Holding out for a hero

27 July 2015

As I write this comment the Greek banks have closed. Accounts, and non-internal payments for the majority of account holders have been frozen and queues of people are lining up on the high streets to withdraw no more than EUR 60 (USD 66.88) per day. Some hours from now it is due to repay EUR 1.6bn (USD 1.78bn) to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but it has just requested a new two-year EUR 29.1bn aid deal from a bailout mechanism that is in place for Eurozone countries.

No decision on this has been made, and although Greece's public debt stands at EUR 323bn (USD 360bn), no advanced economy has ever missed a payment on an IMF loan, and the possibility of Greece leaving the Euro looms.

For the next issue of Tunnels and Tunnelling we have been preparing to publish a feature covering the development of Greek tunnelling projects before, during, and after the global financial crisis but for the moment the headlines are staying unwritten.

Greece's tunnelling market has been marked by extremes for the last few decades. Before 1990, there was relatively little tunnelling activity in the country; even Athens didn't have a true underground metro system (with the exception of a limited cut and cover section).

Between then and the crash of 2007 however, Greek tunnelling had it good. European Union funding, and a strong pipeline of planned works, and PPP-led ventures saw tunnels being constructed across all sectors (specifics in next month's feature). And due to the nature of Greek geology and topography, much of this work was quite deep and challenging to ventilate.

The Greeks are rightly proud of their innovations in this area.

However, severe delays struck projects following the crash. Fortunately major projects already under construction at the end of 2009 were not abandoned according to the Greek Tunnelling Society (GTS). Seeming to prove the saying that tunnelling projects are too big to fail. In the light of Greece's growing financial woes, hopefully that stays the case.

Speaking at the British Tunnelling Society's Design and Construction Course at Warwick University, CH2M managing director for tunnelling and earth engineering Martin Knights paid tribute to Mayor of London Boris Johnson as a "champion for British tunnelling".

During a presentation on innovative uses for underground space worldwide, Knights emphasised the importance of having a champion, no matter what you do. He also couldn't fail to mention the pipeline of underground work now looming for Britain. The best in living memory.

Austerity is a bitter medicine, especially when a country is trying to boost its economy and employment figures, and not just cut its deficit.

Hopefully Greece gets its champion, and the funding to continue its innovative tunnelling work.