Preparing for prospects in 2014 Jan 2014
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
Speculating about the prospects for 2014 is a fun thing to do, looking as we do into the year from its very start. 2013 was grim for many businesses around the world, but for the tunnelling industry, the year was hectic with the advance of all sorts of projects and the designing, prequalifying and bidding for others. 2014 is the year that effort should come to fruition.
High speed rail
Could 2014 be the year for high-speed rail? Will it be the year that high profile projects in the planning make determined advance towards construction?
  • Crushed vehicle
  • HS2 Phase 1 in the UK between London and Birmingham
  • California HSR progressing against the odds
  • High speed rail in Brazil (left), the UK (middle) and the USA (right) are high profile projects for 2014

Brazil, the UK, the USA, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, China for sure, India perhaps, Japan likely, and elsewhere around the world, all are at various stages in their development of high speed railway networks and progressing new projects.
After yet a fourth false start for the high speed rail line between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in Brazil, maybe this year will be the success year for securing a concessionaire to take on the development and operation of the +500km long line and allow procurement of contracts to build the line and its planned +90km of tunnelling.
In the UK, the first phase of the High Speed 2 rail link between London and Birmingham lodged its Hybrid Bill to Parliament for Royal Assent approval to advance the project but protest against the project and its route across the country remains vociferous. One of the most unfortunate aspects of the project is that it starts construction in London. This fortifies the impression that the project again benefits the capital and the south east of the country at the expense of regions in the north. It would be so much better if the first section built was to be a section between Leeds and Birmingham for example and being much needed capital infrastructure investment to an area outside London which is at present benefiting from the near £16 billion investment that is Crossrail.
Table 1. A comparison of world high speed rail networks
Project Opening
Length (km) Cost/km
TGV Sud Est 1983 410 13.7 6
TGV Atlantique 1990 320 5.9 6
TGV Mediterenee 2001 250 26.1 5
CTRL Phase 1
         Phase 2
109 75.8 25
Shinkansen-Tokaido 1964 515 6.9 13
Shinkansen-Sanyo 1975 562 13.3 50
Shinkansen-Thoku 1991 501 39 23
Shinkansen-Joetsu 1982 275 29 39
Shinkansen-Hokuriku 1998 126 45.2 50
TGV Korea        Phase 1
Seoul to Pusan Phase 2
412 46 46
TGV Taiwan 2005 345 52.6 14
TAV (Brazil) 2020 511 30.6 18
UK High Speed 2
Phase 1
Phase 2
540 59.3 10
California HSR Unknown 1,280 78 4-6%

Source: Halcrow/Sinergia TAV Brazil Capital Cost Final Report (September 2009)

In his presentation at the BTS conference in October 2013, Doug Oakervee OBE, CBE, Non-Executive Chairman of the HS2 development company who steps down this month in favour of Sir David Higgins, agreed that starting in the south east was a detriment but explained that it is the stretch of existing rail line between London Euston Station and the station at Rugby that needs most urgent increase in capacity and that is where the project's construction needs to start. In the face of mounting public objection could there be more underground lengths be added to the project?
Different to that is development of the first dedicated high speed railway in the USA in California where construction is to start in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Chowchilla. The middle of nowhere many would say but certainly the least expensive stretch of the line, away from built up urban areas where objection to the disruption to be caused by construction will be organized and away from the more expensive reaches of the line that will need tunnels through the mountains into Los Angeles and San Francisco and under their urban fabric into the city center main stations.
California Governor Jerry Brown is certainly a political heavy weight champion for the project but it will take the construction industry as well to have belief in it and push to carry in into construction. Too many in the USA, including many in the tunnelling industry, believe the project has no chance at all of becoming a reality. It will be against these odds that it will.
At the start of 2014, one of the most interesting and engaging speculations is to wonder what might be holding up the 17.5m diameter Hitachi mega-EPBM working on the Alaskan Way viaduct highway replacement tunnel in Seattle, Washington, USA. 'Monday morning quarter backs' and 'armchair engineers and geologists' can be accused of second-guessing the engineers who worked on the design and manufacture of the machine and who have been working on the project for many years, and suggesting insufficient site investigation or deficient design of the machine and its systems, but others can draw on extensive personal experience to offer possible ideas and useful thoughts for progressing the investigations and finding the solution.
The facts as are that, after good progress in the previous shifts, advance gradually slowed, torque increased and the decision was taken to stop and investigate. The possible causes are either an obstruction in front of the machine, either manmade or natural (a foundation pile, a buried obstruction, or a massive boulder) or something mechanical (a chamber packed full of material, a failure of some part of the cutterhead drive unit, or some part of the shield causing the cutterhead to jam) or any other number of possible causes.
It cannot be an issue with the screw conveyor as it has been working and the chamber was partially emptied to provide a quick visual inspection before the ground water started to fill into the space and ahead of the installed dewatering wells drawing down the watertable enough to allow for extended man-entry interventions in lower compress air pressures.
Managers explain Seattle TBM stoppage

Managers explain Seattle TBM stoppage

In discussions that TunnelTalk has had with experienced engineers, one suggested that the watertable should be left as is, that it provides the confinement for supporting the compressed air interventions. Others suggest that ground treatment to create an intermediate safe haven, ahead of the installed Safe Haven 3 that lies just meters ahead, is the ultimate requirement for managing the resolution.
Second guessing decisions made may include the decision to take off the disc cutters and replace them on the cutterhead with excavation bits, although others say that the quality and performance of bits is now far superior to what it used to be. More speculation surrounds the conditioning system (the materials and the application processes) and the decision to use EPB technology in preference to slurry technology which was the strong recommendation by Herrenknecht in its response to the call to bid for supply of the machine for the project and as stated again at the WTC conference in Geneva in June and reported in the TunnelTalk coverage of the conference.
The most recent contact with the project on 31 December confirmed that dewatering continues and man-entry is to be scheduled for this first week of 2014. TunnelTalk will report more news as it becomes available.
Accepting that all underground excavation projects face the possibility of the unforeseeable, the unexpected and the unknowable, 2014 could see progress on more ambitions and long term prospects for high speed and baseline railways, such as crossing beneath the Himalayas between China and India and beneath the Andes between Argentine and Chile. Technically speaking, the possibility of tunnelling through these mountain ranges is becoming a given rather than a far-off possible.
The success of the TBM and drill+blast tunnelling completed for the St Gotthard Baseline rail link in Switzerland is supporting the real prospects for building the baseline rail tunnels beneath the Brenner Pass and for the new railway between Lyon and Turin, while TBM and drill+blast work is making good progress on the Kishanganga hydro headrace tunnel through the Himalayas in Kashmir and is set to start soon on hydro projects in the Andes.
Highway tunnels through high mountain ranges, under the sea and beneath rivers, and under dense urban environments are also being advanced with some of them pushing again at the boundaries of technological possibility, the planned highway under the Neva in St Petersburg in Russia in line to see the application of the world’s next largest ever TBM at a possible 19m diameter.

Brazil to host WTC2014 at Iguassu Falls

The projects planned and progressing through the Andes and in the countries of South America will be in focus during the ITA WTC2014 conference to be held in Iguassu Falls in Brazil in May with major projects in North America presented and discussed at the NAT conference in Los Angeles in June.
At both conferences, the progress of metro systems will be described and discussed. Los Angeles is preparing for significant underground metro extension after a hiatus of nearly 20 years, while plans are advancing for a new underground metro line in Lima, Peru and other major cities of the world.
More tunnelling activity planned to progress in 2014 is the construction of new hydro schemes and water supply projects as well as new nuclear power projects.
As aging nuclear power stations are decommission and new plants are being planned and built, the question of how to manage the long, long-term storage of nuclear waste remains largely unresolved with underground waste repositories in different countries still critically undersized for the waste that already exists and is being stored temporarily at different facilities.
Perhaps in a decade's time, or less, the prospects for the year will be the start and continuation of massive underground structures being built urgently for the storage of nuclear waste.
For 2014 our expectations are closer and more quantifiable. For everyone involved in the industry, the hope is for a busy, prosperous, enjoyable and rewarding year in bringing the programme of extraordinary as well as ordinary tunnelling and underground projects to reality.

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