The Brazilian city of Sao Paulo’s win of the World Tunnel Congress (WTC) 2014 is announced on a Wednesday morning. It’s 25 May in Helsinki, Finland, and WTC 2011 is already winding up. Exhibitors are ripping down posters, journalists are shaking off the previous night’s networking and the defeated WTC lobbyists from Sydney, Australia, and Singapore are nowhere to be found.

It’s hard to blame them. They have come a long way to be disappointed by the results of a vote that the victors did not even man a stand to lobby for. There are also whispers around WTC Helsinki that the city’s infrastructure is vastly unprepared for the FIFA World Cup in the same year. Still, Singapore had the congress in 2004 and Sydney in 2002 whereas Sao Paulo has not had the honour since 1998. Perhaps an argument for Brisbane would have been more successful.

But Bangkok in Thailand has the congress next year. This is a good sign for the Asia Pacific market. Usually the line is that, although not able to keep up in terms of the sheer financial muscle available to India and mainland China, Hong Kong (admittedly with central help) in particular, as well as Singapore are a godsend to the industry. It’s often the case that other countries in the region are forgotten. Definitely not a show to miss.

“We are excited to have the whole of the tunnelling world visit us in Bangkok,” a spokesman for the bid tells T&TI in Helsinki. “There is a lot going on and we have some great things planned. We are learning from the experience of previous WTC events; for example we will make sure we have bigger congress bags available!”

Malaysian straight and narrow
In Malaysia the commencement of the Sungai Buloh to Kajang line project on 8 July is the big news of the moment. The project delivery partner of this section of the Klang Valley MRT is a JV of Malaysia-based companies MMC and Gamuda. The 51km Sungai Buloh to Kajang line will have a total 9.5km underground, seven underground stations, 27 elevated stations and two depots on the alignment.

The Malaysian Government is trying to crack down on corruption in the construction industry. One official from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) describes construction as ‘one of the biggest culprits in the fight against bribery’. All contractors bidding for work on the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit mega project are required to twice sign a document known as the Integrity Pact; once with the tender application and then again upon award of a contract.

Officials are emphasising that corruption is now a criminal offence in Malaysia, with potential fines of five times the bribe and jail time for a number of offences, including paying rival contractors to withdraw bids, which is given a special mention by MACC.

As T&TI goes to press, the relevant government bodies, such as state-owned infrastructure client Prasarana are still evaluating contractor prequalifications for underground works, notably on the Sungai Buloh to Kajang section.

Breaking new ground in Japan
The Shinagawa road tunnel project broke through to the surface in May. This project involves the first use of a surface-launched TBM in Japan. The technique, developed by Obayashi using a special Hitachi Zosen machine, is known as the Ultra Rapid Under Pass (URUP) method. This enables a faster construction time due to the absence of a deep launch shaft. Obayashi says it was specifically developed for urban areas heavily congested with traffic. See also T&TI July p15 for a News In Depth article on the high advance rates achieved on the other half of the Shinagawa project, undertaken by Kajima with a 12.55m Kawasaki EPBM.

The 13.6m-outer diameter, 886m-long Shinagawa tunnel project kicked off in June 2008. Since then three further projects have opted for the URUP method. The Sagami Lengthwise Route, Kawajiri tunnel section (a road tunnel 826m long, 11.98m wide and 8.3m high) will be completed in 2012, as will the Higashi Kanto Expressway Yatsufunabashi IC Construction, a 70m road tunnel 4.8m wide and 2.15m high. URUP is also being used on the 1086m, 2.13m-diameter Tahara 2nd Trunk Line Mikawa Bay Crossing gas pipeline, set for completion in September.

As T&TI goes to press, a new Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda has been voted in to replace Naoto Kan, who is receiving criticism for his handling of the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami. A former finance minister under Naoto Kan, he is considered a fiscal conservative and believes in a tight control of public purse strings, however he inherits a stagnant economy and a divided party. He is also the sixth prime minister in five years. The situation may spur him towards grander schemes and projects.

Hong Kong smashes through recession
Since T&TI’s last look at Hong Kong in May, construction has begun on the Kwun Tong Line Extension (KTE). Kicked off on 25 July by Japanese contractor Nishimatsu, the 2.6km tunnelled extension from Yau Ma Tei Station to the new Whampoa Station will open in 2015. Arup is lead consultant on this project to upgrade Hong Kong’s oldest Mass Transit Railway (MTR) line.

Drill and blast tunnelling on the project is being undertaken by Nishimatsu. The Whampoa Station contract was awarded the JV of Chun Wo and Hip Hing in May. More recently, on 16 August, Arup was again chosen by Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation, this time in an equal partnership with Mott MacDonald, to design and supervise construction on the proposed Central Kowloon Route, running east-west across the Kowloon area of Hong Kong .

In Hong Kong, the MTR Corporation still holds sway over the tunnelling industry with vast infrastructure projects as it works towards its currently rail-focused master plan for the future of Hong Kong transport. It is often said that Hong Kong has more tunnelling work than any other city in the world, and deserves special attention.

Eric Chui, divisional director in titles and head of tunnelling and ground engineering for Atkins, based in Hong Kong, echoes this. “We are greatly expanding our activities in tunnelling. We already have 50 people in this tunnel design and consultancy team. It’s a lot – a very big team, and we are still employing people and looking to grow. There are a lot of opportunities in Hong Kong right now and even more to come in future.”

Chui cites the Central Kowloon Route which will go to tender in a few years as an example. He adds, “The land and property prices in Hong Kong are rising incredibly fast at the moment. This is leading to further studies of how to use underground space well.” (Readers interested in the intelligent use of underground space should see page 12 for a comment by Han Admiraal, chairman of the ITA Committee on Underground Space).

Chui continues, “The government is planning to relocate many of its facilities in underground caverns, for example. They are currently undertaking studies led by Arup, as well as working discussion groups to determine suitable locations. I expect it will take one year to conclude the study, with a design tender taking place in two years. The first construction contracts will probably be awarded in around four or five years.” Chui adds, “This is not the first time this sort of thing has been done in Hong Kong. Hong Kong University has made use of underground space for its WSD Service Reservoir, the Tai Koo Station for MTR, the Island West Transfer Station and the Kau Shat Wan Government Explosives Store.”

He says that the economy is relatively untouched by the global recession. It is not something that is really felt in Hong Kong. However, he does note that the high level of global tunnelling demand does result in a noticeable shortage of skilled labour available to him. “Take Atkins; we are very busy with our work in the UK. On Crossrail for example we got a good share of the work there.

“In Australia too there is a lot of work coming through and our teams in the Middle East are busy as there are many opportunities there. Perhaps in a year we will have some people released from Crossrail and that will be useful, but at the moment our skilled workforce is busy with a lot of good, challenging work – there is so much tunnelling work in the world. Having said that our team here is large and expanding as I said. I think we, and also our competition, are experiencing a good period of growth. It is positive.”

In Hong Kong, Chui tells T&TI, the tunnelling industry has evolved to fit the Special Administrative Region’s needs very quickly, resulting in quickly changing trends and a great variety of tunnelling projects. He says that in the years 2004-2008/9 it was very much the era of the water tunnels, involving projects such as Lai Chi Kok, Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) 2a and the Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel. From 2007 onwards, rail tunnels came to prominence with jobs on the West Island

Line, the Express Rail Link project and the South Island Line. He adds that in future he expects the continuation of rail work and an enormous leap in road/highway tunnelling, with projects such as the Central Kowloon Route, Tunnel T2, the Hong Kong Link Road and the Tuen Mun to Chek Lap Kok Link. As detailed above, the use of caverns to move facilities and utilities underground will also be seen.

As T&TI goes to press, Leighton has announced that its chairman, David Mortimer has resigned from the board of directors effective immediately. CEO David Stewart was also let go. Just as quickly, Stephen Johns is announced to have replaced Mortimer with Hamish Tyrwhitt as the new CEO and managing director. Local press have described the situation as anything from a ‘shake up’ to a ‘blood let’.

It has been a tumultuous month for the Australia-based contracting group, with the announcement earlier in August that the group records an after tax loss of AUD 409M (USD 427M) for the 2010/11 financial year. Possibly reassuring reading for the local market, the reason for this appears to be unexpectedly high costs on key projects such as the Brisbane Airport Link and Victoria Desalination projects in Australia. Leighton Asia, a subsidiary of Leighton Holdings, is a major player in Hong Kong and the rest of the Asia Pacific region.

Like the Hong Kong MTR, the Singapore LTA holds the purse strings for tunneling projects in its country. New contract awards for the Singapore Downtown Lines (DTL) for the past months have become routine, such is the scope of the work. Notable recent works on the Beauty World Station and associated tunnels by contractor McConnell Dowell are covered in a News in Depth article in T&TI July 2011.

Space does not permit a detailed look at Singapore and Hong Kong in the same article, which is not intended as a slight to Singapore the LTA’s impressive Transport Masterplan, which includes the doubling of its underground metro network.

Some 12 years on from the publication of the masterplan, the city-state is on target to construct 140km of tunnels by 2020. The country is just as much a heavyweight of the industry as Hong Kong.

Ready to start the Shinagawa road tunnel in Japan, Obayashi’s Hitach Zosen TBM being used in the Ultra Rapid Under Pass (URUP) method The Hitachi Zosen TBM begins its journey from the surface. All photos by H. Nishiyama