Promoting the long-term benefits of tunnelling has become, now possibly more than ever, a critical issue. Unfortunately the headlines have recently been dominated by the ground collapses associated with tunnel construction on the UK’s Channel Tunnel Rail Link under London and on Paris’ Metro. London’s collapse occurred in an East End street flanked by houses, while, even more worryingly, Paris’ left a 15m deep crater in a school playground. Let’s just be thankful that nobody was injured in either incident. Still fresh in the minds of the ‘no news is good news’ brigade will be the tragic fires in the Mont Blanc, Tauern and Kaprun tunnels, and more recently the Daegu Metro in South Korea. Whether during construction or operation, all of these incidents add up to bad press for the industry and plant seeds of doubt in the minds of future clients.

But what about the good news? How do clients hear about the majority of tunnel projects that complete without incident or under budget and ahead of schedule? The truth is, they don’t, and the only people who are going to tell them are those within the industry. There are already movements in some quarters to overcome this. Colombia’s tunnelling society has become an advisor to clients on pricing tunnelling projects to help combat some woefully unrealistic project pricing, as a result of inexperience. The lowest bidder on an already under priced contract is going to struggle to deliver the highest quality. And where does this end up? In claims and litigation, and another black mark against the industry!

In the UK, the British Tunnelling Society is continuing with its Parliamentary Lobbying Committee in a bid to alert decision makers of the benefits of tunnelling.

The truth is, hard facts are needed when approaching clients to back up your claims that tunnels are a viable long-term solution. A great example of this is the São Paulo Metro. The city suffers some of the worst traffic problems in the world and it is not unusual for a 2-3 hour journey to work. The Såo Paulo Metro calculated that the existing operating system has saved the city nearly US$1bn per year in fuel, pollution and lost productivity costs. This is enough to build 10km of new metro in the city per year! Now there is a way to get somebody listening. Guess who’s about to build a 12.8km twin tube extension with full funding, São Paulo!

If you can prove the hidden, long term cost benefits, as in São Paulo, you may find attitudes changing quicker than you might think.

Tris Thomas