Steep curve ahead to keep ITA relevant 12 May 2016

Shani Wallis and TunnelTalk team reporting

Since its foundation in 1974, the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) has staked its claim as the leading voice of the industry across the globe. Like many multi-faceted organisations however, it has found it taxing to manage growth and change. Rather than management with a nimble touch and efficiency, change has been more like steering a juggernaut.

New President Tarcisio Celestino on ITA structure
Past President Søren Eskesen on ITA achievements

This is not helped by the Association’s continued reliance on an all-voluntary Executive Council (ExCo) and a part-time Secretariat.

The ITA has grown dramatically in the last five years and it is time for structural, management and organisational changes to better manage the Association into the future.

Former First Vice President Rick Lovat on ITA

TunnelTalk interviewed several ITA ExCo and Member Nation representatives at its recent 42nd annual General Assembly, held in association with the 2016 World Tunnel Congress (WTC) in San Francisco, and each addressed the aspirations and needs of the Association for better management and confident development.

The ITA is now an organisation of 73 Member Nations, more than 20 joining within the last five years. The full list is in Table 1 at the bottom of the article, each with its Member Nation society’s logo. There are also 300 corporate or individual Affiliate Members, 17 Prime Sponsors and 49 Supporters.

New Member Nations are encouraged to join, the stipulation being that there must be an established society of tunnelling and underground space development professionals in the country to join. Most of the leading nations of the world are members of the ITA but as outgoing President Søren Degn Eskesen pointed out at the ITA/WTC press conference, the largest body of non-member nations is in Africa, with South Africa and Lesotho in the south and Egypt, Algeria and Morocco in the north the only Member Nations on the continent.

A disappointment at each General Assembly is that not all nations are represented. The costs of being at the Assemblies is understood but empty seats for Member Nations restricts Association management and skews the voting processes on important issues, with proxy votes, postal votes and absentee non-votes distorting or unfairly representing the full membership body.

Past President Martin Knights: “Demand exists”
Member Nation UK: “UK Industry looks healthy”

In addition to a greatly increased number of Member Nations, the ExCo and limited part-time Secretariat must also manage the on-going work of 13 Working Groups, four ITA Committees and the ITACET Foundation (Tables 2 and 3). It has also established a Young Members Group and launched its own international series of Awards to commend excellence and innovative development in the industry.

Table 2. Active ITA Working Groups (WGs)
WG2 Research
WG3 Contractual Practices
WG5 Health and Safety in Works
WG6 Maintenance and Repair
WG9 Seismic Effects
WG11 Immersed and Floating Tunnels
WG12 Sprayed Concrete Use
WG14 Mechanised Tunnelling
WG15 Underground and Environment
WG17 Long Tunnels at Great Depth
WG19 Conventional Tunnelling
WG20 Urban Problems, Underground Solutions
WG21 Life Cycle Asset Management
Inactive Working Groups
WG1 Standardisation
WG4 Subsurface Planning
WG7 General Approaches to Design
WG8 Catalogue of Tunnels
WG10 Costs and Advantages of Urban Public Transport
WG13 Direct and Indirect Advantages of Underground Structures
WG16 Quality
WG18 Training
Table 3. ITA Committees and ITACET Foundation
ITAtech Committee on technologies
itacus Committee on Underground Space
ITA-CET Committee on Education and Training
ITA COSUF Committee on Operational Safety of Underground Facilities
ITACET Foundation Foundation for Education and Training on Tunnelling and Underground Space Use

Working Groups

At each General Assembly the Animateur of each Working Group presents a report to the ExCo and Member Nations describing their work and progress during the previous year.

At WTC 2016 in San Francisco, three Working Groups and the ITAtech Committee published five reports.

  • WG2: Twenty years of FRC tunnel segment practice: lessons learned and proposed design principles
  • WG11: Owners Guide to Immersed Tunnels
  • WG14/19: Recommendations on the development of underground projects with respect to the tunnelling method
  • ITAtech: Guidance for precast fibre reinforced concrete segments – Volume 1: design aspects
  • ITAtech: Vibration Control in Urban Drill & Blast Tunnelling

All ITA publications are available as free pdf downloads from the ITA website.


A recurring theme in the Animateur reports is the process and length of time it takes for a new Working Group document to be approved for publication and the lack of support by the Secretariat to assist in that process. In recognizing the issues, new ITA President Tarcisio Celestino will, for the first time, initiate development of a protocol for the review of Working Group and Committee documents. Another suggestion was that the performance of the Secretariat should be evaluated by the Animateurs and Committee Chairs as well as by the members of the ExCo.

ITA: Global underground works 2015
Member Nation Canada: Underground Advocacy

The Committee that has had most success promoting the underground dimension to urban planners and associated industries is the Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS). At WTC 2016 the Committee conducted a ‘Think Deep’ Open Session to explore the quest towards an urban underground future and consider what the new urban paradigm could be.

ITACUS: In search of resilient cities
ITACUS: Deciding on better and resilient cities

“If one thing has become clear,” said Han Admiraal in his report, “it is that cities are key to change and that change requires the public sector, the private sector and non-governmental organisations to work together to establish a new urban paradigm in which the urban underground needs to be part.” He continued by confronting the Assembly asking: “But what is it that will make people sit up and take notice of us [the ITA]? We survive, we go through the motions, we follow procedures as laid down in the statutes and bylaws, yet how are we delivering on relevance? How can we actually deliver on creating new markets for our industry? How can we demonstrate that we can help cities in meeting the challenges they are facing?”

Another tunnelling professional and Member Nation society leader with experience of being involved with the ITA ExCo stated that “it is very evident that some changes need to be made in the ITA structure and management to make it more responsive to the international tunnelling industry. The problem I see is that there is no current management structure in place within the ITA with the knowledge, drive and leadership skills to make the necessary changes. The tunnel industry in each Member Nation will continue but ITA is an international industry and it would be good to have a strong and competent organization leading the industry from an international perspective.”

These comments sum up the challenges the ITA faces in its endeavours to sustain itself through coming years and remain the leading voice of underground development interests as the world grapples with continuing urban expansion, population growth, connectivity requirements and the effects of climate change into the future.

ITA-AITES Current and Past Presidents
2016 - 2019 Brazil Tarcisio Celestino
2013 - 2016 Denmark Soren Deg Eiskesen
2010 - 2013 Korea In-Mo Lee
2007 - 2010 UK Martin Knights
2004 - 2007 USA Harvey Parker
2001 - 2004 Brazil Andre Assis
1998 - 2001 Germany Alfred Haack
1995 - 1998 Italy Sebastiano Pelizza
1992 - 1995 Canada Dan Zdenek Eisenstein (†)
1989 - 1992 UK Colin Kirkland (†)
1986 - 1989 Norway Einar Broch
1983 - 1986 USA Jack Lemley
1980 - 1983 Germany Günter Girnau
1977 - 1980 Switzerland H. C. Fischer (†)
1974 - 1977 UK Sir Alan Muir Wood (†)

ITA Executive Council for 2016

During its 42nd General Assembly in San Francisco, Tarcisio Celestino of Brazil was elected President for the 2016-2019 term. First Vice President Rick Lovat declined to present himself for election at the General Assembly and Celestino, as one of four ITA Vice Presidents agreed to be the uncontested nomination for the post. At the same time Eric Leca (France), Jinxiu (Jenny) Yan (China), Alexandre Gomes (Chile) and Ruth G. Haug (Norway) were elected as Vice Presidents. Leaving the ExCo at the end of their terms were Rick Lovat (Canada), Amanda Ellioff (USA), Daniele Peila (Italy) and Nikolaos Kazilis (Greece) and In-Mo Lee as Past President (Korea) with Søren Degn Eskesen (Denmark) becoming immediate Past President on the ExCo. Up to six on the ExCo were available for new members and only three applied for election - Giuseppe Lunardi (Italy), Chungsik Yoo (Korea) and Davorin Kolic (Croatia). Each gained the necessary 50% majority of Member Nation votes but this was the first time since the Association was formed that people actually refused to run for the ExCo. According to many discussions during the past year, this is due in large part to issues of management and lack of performance by a part-time Secretariat and by the part-time Executive Director held currently by Olivier Vion.

ITACET training sessions

At each WTC, the ITACET Committee conducts a two-day training course and supports training courses in different countries working with the ITACET Foundation which were established to support the training and education of university students and engineering professions in the disciplines of tunnelling and underground space development. In San Francisco, there were two parallel courses on the two days that attracted more than 70 attendees. One course focused on Monitoring and Control in Tunnelling and the parallel track discussed Underground Space Use.


Tunnelling Young Members groups

Following successful establishment of a Young Members group of the British Tunnelling Society in the UK, the concept was promoted to the ITA ExCo and at the General Assembly in 2014 in Brazil the ITA Young Members Group was formally established. The aim of the Young Members groups is to provide a technical networking platform for young professionals and students within the industry; bridge the gap between generations and across all experience levels in the industry; promote awareness of the tunnelling and underground space industry to new generations; and encourage other Member Nations to establish YM groups.


ITA: Follow where young engineers have led
Member Nation USA: Underground career rewards
Table 1. 73 Member Nations of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Costa Rica
Czech Rep
Saudi Arabia
South Africa

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