2013 in perspective Jan 2013
- Teetering on the infamous fiscal cliff will come to define 2012. The terminology coined by politicians in the US in their struggle to balance the budget applied to so many nations as they faced crippling government debt and falling revenues. Looking ahead, 2013 might take heart from the fact that falling off the cliff in the US was averted, at the very last moment. A deal was done and business, perhaps as usual but hopefully more positively and cooperatively, will be managed through 2013. Fiscal turmoil in the Euro Zone has steadied, for the time being, and economic slowdowns in China and India and other developing nations, due in significant part as a result of uncertainties in the US and Europe, appear to be heading for soft landings as new strategies are implemented.
Tunnel plug concept to provide flood protection
- For the tunnelling world through 2013 there is much to do. Projects started in 2012 will progress while plans for new investments in underground facilities will search for political and financial support to become real projects in themselves.
- Many of these projects will be inspired by the need for cities to better prepare themselves for natural events of devastating consequence. Restoration of services after earthquakes, floods and violent storms - even for vulnerable underground systems - has taken weeks, months and in some cases years for particularly damaged installations. Underground nuclear power stations; tunnels for flood control on grand scales and perhaps as dual mode concepts; the replacement underground of power and communication cables; and development and installation of devices such as the Tunnel Plug to protect underground facilities; are all initiatives that will find support for development through 2013.
- The reduction of the carbon footprint on the global environment will be another driver of new and urgent projects through 2013. California is the latest of many large economies in the world to pledge to reduce its carbon footprint, vowing to take its carbon output back to 1990 levels by 2020. As well as 'green' alternatives for power generation, these pledges cannot be achieved without underground contributions. Tunnels on high-speed railways and metro systems to provide alternatives to car and air transportation; underground elements for the development of new hydropower schemes; and the critical need for underground storage and disposal facilities of nuclear waste for the expansion of nuclear power generation programmes are just some of the required needs.
Tunnels are key to high-speed rail aspirations
- Where China now leads the world in development of high-speed railways, others will follow, including California. Throughout Europe, from Norway, to the UK and into the Alpine countries, high-speed rail projects will find focus in 2013. South America and perhaps Russia and India will also announce progress on high-speed rail and further metro aspirations.
- On the financial side of the business, the fiscal cliff saga in the United States illustrated again how private caches of capital will have to be tapped to supplement or replace depleted or otherwise fully committed public funds. The new metro line in Ottawa, the Northern Line Underground Extension in London, different projects in Australia and many planned projects in South America are being developed on a PPP public private partnership or long-term concession basis. There is plenty of money in world, most agree, with more being printed by central banks in the name of 'quantitative easing'. The trick for public infrastructure will be to harness what it needs from that private pool.
In search of resilient cities
Inflatable protection against inundation
China opens world's longest high speed link
Design-build-finance-and-maintain in Ottawa
Private funding for Underground extension
Private funding for Sydney highway masterplan
Private funding key to Trans-Andean rail link
Crossrail study to secure savings
Spending to date on UK's High-Speed 2 rail link
California advances high-speed rail
VD upgrade for slurry TBM
- Getting our own house in order is also a focus for 2013. Managing and controlling the cost of underground infrastructure is a particular issue to be addressed. In the UK for example, major exercises to examine the costs of mega projects such as the Crossrail link under central London identified significant savings reducing the original estimate for the project from £15.9 billion to £14.5 billion. The same exercise is being asked by the UK Treasury of the country's High-Speed 2 rail link from London to Birmingham to realise savings of up to 15% on the estimated £16.3 billion price tag of the first phase of its proposed £36 billion full project link to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland.
- The start of the exercise might have been the result of the debate held by the BTS (British Tunnelling Society) at its December 2012 meeting. The motion for the debate - This house believes that UK projects are overstaffed and over specified - was carried by about 55% to 60% While this sends a message in its own right, did the arguments cover all the points? Those who opposed the motion argued that it is greater transparency that has created the apparent overstaffing. One commentator explained that all accounting is required now in real project time, rather than taking years of work after the end of a project to close out the accounts. Over specification is rationalised as ensuring that contractors comply exactly with requirements as placed upon them by the client. "Risk has to be designed and specified out of our construction projects," was the comment.
VD-TBM specially designed for karstic limestone
- Others suggested that compliance to current safety regulations for projects both during construction and once into operation are driving up costs. The growing circle of wants and must-haves is escalating costs of major projects with underground elements.
- For the technical side of tunnelling, the end of 2012 set the benchmark for major new developments. Factory testing of the fully assembled 17.48m diameter EPB TBM for the Seattle Alaskan Way highway tunnel project at the Hitachi Zosen works in Japan set a new bar for the size of machines for the future.
- Other developments will include the never-ending search for the ultimate universal TBM system that can cope, without major modification, with a full range of geological conditions to be encountered. The Herrenknecht Variable Density TBM (VD-TBM) design for the Klang Valley MRT project in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, leads one aspect of development in this regard. The variable density slurry shield enables the TBM to alter the density and viscosity of the slurry to stop slurry of lower viscosity from escaping into cavities or blowing out from fissures while in turn preserving the face pressure of the TBM.
- Robbins retains the record for the largest hard rock TBM ever, the 14.4m diameter machine used on the Niagara project in Canada, and other manufacturers are developing specialities of their own.
- During 2013 there will be a wealth of events at which these topics will be discussed. Of many, there are three major events - the BAUMA trade fair in Munich, Germany in April; the WTC (World Tunnel Congress) with the ITA General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland in May; and the RETC session in Washington, DC, USA in June.
- The BAUMA fair presents a once-every-three-year opportunity to meet the principal manufacturers and suppliers to know of upgrades and developments in the pipeline. The 2013 event will make up for the last event in 2010 which was scuppered by eruption of a volcano in Iceland that grounded all air traffic across and into Europe for several days. Expect a bumper year in 2013 for exhibitors and attendances.
- WTC in Geneva will gather the international community from across the globe into Switzerland where the business of the ITA will also be advanced. Key to this will be election of a new ITA President and new Executive Council members. The ITA Open Session on the Tuesday morning will progress the work of the ITA Committee on Underground Space as it addresses the need for the tunnelling industry to assist nations to develop their underground space potential and prepare for rapid urbanisation as well as the affects of global climate change.
- In Washington, DC, the RETC will focus attention on the North American market where mega projects will be progressing and others developing towards the construction phase. These will include California's high-speed rail project, metro extensions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other State capitals, and CSO projects to prevent pollution of major waterways and beaches.
- TunnelTalk will look forward to meeting fellow tunnellers at each these and other events during the course of the year. In preparing for that we wish all our readers, advertisers, supporters and friends a very successful and enjoyable 2013.
- Happy New Year!
Add your comment
- Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments. You share in the wider tunnelling community, so please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language professional.