Experience what’s out there

21 October 2019

A tunnel is roughly defined, when a definition can be narrowed down at all. A drive time radio host sharing the traffic report will refer to a surface-level enclosed road as a tunnel, or a pedestrian walkway in a culvert, or even an eight lane overpass. When I started working with Tunnels & Tunnelling the general guidelines for covering a project were, at least a kilometer long, and at least eight feet in diameter. The specific numbers aren’t as important, though, as what they signify—the need to excavate without disrupting the surface.

Now there are diameters in the microtunnelling or trenchless arena that encroach those smaller “tunnel” diameters. The joint TAC and NASTT-NW conference in Edmonton last autumn offered players in both industries the chance to share knowledge and lessons learned. There are companies who seek out work in both diameters, including manufacturers, designers and contractors, but largely they are separate: tunnels and utilities.

Likewise, as the mining industry increasingly considers TBMs to enable extraction at greater depths, among more complex geology, tunnellers have an opportunity to share and gain insight. On page 33 you’ll find a preview for a shaft construction event in Toronto. This is a 60-year-old event being held outside of the United Kingdom for the first time. While geared to support mining infrastructure, it’s worth asking to whom will these companies look when they need to launch a TBM at a new mine?

Another article in this issue focuses on a collaboration between TAC and the China Railway Society, which is one of many signs that the industry does well sharing its knowledge across nations.

Tunnelling, while largely beholden to public agencies and their ever-changing budgets and political leaders, may feel as if it is not only literally concerned with the space between a rock and a hard place, but figuratively as well. However, it is well-positioned among trenchless, mining and other components of geotechnical and civil engineering to benefit from a plethora of knowledge, research and development, and lessons learned. Only if it takes it.

As the school year starts and crops of new freshman arrive at university campuses across the world, they are reminded by those around them to take every opportunity, to try something new, to experience as much as they can in the very short period of their undergrad career.

These leaders and advisors are mistaken in thinking there’s an expiration date for this pursuit, and especially in implying it.