Enrique Fernández González passed away on 24 March in a tragic motorcycle accident near his home in Madrid. His sudden loss left a deep feeling of grief among his family, friends and many people within the tunnel industry. These lines aim to honour the excellent, professional colleague and true friend whom I count myself lucky to have met.

Enrique Fernández was born in Oviedo, in the north of Spain on 30 June 1960. He lived there with his parents and brother and from a very young age he pursued a passion for road cycling. He decided to become an aeroplane pilot, but his father suddenly died when Enrique was 16. His pragmatism drove him to study mining engineering and so stay in his hometown instead of entering into the airforce academy in the south of Spain. In this way he came into the tunnelling world through unexpected circumstances, but he soon learnt to love it.

Enrique graduated from Oviedo University with First Class Honours in Mining Engineering studies in 1985. As soon as he graduated he joined Arthur Andersen and worked in the region auditing coal mines for three years. When he realised that he wanted to be an active part of the tunnelling industry he decided to join Dragados in 1988, initiating a brilliant professional tunnelling career.

Enrique worked on tunnelling sites with Dragados for 12 years, starting in Cordoba, Spain, on the High Speed Railway as shift engineer. In 1990 he moved to Toulouse, France, to work on a metro project as tunnel manager, in the first TBM used by Dragados. In 1991 he returned to Spain to work as a tunnel manager on different projects. By 1993, and with eight years of work experience, Enrique had worked on-site in projects using all tunnelling techniques available at that time: drill and blast, sequential excavation methods with excavators and roadheaders, and TBMs.

Between 1994 and 1999 he moved to Thailand to work as construction manager for the civil works of the Lam Ta Kong pumped storage hydro scheme. The project was in a remote area and forced him to become even more pragmatic and innovative to integrate the best techniques available into construction means and methods, to be carried out by local workers.

Some of the most challenging underground elements on the project were deep shafts, the big size turbines cavern and two 45° inclined 503m-long penstocks. Enrique led the development and implementation of an innovative, full-face down-excavation system, based on a single carrier, fitting all the equipment needed to perform the excavation cycle overlapping activities as much as possible.

Over these 12 years working on sites for different tunnel projects he gained extensive construction experience and was recruited to join the tunnelling team within the Dragados Technical Directorate based in Madrid in 1999. In 2004 Enrique was promoted to the head of tunnelling within Dragados Technical Directorate, and worked there until July 2018 when Dragados created a new engineering company called gGravity Engineering, into which the former Technical Directorate was integrated.

During these 20 fruitful years in the Tunnelling Technical Directorate, Enrique led bids and supported projects all over the world, and also contributed to the industry by sharing his knowledge in technical papers and conferences, and as a professor at the AETOS Tunnel Masters course (among other institutions).

Enrique was part of a group of engineers leading extensive tunnel projects constructed in Spain in the early 2000s, including:

  • Long and deep base tunnels for high speed railway lines at Guadarrama, Abdalajís and Pajares;
  • Metro extensions in cities such as Madrid, Seville and Barcelona, including a 12m-diameter TBM (constituting a world record at the time) in complex ground conditions;
  • Road tunnels with sequential excavation methods and a 15m world record EPBM

He took part on Dragados international expansion, as he contributed to use the vast experience gained on these projects, and adapt it to the new circumstances encountered on every country and situation. He actively helped to succeed on tunnel bids, but also to build projects such as East Side Access in New York, Crossrail C305 tunnels in London, Crosslinx Eglinton Tunnels and Stations in Toronto, the CSST project in Ottawa and North West Rail Link and WestConnex Stage 2 projects in Sydney among many others. Some of these projects are briefly described below.

Los bronces tunnel

Working with Seli in 2008, Enrique led the development and implementation of a new type of TBM system, the double compact shield, for the excavation of an 8km-long, 4.5m-diameter exploratory tunnel in variable rock conditions for the Los Bronces mine in Chile. The tunnel runs at an elevation of 3,600m a.s.l. and crosses a variety of geological formations of hard and sound rocks with some predicted faults and weathered areas.

The project was originally planned to use drill and blast techniques with rail-mounted equipment due to the logistical difficulties of accessing the site, the restricted spaces for the portal installations and the required flexibility in relation to geology and rock.

The new TBM concept allowed the installation of rock bolts and wire mesh in good ground conditions using the grippers to advance, but also allowed excavation through poor ground conditions, the installation of steel segments, and the use of auxiliary thrust cylinders to push the machine. The compact design of the machine, combined with a logistical cavern to launch and operate the TBM, protected the work site from the extreme weather conditions and allowed the contractor to substantially reduce the construction program and to increase safety.

Alaskan way viaduct replacement

One of the most challenging projects in which Enrique took part was the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle with a single bore tunnel using a 17.5m-diameter EPBM. He contributed to the Dragados tunnelling approach from early on and had a key role during the bid, the detailed design and construction stages using this world-record TBM. Plenty of technical challenges had to be solved to conceive and use this mega TBM in the heterogeneous ground conditions local to Seattle. The machine itself was 2m larger in diameter than the previous biggest TBM ever used before, with a 27 per cent larger cross section.

Ottawa LRT

Ottawa’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, the Confederation Line, involved 2.6km of running tunnel and three stations. Enrique led the fully-mined option to develop the LRT through the downtown core with minimal impact to the city.

The mined option for station caverns minimised utility relocation constraints and enhanced the construction control. Additionally, it minimised the social cost associated to construction compared to a cut-and-cover option.

In order to build this solution a significant challenge had to be addressed: excavating the stations to the full 18m width in between existing basements located 20m apart. For this reason, an innovative staged excavation process was developed in order to transfer the ground loads from the arch to the invert through the cavern support, which avoided transferring the loads into the basements adjacent to the caverns.

The great advantage of the sequential excavation method is that loads can be transferred through the ground or through the support itself as needed. To avoid overloading the basements, loads were transferred vertically to the side walls first while retaining the horizontal loads with the help of tension ties. Finally the concrete slab at mezzanine level is the element that absorbs the horizontal loads permanently with the tension ties embedded inside.

Bank station capacity upgrade

Bank Station in London has been developed in a piecemeal manner from 1884 onwards as additional lines have been built. Areas of the station are close to saturation point, and the demands on the station are expected to continue. London Underground decided to upgrade the station through an Innovative Contractor Engagement procurement model, focusing on adding value and long-term social benefit.

Enrique played an important role in this project again, contributing from bid stage to develop a competitive solution in close collaboration with the owner and key partners. This solution provided improved connectivity and substantial increase on the benefit/cost ratio, reducing commuting time, estimated final cost and increasing the project life time, but also generating lower impact on the area during construction as most of the works are currently being performed from a small shaft located on a narrow street, 10 to 14m wide.

Space for logistics is extremely reduced with this configuration. This setback was partially solved with the use of the space occupied by the old and abandoned King Williams Street metro station, intercepted by the temporary access shaft. This approach has been key to allow construction of the project mainly using sequential excavation methods with minimal impact time to implement the permanent connections between existing and new infrastructures.

Enrique was passionate about the work, always positive, patient, pragmatic and had the ability to bring out the best in each person. His personal integrity, proactive attitude, his frustration when had to face inertia or resistance to innovation, and his friendly approach to issues will be strongly missed.

He was convinced that tunnels provide great value to the community, with lower impacts during construction and operational life, and higher added value than other options. His technical capabilities and passion for tunnels changed many minds in favour of the underground solution.

Enrique was also a family man. He had three sons: Enrique, Gonzalo and Klaa, and together with his wife Rugirat, they were the most important parts of his life.

His legacy is great, as he impacted the lives of many people in different ways. Countless people are mourning the loss of a talented colleague and great person who has been described as a true gentleman of the industry.

Dear Enrique Fernandez, thank you for everything.