Underground Movement

3 May 2019

Tunnels and Tunnelling turns 50 this month. Here follows the magazine’s first ever editorial, reprinted in tribute to the founding editor:

That traditional introspection that specialisation fosters is yielding among the tunnelling fraternity to a more international outlook as markets develop in almost every urban centre, pressed as they all are by the transport, power and hygiene needs of expanding populations. From Bangkok to Mexico, London to Mozambique sewer, road, rail and power tunnels proliferate. As markets grow techniques are refined, competition sharpened and possibilities raised that were undreamed of even a few years ago.

With such improving techniques and larger and more robust equipment, underground work is becoming faster and more and more competitive with work above ground Nor is demand lagging far behind. In those densely populated countries where needs are greatest, it is sometimes physically impossible to accommodate all desirable works on the surface, taking into account problems of land ownership and occupation, disturbance to existing properties and people, and the articulate protestations at the loss of other, less quantifiable amenities. Those earlier pastoral outcries at the landscape despoiled by pylons are, some feel, mere auguries of greater urban outcry to come, as the degree of disruption entailed is revealed in more and more plans for essential reconstruction.

But the solution of such urban service problems is not the limit of tunnelling capability. Tunnelling – always a basic civil engineering exercise – has developed as a speciality in its own right, and now forms an essential part of more and more general service projects from remote nuclear power stations to city drainage schemes.

Lengths and sizes of tunnel which were unthinkable even 10 years ago are now commonplace and the record in length of over 50 miles [80km] in South Africa will not stay unbroken indefinitely.

But tunnelling on this scale requires the interaction of more than its own speciality: if its benefits are to be properly exploited it must involve town planners as much as rock mechanics engineers.

It will be the function of Tunnels and Tunnelling to reflect the common interest of these disparate disciplines at the point at which they meet: to provide a forum in fact for the general advancement of tunnelling expertise and a medium for the specific expression of those exercising it, be it in planning, design, construction or operation of whatever type of tunnel.