Shani Wallis, TunelTalk
Over recent times there have been a crop of new conferences in the tunnelling industry that join the heavyweights in the existing annual conference event calendar; some are truly boutique, addressing a single issue at a time, while others aspire to become heavyweight themselves. Shani Wallis examines the offerings for those events that TunnelTalk has attended during the 2013 season and looks ahead to the coming 12 months of industry events.
- 2013 has been perhaps the busiest year yet for the international conference and exhibition circuit for the civil tunnelling industry. It was a one-in-three-year fixture for the massive bauma trade fair in Munich, Germany, in April; it was a European year for the convening of the Annual General Assembly of the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) in Geneva, Switzerland, in June; it was a bumper RETC year in the United States in Washington DC in June; it is a once-every-two-year date for STUVA in Stuttgart, Germany, in November, and around these heavyweight events there has been a slew of regional regulars and some newcomers that have crowded the spaces in between.
BTS focus on UK activity
- Since the beginning of the year, TunnelTalk has attended ten industry events and will be at another three or four before the end of the year. From that perspective there is something to say about each and in comparing one with another.
Strait Crossings, Bergen, Norway
They come around rarely, but when they do, the Strait Crossings Symposium in Norway presents one of the most exciting sectors of the tunnelling industry and shares with the international audience an expertise that Norway continues to hold as leader. With more than 30 existing undersea road tunnels linking to coastal islands and under deep fjords, engineers in the country are now embarking on even more ambitious undersea links taking open face, drill+blast road tunnels to depths of 400m below sea level and extending their lengths to 27km. The confidence in the technique in Norway is seeing it being exported to other parts of the world, notably China and Hong Kong where mined and TBM bored undersea highway tunnels are in procurement and with another under the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, advancing to start of excavation.
Subsea access to offshore oilfields concept
Submerged floating tunnel idea
- As well as strait-crossing road links, the 6th Straits Crossing Symposium in Bergen in June 2013 presented a platform for Norwegian engineers and scientists to describe their work on development of long subsea tunnels, large production caverns for development of new ocean oilfields, as well as their continued exploration of the submerged floating tunnel (or submerged bridge) concept.
- The Norwegian Tunnelling Society (NFF), as one of several co-organisers of the Strait Crossings series, is preparing to invite the World Tunnel Congress and the General Assembly of the ITA (International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association) to Bergen in 2017. Including sessions on Norway's experience of undersea excavations and sea crossing concepts, together with its wealth of hydro development and reintroduction of large-diameter TBMs for current road, railway and hydro projects, will provide an attractive draw for its bid against rivals. Ahead of that the ITA WTC is hosted by Brazil at Iguassu Falls in 2014; then Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2015; and San Francisco, USA, in 2016.
British tunnelling projects in design, procurement and construction
It was a strong focus on the major investments in mega underground projects in the UK that attracted delegates to the BTS conference in London in October. The keynote address discussed plans for HS2 to bring high-speed rail services to address the issue of under capacity and overcrowded trains between London, Birmingham and Leeds, and eventually further north. Although support for the project in Parliament has wobbled during the summer, HS2 Ltd, it was explained, is on track to submit the Hybrid Bill to start the process of securing UK Government approval for the £42.6 billion public investment. An industry day held at the NEC exhibition centre in Birmingham on 5 November to introduce the project to its potential supply chain had more than 1,000 participants registered for 900 seats.
Switzerland drew ITA followers to WTC Geneva
- Other major projects that had the exhibitors and delegates engaged were the Thames Tideway project, with everyone in the corridors trying to find out the list of prequalified bidders; the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project, agreement for which was announced as the conference convened; and the Bank Underground Station upgrade which was recently awarded.
- As a successful event for the BTS, the plan is to hold the conference and exhibition as a regular feature every two years.
Salzburg and Stuttgart centres for European concentration
The draw to Austria every year in October for the Salzburg Colloquium is a major event for Alpine Europe. The event this year was attended again by a delegation of more than 1,000, and after a full agenda last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the introduction of NATM, this year concentrated on the behaviour of hydro pressure headrace tunnels after more than 100 years in operation as well as Austrian involvement in huge NATM (SCL) caverns beneath the streets of London for the Crossrail project and its stations.
- In November this year (2013), Germany holds its once-every-two-years STUVA congress. It is sure to have the 1,000+ delegates that regularly attend the fixture. See the TunnelTalk preview of the conference and the interactive floorplan of the exhibition to plan attendance at the event.
Amid the regular fixtures in the conference calendar for this year is a set of regional events wishing to make their mark.
- One of them was the Urban Tunnelling Conference in London in September. It gathered together senior managers of major projects and leading engineers from the all over the world to discuss the different issues that confront excavation projects in urban areas. From working amid the congested streets of Chennai in India to build the city's metro, to the selection of TBMs for possible 24/7 operation for the new railway in Norway, to funding of metro expansion in Hong Kong via property development, to pushing forward with the Doha Metro in Qatar, to securing a political champion to support a major project through its critical start-up and procurement phase; these were among the papers presented and the focus of the group discussions.
London discussions on urban considerations
- Unfortunately the numbers of delegates were few, with one presenter quipping that it was a "conference for presenters". This was a result perhaps of a higher-than-average registration fee and a clash of timing with the BTS conference and exhibition also in London just four weeks later (and with yet another tunnelling conference in London set for the end of this month (November 2013)), but the calibre of the presenters, the quality of the presentations, the international scope of the programme and the frank discussions that were part of the sessions was appreciated by those who attended.
- Most recently, last week in Seattle (4-5 Nov 2013), another boutique conference was held to examine the particular concerns associated with the planning, design, funding and construction of mega tunnelling projects. As well as Crossrail again, and other mega projects from across the world including the 60km long Emisor Oriente sewer and drainage project in Mexico City, a full session was devoted to the mega project right there in downtown Seattle - the SR99 Alaskan Way highway viaduct replacement bored tunnel with the 17.5m diameter Hitachi EPBM named Big Bertha being the star of the show. Held up still by a dispute with the longshoremen union over who will manage barging of the muck from the excavation, the TBM was on stop when more than 150 delegates took the opportunity to accept the invitation to visit the job site on Sunday and tour the massive machine and the really awesome segmentally lined space in its wake. Still in its early days, and still at a low percentage of its full operating capacity, the machine and its highly skilled crew recorded a progress rate of seven 2m rings in 16hr of operation and there is more to achieve.
TunnelTalk Annual Review copies distributed at all events
- TunnelTalk visited the tunnel with our Seattle-based videographer and will bring our on the spot video broadcast of the Big Bertha visit in the coming weeks as well as keeping the record updated as the machine makes its way forward under the streets of Seattle during 2014.
Value of conferences
As the underground construction industry continues to expand worldwide and as civil tunnelling becomes an activity that is much higher on the awareness radar of the general public, there will be the need for experts and leaders in the industry to gather together frequently to discuss the issues of the moment and prepare a response that represents the industry as a whole. Gone are the days of speaking to ourselves and deciding whose was bigger, wider, longer, deeper, or more difficult.
- Now we are managing the image of our industry in front of politicians, the general public and interrelated industries, including mining and exploitation of natural resources, as we must, and that will take a unified front that we will explore and develop as we gather for our meetings and conferences. 2014 will be another busy year of events for colleagues and collaborators in the international world of tunnelling and underground space development.
Links across the waters: Strait Crossings Symposium Report - TunnelTalk, January 2010
Planning for another world record subsea link - TunnelTalk, October 2013
Hong Kong awards major undersea highway - TunnelTalk, September 2013
TBM to take on Bosphorus highway crossing - TunnelTalk, August 2013
Video Report: BTS Conference October 2013 - TunnelCast, November 2013
Video Report: Urban Tunnelling Conference Sept 2013 - TunnelCast, Novenber 2013
Technical focus at STUVA 2013 - TunnelTalk, October 2013
Bauma bonanza! - TunnelTalk, April 2013
WTC Geneva marks milestones for the ITA - TunnelTalk, June 2013
Technical delivery at RETC - TunnelTalk, July 2013
RETC 2013 Exhibition Preview - TunnelTalk, June 2013
Tunnelling in the Mediterranean Region - TunnelCast, May 2013
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