Promoting the underground and meeting demand Jan 2015

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

A feeling within the industry is that tunnelling is rising to surpass even its own expectations. Boundaries are being pushed, high risk projects are being realized, safety and risk management is top priority, and innovation is helping to make the previously considered impossible possible and the previously dismissed as unthinkable doable.

Breakthrough of the Lake Mead project excavation in December is a new benchmark of the possible for TBM tunnel engineering; success of immersed tube crossings confirms prospects for the 18km long road and rail Fehmarn fixed link between Denmark and Germany, the world’s most ambitious immersed tube project to date; and drill+blast and open-face excavations, plus cut-and-cover and shaft sinking, provide the broad base on which the underground space construction industry gains access, achieves vast and complex cavern excavations, and progresses many a long distance, deep level heading into unexplored geological conditions.

As confidence in the techniques and abilities increases, the same confidence has to be passed on to owners, clients, planners, politicians and the general public. Not an easy task when the only visible signs of the industry’s celebrated achievements during construction – such as work sites, cuts in the landscape, construction traffic, noise and traffic diversions - are all more likely to raise public complaint rather than admiration. The industry has to work harder and smarter than perhaps any other to promote itself and its abilities.

Promoting the underground as the long term option

This was a challenge taken up by the Tunnelling Association of Canada (TAC) in 2014 with production of a video to advocate the underground option. For its focus, the video concentrates on bringing the voices of politicians and planners who are themselves advocates of the underground vision, to speak to the point, presenting innovative mechanisms for funding underground projects and addressing cost in reference to lifecycle advantages.

TAC makes the video available to anyone needing material to support and promote the underground. Copies are available without charge from TAC and translations into other languages are being produced.

As activity grows in all sectors and in all parts of the globe, , equal measures are needed to meet the demand. The linchpin of the effort is in attracting young talent, new professionals, and increased numbers of skilled manpower to the industry. This is a task that has attracted renewed urgency in recent times. Training courses, university degrees, skills academies, professional societies, young members groups, bursaries and scholarships, conferences, meetings, achievement prizes and awards – there is now so much on offer it is only a case of making sure the possibilities are promoted and taken up. There is no excuse for complaint from any quarter that the industry is not supporting itself and preparing for what it advocates. Contact Us to add missing information to the following lists.

Training courses

Before official courses at academic institutions, training courses were offered by national tunnelling societies. One of the most well established is the annual progamme run by the British Tunnelling Society (BTS), which has attracted international participants and has been emulated by other tunnelling societies. The 2015 BTS Tunnel Design and Construction Course will run for a week from 29 June to 3 July and its annual Underground Health and Safety Course is held in November.

One of the most important developments of recent years has been the establishment in 2007 of ITA-CET, the Committee on Education and Training of the International Tunnelling and Underground Association. Working in association with the ITA-CET Foundation that funds the activities of the Committee, ITA-CET organizes training sessions on specific and pertinent topics and at the invitation of the member nations of the Association. During 2014 courses were held in Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Vietnam, Mexico and Brazil among many others. Under the new chairmanship of Professor Robert Galler of Austria, the programme for 2015 to date includes:

15-16 Jan 2015, Turin, Italy
Conventional Tunnelling and Ground Reinforcing Technique
A training session organized in association with SIG, the Italian Tunnelling Association

28 Feb-01 Mar 2015, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tunnelling for Transport in Urban Areas in association with the Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM)

22-23 May 2015, Dubrovnik, Croatia Soft Ground Urban Tunnelling & Rock Tunnelling in karst as part of the WTC2015 programme and the following which are yet to be scheduled

Chile Mechanized Tunnelling

Argentina Health and Safety and Logistic during Construction of Long Tunnels and Urban Tunnels

Pakistan General Tunnelling

Myanmar (Yangon) Tunnelling & Deep Excavation for Infrastructure in Urban Areas

University degrees

For too many universities, the answer to the question is that very little attention is given to tunnelling as a discipline within the civil engineering curriculum. This has had to change and is – slowly – and most significantly in response to national need for developing mega underground and tunnelling infrastructure.

The leading university degree courses specifically in tunnelling are:

Other universities that include a strong focus on underground construction within their civil and geotechnical engineering curricula include:

Skills academies

Academies to train new recruits in the operation of tunnelling equipment and to work specifically in the underground environment has been required and established.

Principal among these is TUCA, the purpose-built Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy in East London in the UK which is well equipped to provide training in key tunnel excavation skills and underground construction management. The training is delivered by the National Construction College which is funded and administered by the CITB, the Construction Industry Training Board that was established by the UK government back in 1964.

TUCA was the model on which the Tunnelling Training Academy was established in Kuala Lumpur. Hosted by Gamuda, a leading construction contractor in Malaysia, the Academy has trained operatives for the Kuala Lumpur Metro works in particular. In early 2014, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) entered an agreement with the Academy to train its engineers on the latest techniques and skills needed to work on metro tunnelling contracts in the capital city where long reaches of the city’s Metro is being constructed underground.

Attracting young engineers to careers in tunnelling

Continuity of work has long deterred dedicated careers in tunnelling. In the past, careers in tunnelling have required a willingness to travel the world for the next project opportunity, a situation that worked against family file and stability, unless the families agreed to be part of the nomadic life as well. This too has changed.

While international opportunities will always be available to the carefree and adventurous tunnelling professionals, more consistent pipelines of underground infrastructure offers the ability to spend a full career in the same country if not the same state or city.

This has led to concerted efforts to promote a career in tunnelling for new recruits and support them in their choices.

Follow where other young engineers have led
Know of the rewards from career tunnellers

Young members groups

Young professionals in the UK were the first to organize a group to coordinate activities, address specific concerns and create social networking. From small beginnings, the group is now firmly established, and with the support of the main British Tunnelling Society, has expanded into a global initiative. In Brazil last year (2014), the ITA adopted a proposal to develop an international young members group with the national societies of the 71 member nations of the ITA required to create a national group to be represented at the international level. As a result Australia, Canada, the United States and many other national tunnelling associations have started the process of establishing a young members group.

Bursaries and scholarships

To support the education of new recruits to the tunnelling industry, there are now many scholarship and bursary programmes. The UK again took a lead with the BTS offering a generous bursary of £12,000 to support a student through the 2014 MSc course in tunnelling at Warwick University. Scholarships are offered by many tunnelling societies and often in the memory of a leading tunnelling engineer. These include the Dan Eisenstein Memorial Scholarship that is awarded by TAC to support a student with $5,000 for post-graduate study. In the United States, the deadline to apply for the UCA of SME Scholarship is Thursday, 8 January so no time to loose in preparing and submitting the application.

Women in tunnelling

Women represent one of the largest pools of untapped new talent for the tunnelling industry. Where construction, and underground construction in particular, have been a traditional preserve of men, professional women have been missing from the line-up. This too is changing and rapidly with support via equal opportunity legislation, education opportunities and tunnelling society support.

With a swell in the number of women attracted to careers in tunnelling, a lead has been taken by the United States in creating a Women in Tunnelling group that, like the Young Members groups, provide a forum for women to share experiences, discuss concerns and network with each other. Supported by the UCA of SME, the Women in Tunnelling group organizes various social and networking events to which all women professionals are welcome to attend.

Achievements and awards

For everyone in the tunnelling industry, it is important that we shout about our achievements and as loudly as we can. Where the public is keen to get involved with voting for the most beautiful new building or singing the praises of a fabulous new bridge under construction, but for the underground world, it is hard to get even the general media excited about but we do. We must therefore bring the news to them and, in rewarding ourselves for our achievements, hope to influence politicians, planners and the public at large that it is the developers of tunnelling and underground space that provides the foundation of modern cities and societies and help sustain mega-urbanisation and resilience against natural disasters for the future.

Recently introduced are the ITA Tunnelling Awards which are gaining substantial following and support. Winners for 2014 series of awards were announced in London in early December and nominations for 2015 accomplishments of distinction are now open. There are several other opportunities for singling out special recognition including:

  • the annual BTS Harold Harding Prize for young workers in the tunnelling industry with now open for the 2015 entries;
  • the TAC Achievement Awards in Canada with the winners for 2013 and 2014 reported by TunnelTalk;
  • the UCA awards for outstanding members and projects
  • the BTS Harold Harding Medal to recognize special and individual contribution to the tunnelling industry

As part of its coverage through 2015, TunnelTalk plans to develop special chapters of the magazine dedicated to publication of education and training opportunities in the industry and to publish information about awards, achievements and accolades. It will become a resource for anyone needing it to support the can do ability of the tunnelling industry and the extraordinary expertise of its professionals and new recruits.

Conferences and meetings

For all industries, the principal vehicles for sharing expertise and knowledge and updating professional knowhow are conferences, workshops, meetings and symposia. The tunnelling industry has a full annual agenda of such events and for 2015, among them are:

  • WTC2015 – Dubrovnik, Croatia, 22-28 May 2015
  • RETC – New Orleans, USA, 7-10 June 2015
  • STUVA – Dortmund, Germany, 1-3 Dec 2015
  • Regular meetings of the BTS on the third Thursday of each month at the ICE in London

Be sure to send an email to Diary Dates with news of new events for the tunnelling calendar and Contact Us to update the information on TunnelTalk about achievements within the industry.

With that, all of us on the TunnelTalk team send our best wishes and greetings to all our readers, advertisers, supporters, friends and colleagues for a productive, busy and prosperous New Year. We look forward to seeing you and working with you all again during 2015 and thereafter.

Happy New Year!


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