Is This the Golden Age of Tunneling?

Jim2 A post on LinkedIn caught my attention recently. It was an article written by a London-based physicist Laura Winkless titled “You May Not Know It, But You’re Living in the Golden Age of Tunneling.”

She starts out by stating that there have been more record-breaking tunnels built since 2000 than in the previous 150 years, notably 30 of the world’s 50 longest tunnels. Additionally, 20 tunnel projects under way are 9 miles or more, with another 10 to 15 in the planning stages.

Cited in the article is the Gotthard Base Tunnel in the Alps which opened this year. The Gotthard Tunnel, nearly two decades in the making, comprises twin tunnels 35 miles long. Not only is the project noteworthy due to the length, but they are also the deepest rail tunnels constructed to date. Mega TBMs in Hong Kong and Seattle are also pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

RELATED: Gotthard Base Tunnel Celebrates Opening

Here in North America, there have also been recent advances and new projects and programs that are actively improving our cities in terms of transportation and water and wastewater conveyance. One of the most complex projects undertaken, which is plugging along toward completion, is the East Side Access project in New York, basically involving building new train lines and a station underneath Grand Central Terminal in one of the most heavily-trafficked area in the United States. In addition to the Alaskan Way project in Seattle, the City of Los Angeles is in the midst of a massive transit expansion project with three mega-projects under construction.

Of course an expanding population, aging infrastructure and increased urbanization are among the drivers, but Winkless also points out that the cost of building tunnels is going down 4% annually – which bodes well for the industry’s future.

So, are we living in the Golden Age of Tunneling? I would be interested in hearing your comments.

2016 in Review

As we send out the last print issue of TBM: Tunnel Business Magazine for the year (fear not, there is plenty of great content posted regularly here on tunnelingonline.com), I began to reflect on the biggest developments of the year. There were many, but here are my top choices:

  • USA hosts the World Tunnel Congress: The International Tunnelling Association’s annual conference draws leaders from across the globe, and this year we were fortunate to host the event in San Francisco. Held April 22-28, the 2016 World Tunnel Congress broke the attendance record with more than 2,300 delegates.
  • Bertha resumes mining: After an extended downtime due to equipment repairs and a sinkhole, Bertha, the TBM mining the Alaskan Way tunnel in Seattle is up and running. The massive machine recently passed the halfway point and is on pace to complete its journey next summer.
  • Mergers and acquisitions: In June it was announced that The Robbins Co., renowned worldwide for its tunnel boring machines, joined forces with Northern Heavy Industries (NHI) of China. The deal highlights China’s growing footprint in the tunneling market while expanding Robbins; manufacturing and rebuild capability worldwide.

What are your top developments from the year? Again, I would be happy to share your thoughts about this dynamic industry in which we work. In the meantime, best wishes to all for the holiday season and wishing you a happy and prosperous 2017.


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Jim Rush

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