experiences

As is the annual tradition at WTCs, there have to be reasons to complain, and so it was true too for Naples where unseasonal rain and cold temperatures ruined high expectations of glorious Mediterranean sunshine; a surprising shortage of baristers to serve impatient queues with famous Italian expresso; a spread out venue of conference rooms and exhibition areas that was demanding of the fittest but did have delegates out in the air and walking through gardens to get to several destinations; and a wifi service, gratefully sponsored by SWS Engineering, that proved unable in its capacity to host all the users as well as the app designed to help delegates navigate the technical sessions, poster sessions, meetings, and exhibition areas that included outdoor, indoor and marquee venues.

But having said all that, SIG, the Italian Tunnelling Society and its organising committees, staged a memorable WTC with a well constructed and packed programme of technical paper presentations and special social events.

At the Opening Ceremony on Monday, relayed by video link between two theatres to accommodate the near 2,000 attendees, Martin Herrenknecht delivered the Sir Alan Muir Wood Lecture, taking the audience on a journey of TBM development through his own personal career as a mechanical engineer and founder and CEO of Herrenkencht AG. This ranged from Herrenknecht’s first underground job working on the open-face Big John machine of the early 1970s in Switzerland, through the develops of machines to cope with increasingly demanding geological and logistical challenges and up to date with the most sophisticated of electronic systems and technologies on modern machines that increase their safety and performance and contribute to reduced excavation costs.

Keynote speech warned of extinction without a regroup

In particular he made a point of highlighting the increasing feasibility today of building in the future the Gibraltar Strait link between Europe and north Africa, the Bearing Strait link between USA and Russia, and other similar mega links under seas and high mountains but that the vision and the determination to manage these projects must rest with new young talent that has to be attracted to the industry. He also emphasised the urgent need for underground infrastructure for developing nations, describing how on a recent visit to the mega city Lagos in Nigeria, he was promoting very large diameter tunnels as the start of a sewer system for its 20+ million inhabitants.

In an engaging keynote presentation, Pietro Salini, CEO of international construction company Salini Impregilo of Italy, also emphasised the need to attract young professionals to the industry, noting the difficulty of the exercise when contemporaries find an “easier life selling hedge funds” than “taking a ride on a small train for 30 minutes or more into a mountain to meet up with the monster” advancing a tunnel heading. He also addressed the topic of risk aversion and unrealistic competition in the contracting sector, saying that the continuing attempts by owners to shift risk onto the contractors bidding with ever decreasing margins will lead to “extinction” of contractors.

Salini addressed the audience drawing on the company’s involvement on the construction of more than 1,580km of underground works over the last 50 years and the operation of 75 TBMs on more than 44 mega projects in the last 20 years including the Lake Mead intake tunnel in Nevada in the USA, the Gotthard and Brenner baseline railway tunnels under the European Alps, hydro schemes in China, Africa and South America, and metro works in Australia, USA, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. A podcast of the speech is prepared by TunnelTalk for all to appreciate again or for the first time.

As well as the comprehensive programme of technical papers and poster sessions, the WTC in Naples hosted more than 170 exhibitors from all corners of the world. Among these were the booths of the event prime sponsor companies.

Industry sponsors ensured a well prepared event
Industry sponsors ensured a well prepared event

To top off the gathering of the tunnelling community in Naples, there were three most memorable social events as well as tours to unforgettable underground spaces from both antiquity as well as today.

The orchestral concert in the famous San Carlo opera house of Naples on the Monday evening was followed, also in the opera house, by the ITAtech dinner. It was a very special evening.

The reception by the two Member Nations bidding to host the 2022 WTC – India and Mexico – on Tuesday evening was held at the Belvedere Carafa, high in the hills where the famous photo of Naples and Mount Vesuvius on the other side of the bay is taken from the terrace.

The Gala Dinner on Wednesday night, to welcome the new President and ExCo members, bid farewell to outgoing members, and say goodbye to friends and colleagues until we all meet again, was held in the Pietrarsa Railway Museum, with the white linen dressed tables sat between two rows of up to 50 historic locomotives, restored to shining black paint and polished brass fittings.

All in all a truly enjoyable, very busy, highly productive, very significant and progressive event.

A setting to remember for the gala evening
A setting to remember for the gala evening
Tunnel Borbonico, recently restored from 1853
Tunnel Borbonico, recently restored from 1853


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