Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
- The collapse of Austrian contractor Alpine has thrown uncertainty on its tunnelling projects around the world - many of which have come to a standstill as workers and sub contractors walk off site.
- Underground job sites were reportedly at a standstill in Singapore, Slovenia and Norway after the company filed for voluntary bankruptcy in its home country. Its debts are said to be €2.56 billion.
- The failure of a rescue package means the company will now be broken up, although it is understood that both Porr and Strabag are in talks to save the company's Austrian division, which employs 5,000 workers.
- On the international front, Strabag told TunnelTalk that it was assessing Alpine's worldwide tunnel projects on a project-by-project basis with a possible view to taking over the best of them.
- Spokeswoman Diana Klein said: "Strabag is offering for Alpine's worldwide clients to come and hold talks with us concerning the continuation of construction projects that have come to a stop. We will analyze each one, swiftly, on a project-by-project basis."
- The collapse of Alpine came just days after the company promised the Singapore Land Transport Authority it would complete three underground stations and associated tunnels for the second phase of the Downtown Line.
- "As recently as mid-June this year, just days before Alpine filed for insolvency, Alpine had given us assurances and underlined its commitment to complete the station and tunnelling works. There had also been no signs of any slowing down of works on site, with works on the three stations in full swing," an LTA spokeswoman told TunnelTalk from Singapore.
- Alpine Bau won two contracts in 2009 for construction of three stations at King Albert Park, Sixth Avenue and Tan Kah Kee, plus associated tunnels - the first of which broke through in September last year. But the bankruptcy will cause delays of up to six months while contracts to complete the outstanding works are renegotiated.
- "There are legal and contractual matters to be resolved with the insolvency administrator before the newly appointed completion contractors can start work. This process will take about 3-6 months. LTA will work closely with the relevant parties to ascertain and minimise the impact on the DTL2 timeline," said the spokeswoman. Only about 50% of the station and tunnel construction works are completed, she added.
- Meanwhile, Alpine BeMo, a separate specialist tunnelling subsidiary that sits under the Alpine Group umbrella but is not part of the insolvency proceedings, confirmed interest from seven bidders.
- Alpine BeMo, which is involved in many projects throughout Europe including Crossrail and Stuttgart-21, is up for sale after the administrator of Alpine Bau offered the shares it holds in the company on the open market.
Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
- "We are especially interested in projects where our know-how and technological expertise will be needed, which includes tunnelling projects. We have not identified precisely the projects we are interested in, though we are open to holding talks with all potential clients."
- Klein added: "Separately from this offer we are analyzing the legal implications of a takeover of parts of the Alpine group in Austria would have."
- Klein said Strabag was not currently in talks with the Singapore Land Transport Authority, with which Alpine holds two contracts (C917 and C918) together worth €405 million, for the second phase of the Downtown Line.
- Those contracts, for the design and construction of the Sixth Avenue and King Albert Park stations and associated twin running tunnels (917), and design and construction of the Tan Kah Kee Station and tunnels (918), were the last to be awarded (in late 2009) on DLT2. In 2010 Alpine placed its largest single TBM order ever, five machines from Herrenknecht, for use on the project. In September last year (2012) it reported breakthrough on the first of the six tunnels it was contracted to excavate.
Breakthrough for Alpine in Singapore (September 2012)
- An LTA spokesman said: "LTA's immediate priority is to ensure the safety and security of the sites. Measures are being put in place to safeguard the sites and equipment. We are looking at various options to appoint new completion contractors to take over the project. LTA will work closely with the appointed completion contractors to continue engaging the existing subcontractors to ensure minimal impact on the timeline."
- In Norway state highways authority Statens Vegvesen and rail authority Jernbaneverket cancelled a €170 million contract awarded to Alpine in May last year after work came to a standstill on a high profile joint rail and road project.
- The project, for a 6.4km four-lane highway extension of the E6, and a 5.2km double track railway along the same corridor, involved construction of three 600m tunnels.
- A debt restructuring package with the major creditors of Alpine, parent company FCC Construccion of Spain, and the Austrian Ministry of Finance, was agreed in March this year (2013).
Alpine is involved in many worldwide tunnel projects
- Additionally Alpine is working on tunnels but more recently it emerged that a further €400 million would be needed to meet ongoing debts, and neither the company's major creditors, Erste Bank and UniCredit Bank of Austria, nor the parent company FCC, were prepared to make more cash available.
- Alpine has struggled with difficult projects in Eastern Europe, where it is currently involved in a €71 legal action over a highway project in Serbia, and its project pipeline in Asia where once it held a number of lucrative contracts in India and Singapore, had started to dry up. Despite early successes with Singapore's LTA, for which it constructed 12km of tunnels for the Circle Line as well as Phase 2 sections of the 30km Downtown Line, it failed to win any new orders for the lucrative third phase. More recently Alpine missed out on two JV bids for the multi-billion dollar underground contracts for the Doha metro. Together with JV partner, parent company FCC Construccion of Spain, Alpine had been shortlisted for construction of the first phase of the Riyadh metro - award of which is expected next month.
- Johann Schneider of Alpine's BeMo Tunnelling division - which is responsible for most of the group's tunnel projects in Europe - explained that the BeMo division is unaffected by the bankruptcy. He said that apart from projects in Norway and Slovenia, it was mainly projects in Asia, which are run by the company's Alpine Bau division, that were affected by the bankruptcy.
- "Alpine BeMo Tunnelling including its subsidiaries and branch offices are separate legal entities to Alpine Bau GmbH and Alpine Holding GmbH and are not in administration or under any insolvency proceedings," he said.
Austrian tunnel group emerges from crisis - TunnelTalk, March 2013
Alpine takes bypass tunnel on vital rail corridor - TunnelTalk, July 2012
Major tunnel and station awards on Stuttgart-21 - TunnelTalk, March 2012
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