World Tunnel Congress 2017 Gathers in Norway

Held in Bergen, Norway from June 9-15 by the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) and the Norwegian Tunnelling Society (NFF), the World Tunnel Congress 2017 and 43rd ITA General Assembly were a momentous occasion and an undoubted success for the global tunneling industry.

During the six days, over 1,500 delegates – experts, academics, civil and tunnel engineers – shared their experiences, methodologies and state-of-the-art technologies on different aspects of tunneling and underground construction. Key issues faced by the industry were discussed in order to achieve a unified industry response to the surface challenges that affect urban populations.

A serene classical music introduction by the Holbergsuiten Grieg ensemble, and an opening speech given by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway, were followed by the warm welcome given by ITA President Tarcisio Celestino. This paved the way for the start of the congress.

From this point flowed presentations, working groups, seminars and site visits. With 340 technical papers and 120 lectures, the World Tunnel Congress has once again consolidated its position as the world’s premier tunneling event.

Global Tunneling Market Study

During WTC 2017, the ITA released its latest market survey highlighting the economic trends in global tunneling. If 2016 was an excellent year, then the future is definitely bright. With a total €86bn global output for tunnel and underground space construction in 2016, which represents a 23% increase over the figure for 2013, the industry’s prospects for the coming years look to be very positive.

A few noteworthy factors have emerged, notably the rise of the Middle East as a strong market with its $11.3 billion output in 2016 comparable to that of Europe ($10.8 billion). Also on the rise is the Indian market that has doubled in three years. The European market however remains stable. China by itself represents about 50% of the world market.

The key future trend in tunneling is undoubtedly the correlation between tunnels and sustainable development. Throughout the world, major underground projects are characterized by their sustainable credentials: for example, many cities are now building tunnels for the temporary storage of storm water (typically 5 to 10 m diameter and several km long). Metro tunnels are increasingly used to alleviate traffic and reduce air pollution in most cities in China, with similar huge developments on the horizon in India, in addition to recent projects in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The ITA analysis predicts a global output in tunnel construction of around $750 billion, representing a pipeline of work of more than eight years. The total combined projects for India, South-East Asia and China match the total for Europe, and together they represent 75% of the global tunnelling output.

Nigeria Joins ITA

Nigeria was officially welcomed as the 74th member nation and represented by Mr. Abidemi Agwor, President of Tunnelling Association Nigeria. Nigeria is the 7th most populous nation in the world and its population is expected to grow rapidly to become the 3rd most populous nation in the world behind China and then India which is expected to leap frog China to the first in the next 20 years. In 2015, 57,757,000 people in Nigeria lacked access to “improved” water. A 2006 study estimated that only 1% of Lagos households were connected to sewers.

The new membership of Nigeria into the ITA shows the strong determination of the Africa’s most powerful economy, which represents more than $500 billion with a capacity to grow at rates greater than 5 percent yearly, as demonstrated in the 6.2% growth rate before slowing down in 2015.

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A lot of things have already been done in order to improve the situation: Lagos has four wastewater treatment plants which have been rehabilitated around 2010. From 2011, the state planned to build 10 new “mega wastewater treatment plants” over a 5-year period with the help of private investors. The National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan launched in December 2013 proposed a yearly spend of $30 billion over the next 5 years.

“Membership of the ITA will certainly boost the efforts that have previously been put into initiating the extensive promotion of using our underground space in Nigeria. We have set ourselves a 10-year strategic plan which we expect not just to achieve but surpass and being a member nation of the ITA is key to us meeting these goals. As an association with global relevance, part of our objectives is to promote the sustainable development goals as set by the United Nations especially the goals that directly affect water and sewage, infrastructure and habitable environment, we are aware that these are also core global objectives of the ITA.” Agwor said.

Malaysia Wins WTC 2020 Bid

On Wednesday 14th June, during the ITA General Assembly, the 74 member nations of the ITA elected the host nation for WTC 2020. After rigorous scrutiny of the three applicants, the winner was Malaysia with 30 votes, against 22 for Australia.

Co-organized with The Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM), the 2020 World Tunnel Congress will have as its theme “Innovation and Sustainable Underground Serving Global Connectivity.”

Malaysia is experiencing steady growth in urban areas and therefore requires improved infrastructure in transportation and energy. Recently, the country launched successful urban underground projects such as: the SMART project to provide a storm water storage reservoir and a 9.7-km, 11.8-m diameter bypass tunnel; Pahang-Selangor Raw Water Transfer Tunnel, which can deliver 1.89 billion liters per day, and the Mass Rapid Transit, a rail-based public transport network.

WTC 2018 will be held in Dubai, April 20-26, and WTC 2019 will be in Naples, Italy, May 3-9, 2019.

Muir Wood Lecture

Now a much-anticipated event at WTC, this year’s Muir Wood lecture was given by Professor Hakan Stille of The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. The theme was “Geological Uncertainties in Tunneling – Risk Assessment and Quality Assurance” and Prof Stile noted that compared to other civil engineering projects, the greater uncertainties in rock tunneling may require adapting various standards to suit underground projects. The tunneling industry needs an appropriate project model based on tollgates and milestones that is applicable to rock engineering based on the epistemic nature of geological uncertainties and which can be minimized by updated observation and investigation.

Creation of Working Group 22

The creation of the Working Group 22 was agreed by the ITA General Assembly, around “Information Modeling in Tunneling.” This group gathers Australia, Austria, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Norway, Slovenia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Its animator is Dr. Jurij Karlovsek and vice animateur is Mr. Paolo Cucino.

This working group aims to study “Building Information Modeling” software’s application for the underground construction. Identifying the differences between civil engineering and underground construction and ensure that BIM respects these differences is one of the main goal of this group. It also focuses on the development of common procedures based on experiences and lessons learned including other engineering fields.

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