Directors of various short courses for the underground construction industry are seeing increasing opportunities to cover new topics while reinforcing construction and engineering fundamentals. Beyond options for tunnel specific programs available each year, there are also courses that have found success offering in-depth curriculum on topics that seemingly go uncovered in formal civil engineering education. The annual Grouting Fundamentals & Current Practice short course is offered through Texas Engineering Executive Education at the University of Texas at Austin. This five-day course is in its 39th year, running February 12-16. Professional registration is USD 2,325 for the full session, which includes instructional materials, continental breakfast, lunch, and refreshments, and there are discounted rates for students. Scott Kieffer is the director and organiser of the course, and also a professor of engineering geology at Graz University of Technology in Austria. He attributes much of the course’s success to its organisation: “Even though it involves practitioners—about 90 per cent—and not academics, we organise it from a university perspective because we don’t want commercial interests to enter the course.”

Looking back to the program’s inception by Norbert Schmidt at the University of Missouri Rolla he explains despite its importance for all civil engineering works grouting is not taught in universities.

“I think that was the impetus of Norbert Schmidt—the idea that we need to engage the best practitioners there are and we need to do something that can really cover this gap.”

Kieffer says what Schmidt was able to do and maintain is still the founding principle for the course: Engage the best talent. “No matter where in the world we’ll fly them to course, spare no expense. We’ll make the finances work because you have to engage the best professionals, and bring them here.”

He adds that they are aware it’s a big investment—both in the price and the time to attend—and that it is imperative to provide a good comprehensive grouting education.

“One of the things in the course evaluations is ‘do you get good value for this course,’ and hands down, 99.5 per cent, absolutely [say] the value is good.”

The focus is not strictly on grouting for tunnelling. Organisers say the course covers pressure grouting as a method to improve geotechnical properties of soils and rock masses, with special focus on mechanisms, theories, and practical applications of grouting to ground densification and strengthening, permeability reduction and groundwater cutoffs.

“The key is in any grouting method, and many of them are used in tunnelling, you’ve got to understand the fundamentals,” Kieffer says. “So it’s not a tunnelling course, but absolutely the knowledge is so pertinent on tunnel projects.”

He explains instructors are among the biggest names in grouting, Jim Warner, Donald Bruce, Cliff Kettle and George Burke, for example, many of which have been involved in and teaching the course for the last 30 years. “If you look at the average tenure of the faculty of the course, it’s something of 10-15 years,” he says.

“On the other side of that median we’re always bringing in fresh blood. The course is fundamentals and current practice. The fundamentals don’t change from day to day, they do evolve. The current practice—what’s cutting edge, what are the new materials, the new methods—they change with time.”

Over the years Kieffer estimates some 2,500 people have attended the course from all over the world. “You just have to look at where the big dam projects are,” he says, adding, often major engineering works or refurbishment projects in Africa, India, Asia, will be represented in any given year.

“By and large we’ve got a lot of contractors that are coming to the course, they are sending their engineers to the course because they are either in the market or getting into the market for grouting.”

They also see a lot owners attending the course. “They can represent a significant portion of our attendance: owners of hydropower facilities, water resource facilities, also municipalities taking on big tunnelling projects.”

He adds that design engineers do attend the course, and the contractors can range from some of the biggest names in North America to smaller “mom and pop” operations.

There are also repeat attendees, people he’s observed five or six times over the last 15 years. “If you’re going to be serious about grouting this is a good knowledge base, a good group of experts.” SUBSURFACE UTILITIES

The Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) at Louisiana Tech started in the late 1980s when the director Tom Iseley joined the civil engineering department and had an idea for promoting the science and practice behind the trenchless technology industry. This focus eventually became the TTC.

“Primarily over the years we’ve done research work and development work on every aspect of trenchless technology, and that includes everything from coming up with an initial concept and then getting funding through research organisations like the NSF, and all the way through to commercialisation,” Iseley says.

He explains it’s more than simply routine testing. TTC looks to work with organisations developing products and materials who may need help finding ways to improve an idea. For example, one of the first largest projects it worked on with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1990 focused on microtunnelling, directional drilling and liner systems. “In the early ‘90s those technologies were fairly new,” he comments. Around the same time TTC specifications, standards and contracts. That’s why we have people from the DOT and consultants.”

The second school TTC developed covers GPR utility investigation and that focuses on location, mapping and coordination of different utilities. Much of the content is based on the ASCE 3802 standard, Iseley explains. This is the second time TTC is holding the utility investigation school following its inaugural session in 2016. The school runs from February 26 to March 2 and registration is USD 1,595.

Attendees at the utility investigation school are often consulting engineers, and people from the DOT who are involved in right of way management and relocating utilities. “This is all about trying to find the utilities before the contractor shows up—to put them in the design, in the planning process,” he explains.

The five-day program is generally their model for these speciality schools, and when previously offered an option to attend for three or five days a vast majority of attendees chose the later. “What we found out is if we offer really good, solid content, people will gladly come all the way to western Louisiana and spend a week here.”

Iseley adds, “that gives us more time to really work with people. We’re not just covering the general information but trying to get into more depth, and give people a real hands-on field experience.”

For example in the utility investigation school they will cover geophysics and the geophysical tools for location, but the speciality school is not designed to teach people to use a GPR system, “It’s getting into more of the design issues of what happens when you have problems with underground utilities.”

TTC plans to hold each the auger boring and GPR schools on an annual or 18-month basis. Down the road it is planning two more schools looking at pipeline condition assessment and curing systems for structures—such as shotcrete and different types of polymeric materials. These two new programs should be held later in 2018 or early 2019.


The RETC/NAT conferences held alternating years by the Underground Construction Association offer one-day short courses as part of the event, with separate registration. There are short courses specifically covering the topic of tunnelling, which are offered separate from any conference or trade show. Levent Ozdemir is the director of the Breakthroughs in Tunnelling short course. He’s currently a consultant to the tunnelling industry and a retired professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Describing the program he explains, “essentially we are striving to cover the latest developments in tunnelling.”

Ozdemir initially was organising a one-day event in conjunction with the annual RETC/NAT conferences, the first in Boston in 1994. He says while every year the courses were well attended, what could be covered was limited in one day. People in the industry suggested extending the course and he began running a three-day event, going into more detail on a variety of topics. He’s been running Breakthroughs in Tunnelling as a separate three-day course since 2007, and eventually this spurred the development of a similar course for microtunnelling. He attributes much of the course’s success to the speakers and range of topics. “We do bring the most prominent people from the industry. We cover everything from site investigations, to design and contracting, reporting and ground improvement, legal issues, and construction management, everything. “It provides a very good forum for the exchange of ideas. We keep it informal—attendees mingle with the speakers, and they have a chance to discuss their projects.” Ozdemir describes the classroom setting as a place more informal than a typical conference session. During presentations attendees are encouraged to ask questions and share comments. “I don’t have a set time for questions and sometimes we get a lively discussion going and we allow it to go,” he says. There are also lunches, coffee breaks and other social events for attendees, and speakers alike, to network.

“A lot of our speakers are very busy people but a lot of them stay for the whole duration of the course, just to see what’s out there, what’s the latest? It’s a learning experience for them too,” he adds.

The attendees are a mixture of tunnellers and other professionals. Companies often send younger engineers to learn the latest technology, as well as seasoned professionals. There is participation from owners, engineers, contractors, manufacturers and construction attorneys. “Everyone in there is in the industry and has some knowledge of the industry. Some of the presentations might be basic but we do have some really high level—say a talk about NATM design where we get into detail.”

The course uses attendee feedback to help determine what topics might be especially useful to cover in the future. “We modify or upgrade the program every year. For example there was a lot of interest in new ground improvement techniques, so I started devoting more time to ground improvement—process control, the sophisticated computerised instrumentation and recording.”

In the last few years Ozdemir has observed rising interest in the topic of risk management and risk mitigation, as underground projects become increasingly complex. While it’s a topic he covers organisers decided to develop a separate course solely dedicated to risk management in underground construction. He says the first two sessions, held in 2016 and 2017, were very successful. The dates and venue for 2018 will be announced later this year.

Registration will also be available later this year for the Breakthroughs short course. The Annual Microtunneling Short Course and Pilot Tube Seminar is February 5-8 in Boulder, Colorado, and registration for both is USD 1,950.


The Center for Underground Construction and Tunneling at the Colorado School of Mines also offers an annual tunnelling short course and an annual short course in underground grouting and ground improvement.

Director Mike Mooney says, “we have approximately 150 attendees every year for the industry tunnelling course. We blend classroom lectures by industry leaders with hands-on laboratories across many aspects of tunnelling including soil conditioning, grouting, shotcrete, rock cutting, abrasivity and wear, slurries, TBM simulator and engineering geology.

“We have laboratory and simulator facilities in the center that provide tremendous training opportunities for the industry. Our EPB TBM simulator, for example, allows participants to see how to control ground deformation through TBM tunnelling.” In the subject of topics, Mooney explains that they teach conventional and TBM tunnelling in hard rock, soft ground and mixed ground. “We teach about both hard rock open mode TBMs and closed mode pressure balance TBMs for soft and mixed ground.

“We also bring in industry TBM manufacturers to complement our lectures, such as chief engineer Dennis Ofiara from Robbins for hard rock TBMs and chief engineer Werner Burger from Herrenknecht on pressure balance TBMs for soft and mixed ground. We also invited Bouygues construction to teach on the largest SPB TBM recently used in Hong Kong and Seattle Tunnel Partners to teach on the largest EPB TBM in the world.” Mooney clarifies that they usually update topics every year.

“I work with soft ground TBM tunnelling in urban environments and I can say that we learn more and more every year about these TBMs and how they perform,” says Mooney. “One good example is the improving ground control performance and decreasing volume loss that results in urban TBM tunnelling projects. We upgrade the content of the course with this new information.”

He says, “large diameter tunnelling is a relatively new topic for most engineers in the industry. However, we take a lot of input from the industry. In our research, consulting and general outreach, we work with many designers and contractors on active projects worldwide. We keep up quite carefully with contemporary topics and owner needs. We also essentially paraphrase from our masters program in tunnel engineering that covers all of the short course topics but in much greater detail.”

Mooney also explains that in North America many of the engineers working in tunnelling were not formally trained in tunnel engineering. Thus, such course serves as a very valuable educational experience for them.

The Tunneling Fundamentals, Practice and Innovations course is October 15- 18, in Golden Colorado. Registration is open for the Grouting and Ground Improvement course May 14-16, which is USD 1,400 before March 14.