Space below, time above

26 September 2022

Most often, the focus of discussion surrounding projects can be about how tunnelling is being done or could have been executed. Attention is paid to process details, to design but most of all to the many choices for construction, and then the details of equipment and materials, and logistics and cost, and minimising risk while overcoming what surprises the ground may reveal as tunnels advance.

Familiar particulars.

As noted recently, though, the discussion around tunnels is widening. The driver for the expansion is, primarily, the increasing impetus to support sustainability. Points around the need for more resilience in underground assets are also coming more to the fore. In discussions, they are often bundled in sentences but the distinctions between them, how and where they usefully overlap, need clarification.

All these points, and more, had airtime and discussions on the sidelines of the World Tunnel Congress, in Copenhagen (WTC 2022), earlier this month. There was much talk of the fine details of tunnelling technicalities and all the way out to prod at the broadest of themes. A whole spectrum of increasingly varied demands.

A further aspect of the widening views is the potential to create ability to serve multiple uses, over the short and long term. If that were to be so, projects would not keep pursuing mainly single choice use of the finite resources represented by each underground space corridor.

Together, then, these are rising calls upon the tunnelling industry. Calls for more engagement, more communication, more ways of assessment.

Increased understanding.

What, exactly, does someone mean when talking about sustainability? Resilience? How vague or precise are their concepts and terms, and tools? Do different parties see things the same way and mean the same thing when talking? Can there be workable, contractual agreement or is there only green fog?

Conversations. Taking time. But time arguably is pressing. Frameworks shift only if wished so.

Patrick Reynolds Editor