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Look back to look forward
January marked 200 years since Marc Brunel patented the first tunnelling shield. The cover of this issue shows just how far the industry has come since he tunnelled under London’s river Thames, and further in the features illustrate the strides the industry has made over the last decades.
World tunnel congress
The international tunnelling industry will gather in Dubai towards the end of April for the 44th ITA General Assembly and World Tunnel Congress. This should be an interesting one.
Whenever I hear about whatever the ITA Committee for Underground Space (ITACUS) is up to, I think about that Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi. In it, she sings about a future world where humanity has “paved over paradise and put up a parking lot”.
At a presentation to a council meeting in the final week of January, Elon Musk’s tunnelling company presented plans to tunnel under western Los Angeles.
Advance through apathy
The Zojila Pass Tunnel may go ahead, finally, as it received government approval this month. The project is to build an all-weather road route to Jammu and Kashmir, featuring a 14km-long tunnel.
Montreal, home to miles of underground city amenities offering residents access to shopping, dinning, transit and entertainment, while connecting them to above ground buildings and facilities—a network especially appreciated during the harsh winter months—played a perfect host for Han Admiraal and Antonia Cornaro of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association’s Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS).
What’s the risk?
This month I am stealing a comment hook from the British Tunnelling Society again. At the October meeting, the evening’s lecture was on the management of risk in tunnelling and major infrastructure projects.
Bigger isn’t always bad
The global tunnelling industry is worth USD 1.5tr, according to a new report released in August by Timetric. Leading the pack is Europe, with a project pipeline of almost USD 575bn, surpassing Asia-Pacifi c by a mere USD 10bn. The report attributes this economic success for the region to mega-projects for high-speed and metro rail system expansion.
The Nuclear Solution
Balfour Beatty has announced that it is EDF Energy’s preferred bidder for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station tunnelling and marine works package. The four-year contract will involve the construction of three tunnels for a total of 9.5km in length and 7m in diameter. The tunnels will form part of the cooling system required.
Historians contend their subject matter’s utility helps us understand ourselves and the societies in which we live. To borrow an idea from civil engineering—we must understand the foundation before we build upon it. Looking beyond the literal interpretations, in the tunnelling industry without history one cannot appreciate the (comparative) ease, comfort and safety of today’s work environment and modern equipment.
Give the devil his due
Tunnelling unnerves a lot of people. Whether it’s something about the thought of a large hole being dug beneath the foundations of their property, the disruption of a few years of construction work, or the general idea of infrastructure being driven through a pleasant environment, it worries people. Especially environmental pressure groups.
It is a completely arbitrary number, pleasing only because it plays into a base 10 counting system, but compound growth of 7% results in a doubling time of 10 years. That’s what the growth of the tunnelling industry currently stands at according to the International Tunnelling Association (ITA), 7% per year which is expected to continue for the near future. Or at least the next five to 10 years.
In the UK the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has been running a tunnelling exhibition. It follows on the heels of an exhibition for bridges, which was rumoured to have attracted 15,000 visitors. The challenge given to the engineers of the British Tunnelling Society by the institution was to promote the event enough to beat this goal by the time the exhibit closes in November.
All the way up, all the way down
More rumblings from California as a SpaceX employee has posted a photo of Elon Musk’s newly acquired TBM to Instagram – before swiftly removing it. Before moving on, a quick glossary: SpaceX is the packleader of several companies that are vying to commercialise and reduce the cost of space travel; Elon Musk is its eccentric South African billionaire owner and Instagram is a social media platform for photographs that boasts 700 million users.
Approaching the age gap
Two-thirds of job openings for engineers in Canada are related to retirement replacement, according to a report released by the association Engineers Canada.
Confidence in conferences
Parallel technical sessions seem to irritate conference goers, with particularly awkward setups being remembered and discussed for years after the event.
In this issue we have a comment article written by Martin Knights, a past president of the International Tunnelling Association calling on engineers to “value their signature” and think about what they are putting their names to when they sign off on something. It starts on page 18 and is well worth a read.
Who gets to work
Voters in the US, particularly rural, uneducated voters, have said their support for president elect Donald Trump comes not from a place of hate, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, nor a disdain of liberal elitism. Their support is for his plan to bring manufacturing back to US soil, to create more jobs through lifting moratoriums on pipelines and natural resource extraction projects, and by building infrastructure—be it roads, wastewater or the notorious wall with Mexico.