Talking tunnels

16 April 2012

In ‘his’ first appearance for some years Drifter, the old T&T favourite, returns on page 58 to urge tunnellers to be more talkative. He calls for everyone to become more vocal in his or her support of the industry and in educating others on the importance of underground infrastructure. In a similar vein, the incoming and outgoing chairs of the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) argue the importance of raising tunnelling awareness with politicians and clients. Damian McGirr and Bob Ibell argue that a steady future workload can be achieved by ensuring each city planner has the use of underground space firmly on the agenda. McGirr says the BTS will be central in making this happen.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Underground Space (APGUS), in which the BTS plays a full part, has done some excellent work in raising awareness in the UK House of Commons, creating several enthusiasts, but perhaps a wider campaign is necessary to reach a frequently sceptical public. And on the world stage the International Tunnelling Association (ITA) continues to make strides in this effort.

London Mayor Boris Johnson brought tunnelling into the national spotlight with the launch of the first Crossrail TBMs (see news page 5). The launch of the machines was carefully timed with the launch of his re-election campaign for Mayor. The industry should be glad, or at least flattered, that he has apparently been converted from bridge to tunnel for a proposed new crossing of the River Thames, and has backed tunnels to improve the route of the now-approved HS2 high-speed rail route through north London to the Midlands and North West.

With the Crossrail project on schedule and a good level of PR from its team, tunneling is portrayed as the end of jam-packed trains, the saviour of the disgruntled commuter. One can only hope, but should not lose site of the importance of the less glamorous major upgrade of Transport for London's London Underground network to cope with booming passenger levels.

However, the Crossrail photo opportunity was overshadowed in the international press as Swiss investigators said they would be looking at tunnel design as a potential cause of a bus crash that killed 28 people in the Sierre tunnel, including 22 children. The bus is thought to have clipped a kerb in the Swiss tunnel and swerved into a service bay. The bay ended with a head on wall where the bus crashed. Investigators from the Swiss Federal Office for Roads are analysing whether an angled wall at the end of the service bay could have lessened the severity of the crash.

Switzerland, like most countries, knows it could not function without tunnels, but insists on the highest standards of safety and construction. It is no time for the industry to rest on its laurels.

There is no central point for managing the image of the tunnelling industry. It is up to each and every tunneller to meet this challenge and further the profession's reputation. For good reason the general public has frequently kept tunnelling at arms reach with a NIMBY attitude. As tunnelling becomes, safer, quicker, better value for money, and essential for growth, tunnellers need to be vocal in explaining, supporting and when necessary defending the industry and colleagues.

This issue of T&TI is packed with successful projects that all stand testament to the industry's ability. When you've finished reading, pass this magazine onto the next person and start spreading the understanding of tunnelling.