Delivering innovation in construction

That the construction industry lags behind other industries on innovation and digital transformation is well known. A lack of investment in research and development, slow adoption of new technologies, low productivity and inappropriate risk allocation in contracts are just a handful of the common barriers to change, but more fundamentally there remains a lack of incentive for the parties that can make the biggest impact on a project to take action. Contractors, consultants and suppliers are often bound by lowest cost solutions, delivered to meet paper based, transactional performance criteria. In such cases contractors work to fulfil the contract, not to make better quality projects.

However digitisation, transformation and innovation are underway in the industry. You just need to know where to look. From the potential for Universal Building Robots, to 3D printed bridges and Building Information Modelling (BIM) throughout the construction and operational life cycles (not just in design), change is coming. Aware of this Middle East Economic Digest (MEED) and Mashreq Bank asked me to write about some of the world’s leading projects for a report which was shared at the MEED Quality in Construction Awards on 2nd May and will be online soon.

Before diving into the six case studies the report mentions research by McKinsey Global Institute which describes construction as being “ripe for disruption”. New technologies, it says, have the potential to deliver 60 per cent efficiency gains equating to $1.6 trillion in potential savings every year. At the top of the list for investment is digital technology with the research demonstrating that construction ranks lowest of 21 other sectors in terms of digitisation and has had only a 6 per cent growth in productivity since the 1940s compared to 1,512 per cent growth in productivity in agriculture and 780 per cent growth in manufacturing. But the experience of these other industries shows that there comes a point, a tipping point, where digital capability becomes a requirement for survival.

An example of this included in the MEED report is Siemens Building Technologies new headquarters in Switzerland. The firm did not want to perpetuate existing construction processes where contractors deliver a building according to a contract with the data developed during the construction period simply evaporating. Instead they wanted to capture this throughout design and construction and create a digital repository of data, a digital twin, that would enable the new facility to be cost effectively managed for the rest of its operational life. This meant using building information modelling (BIM) to its fullest extent, incorporating not only the digital 3D design model, but using it for construction work packages and linking time (4D) and cost (5D) and creating a virtual twin of the final building. To achieve this Siemens Real Estate went out to the market and demanded full BIM enablement. Not all major construction companies were able to comply. In Switzerland’s building sector a tipping point had been reached and Strabag, an Austrian contractor that has invested in BIM for a decade, was ready.

Siemens Real Estate undertook this transition accepting that it would need to spend more in the early stages of this project. Innovation does not come for free. But this investment would allow the company to manage its facilities more efficiently in future, minimising the lifecycle cost. Making the crucial link between the cost of new infrastructure and its operational expenditure (opex) is a vital step along the path of transformation. Clients may need to spend more, for infrastructure to cost less.

At the same time, incentivising contractors to deliver solutions that will result in better, more innovative, and more efficient infrastructure is also important. The Siemens project was carried out using a design and build contract, which gave Strabag more the freedom to help its client create the most cost effective long-term solution. Use of design and build also gives the contractor incentive to value engineer the scheme. As explained in MEED’s Mashreq Driving Better Value in Construction Report, this step sees contractors look for design alternatives which can maintain function and performance at lower cost. But under traditional lowest price contract arrangements there is no incentive for contractors to do this.

The good news for construction  is that the benefits of digital construction have finally been recognised, a tipping point is being reached, and the industry is investing for its own benefit. To date contractors have told MEED that low margins mean that they can’t afford to invest in digitisation. Now they report that they cannot afford not to.

Other case studies included in the report include:

  • The world’s first 3D printed bridge
  • Universal construction robots
  • Drones in monitoring and inspection
  • Offsite innovation on the Hong Kong, Zhuhai, Macau bridge
  • Digital construction innovation on a new bridge between Russia and China
  • Model based design delivery on London’s Thames Tideway

I will include a link as soon as this is live but here is a sneaky peak of the cover…..

Cover p3


Risky Business

For most people Risky Business invokes an image of Tom Cruise dancing to Old Time Rock and Roll in a pink shirt and sports socks. But to me it seemed an apt title for a recent report I wrote for Tunnels & Tunnelling International on insuring major tunnelling projects.

Risk 2

Back in the late 1990s, the tunnelling industry was reeling from high profile incidents on tunnels all over the world from fire and flooding on Denmark’s Storebaelt Crossing to the 1994 Heathrow Tunnel Collapse. In response to fears that tunnel projects were becoming uninsurable, the Association of British Insurers, and the British Tunnelling Society joined forces to create a new benchmark for best practice. Published in 2003 the “Joint Code of Practice for Risk Management of Tunnel Works in the UK” was followed by an international version in 2006 named the “Code of Practice for Risk Management of Tunnel Works”. These codes became known worldwide as the Tunnel Code of Practice, or TCOP and over a decade later it is now under review.

Insurers say that development of the code was an important step in building confidence in tunnelling projects. “It has led to tunnelling projects being more insurable today,” explains Cedric Wong, senior engineering underwriter and vice president of projects and global markets at Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. “It doesn’t guarantee success but it gives the best possible chance of a successful outcome if it is followed and implemented. When we are presented with a tunnelling project by a broker, we look at the information provided by the client, contractor and we benchmark it against the TCOP,” he says. “We can assess if they have taken a risk based approach in choosing the original tunnel alignment, have they procured based on both quality and cost, have established a risk management framework, are they using risk registers, have they got design checkers? We assess the project and if it aligns with the code and if we determine that risk management is solid there is a good chance of insurability.”


“The positive work done on projects like Crossrail gives insurers a good deal of confidence that technically complex tunnelling risk can still be undertaken,”

Cedric Wong, senior engineering underwriter, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions

Complexity is inevitable when building a new GBP 15bn (USD 20bn) railway with 42km of new railway tunnel using eight TBMs, along with construction of a further 18km of station tunnels and interchanges as well as 9 new stations beneath the UK’s capital city – making it inherently risky. “The mitigating factors to that were that London had relatively successful projects before with the Jubilee Line extension and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The geological model of London is really well known. The presentation of the Crossrail project in terms of benchmarking against the TCOP showed a really high level of compliance which gave us confidence that there was a high chance of success on the project,” says Wong whose firm Swiss Re Corporate Solutions took the lead position on the insurance programme. “The other factors that convinced us was the level of retention that the client was willing to take, set deductibles reasonably high. The higher the deductible is the lower the insurance premium and what that demonstrates to us is a real confidence in their own risk management.” At the same time, Crossrail were interested in the insurers’ risk management activities, which Wong describes as a complementary risk management regime. “They were keen for us to share our experience of engineering and construction claims and the associated lessons learnt from projects around the world. Throughout the changing risk profile of Crossrail, we select the industry risk experts that we think are most suitable for the job. These are experts, people who can add value.”

This risk engineering programme is a critical part of such projects for the insurance industry. On Crossrail for example there are 28 different insurers backing the scheme who are reassured thorough the risk management approach of the leading insurer. But before any of these firms could be appointed, Crossrail needed to work with a broker to determine the appropriate insurance structure and levels of cover required for this mega- project. And its sheer scale meant that it had to be tackled differently from the outset with the contract being tendered through the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

“Brokers had to go through a tender to demonstrate that they had the technical knowledge, ability and experience to advise Crossrail on the appropriate insurances for the project,” explains Sarah Bickerstaff, executive partner in construction services at the tender winning insurance broker Arthur J Gallagher. “We learned about what they were going to build and really became part of the delivery team. We worked with Crossrail to understand what their appetite for risk was, what their approach was going to be and to explain to them their options and the pros and cons,” she says.

The earliest fundamental aspect of this was whether Crossrail would procure Contractors’ All Risk (CAR) and Third Party Liability (TPL) insurance through an owner controlled, or a contractor controlled route where the contractor places the insurances for their element of the contract. For a scheme the size of Crossrail, a contractor controlled policy would have meant a large number of different policies with a range of excesses and cover. “It wouldn’t give Crossrail control of the cover and the quality of insurer and the budgetary stability in terms of premium. The whole aim was to keep the project on target, on budget and so therefore Crossrail took control of the insurances,” says Bickerstaff.

Contractors’ All Risks (CAR) insurance is the cover for material damage that could occur on a project. The project also required third partly liability (TPL) insurance covering any damage to third parties such as buildings, infrastructure or people affected by an incident. For Crossrail it was crucial to have high quality cover, over the lifetime of construction which was nine years, and with fixed premiums to give long term budget certainty. This was a challenge for the insurance industry which typically introduces break clauses in project insurance policies which allow insurers to re-evaluate their position throughout the construction period.

“One of the key drivers was certainty of cover for the entire nine-year construction period. This had never been achieved in the insurance market before,”

Sarah Bickerstaff, executive partner in construction services, Arthur J Gallagher

“They needed to have absolute confidence that the insurers would support the programme to the end of the project irrespective of claims experience.” It’s typical that a panel of insurers would be required to cover a project of this size. With such high values of risk running into billions other insurers would need to participate in the project. “It is like layers of a cake really. You buy elements of cover in acceptable tiers up to a level where Crossrail thought they had bought adequate protection given the likelihood of loss and given the potential severity of that loss,” says Bickerstaff.

To ensure that the level was appropriate AJ Gallagher provided Crossrail with benchmark figures from other major projects before taking the scheme to market. By early 2009 Crossrail were ready to begin procurement, which by moving through the OJEU process, was being undertaken in a new way. “The challenge for us as brokers was that this was the first major project insurance policy to be procured through the OJEU rules. It had to be done through a data room so all firms had the same access to information. This is a people driven industry so to get them all to go to an electronic data room and pull the information out was something that we had to educate the market on,” says Bickerstaff.

Eight years later and with the tunnelling complete, the Crossrail project has been truly ground breaking from a risk management and insurance point of view. But it isn’t over yet – the insurance coverage continues until the rail is operational – and the risk profile has evolved from a tunnel collapse type failures to fire risk within the completed stations – which is the maximum exposure scenario for insurers.

  • The full article can be viewed here

Chilean Tunnelling

Santiago in winter (credit Liebherr Chile)

A few months ago I did a research piece on the tunnelling sector in Chile for Tunnels and Tunnelling International. The sector is extremely buoyant across all major sectors and more is yet to come.

“The market is quite active now, as there are some really interesting projects under development and coming in. There are road projects, metro project, hydroelectrical projects and mining projects,” says José Miguel Galera, managing director of consultant Subterra, which has been designing tunnels in the country for over 20 years and does 50 percent of its business in Chile.

But perhaps the most exciting future project for Chile will be the Paso de Agua Negra road tunnel running between Chile and Argentina and promoted by a joint governmental organisation known as EBITAN. “All tunnellers are positioning ourselves for this really interesting project. They called for prequalification at the end of 2016 and just two months ago it was published that 10 JVs have presented their candidature and 4 are Chinese. The other 6 are from the rest of the world,” says Galera.

The scheme involves construction of twin 14km road tunnels and is intended to improve regional connectivity particularly between Argentina and Chilean ports. Despite the enormous length of the Argentinian and Chilean border the number of crossings is small and largely consists of minor roads. The existing Agua Negra route for example is a minor road used just in summer as it runs along an altitude of 4780m meaning that snowfall blocks the route in winter.

CaptureThe new tunnel will be around 1000m lower and is planned as a twin tube due to its length and height. A second passageway offers many safety advantages and by having two equal tubes natural air circulation is enhanced reducing energy costs. It was also decided that each tunnel as a single lane is much safer from a driver perspective. With two tunnels and one-way direction each, light vehicles might keep a good speed and are not delayed by heavy traffic taking the outer lane.

The two tunnels will be 40m to 50m apart and descend from Argentina into Chile with the Argentinian entrance 4,085m above sea level and the Chilean entrance at 3,620m giving the tunnels a slope of 3.37%. Each of the road lanes will be 7.5m wide with space either side for pedestrians. The internal height of the tunnels will be 4.8m and emergency tunnels for people will connect both main tunnels at 250m spacings along the whole length. Vehicular interconnection galleries will be located every 1,550 m.

The industry is now waiting to hear who the successful prequalifiers will be and whoever ultimately wins this project will undoubtedly take on lessons from other tunnelling projects that have been carried out in the Andes including a raft of hydropower schemes. The most recent of these are the Alto Maipo project and the Los Condores project which both include significant tunnelling works for construction of the headrace tunnels and other infrastructure.

Read the full article in Tunnels and Tunnelling International


Mobile Cranes Get Smarter

20170620_133003It is a beautiful summers day in central London, and I have been invited to watch a Liebherr LTM 1130-5.1 all terrain crane, owned by Southern Cranes & Access place a 2t section of a new staircase inside a five-storey office building. The commercial property is undergoing major refurbishment and the staircase is one of the final elements of the job.

To undertake the project, the crane is sitting outside on the street in front of the building, its outriggers are 100% fully extended on the left-hand side, and 60% short rigged on the right. Like many city centre projects one lane of the highway must remain open throughout crane operations, meaning that full extension of the right-hand outriggers is not possible.

In the past, this would have meant operating the crane according to the predetermined load charts assuming a limited extension of the outriggers, probably 50%. But a huge disadvantage of this was that the crane lost out on capacity that it actually had, resulting from the full extension on the left.

Aware of this issue Liebherr invested in the creation of the VarioBase system seven years ago, revealing it at Bauma in 2010. This measures both the extension length and pressure in the outriggers and uses the crane rigging information inputted by the operator before calculating the actual crane capacity in real time.

“Without VarioBase we would have had to use a larger crane further down the road, which means we wouldn’t have been competitive on this job,” explains Ross Wickens, sales and technical manager for Southern Cranes, and a former crane operator himself.

The set up was further limited by the presence of basements along the road meaning that pressure could not be exerted over the pavement.

“The sensors within the outrigger talk to the computer which lets the operator know where it is, what rig is where and the pressure going through each outrigger and what the crane can do. If he tried to come this way his computer will tell him how much that outrigger is out and how much weight he can lift, as it will obviously come down as you go around the crane,” Wickens says pointing to the side where the outriggers are at 60% extension.

The 130t crane is set up with 42t of counterweight and two rope falls. “At the moment, I am at 45°,” explains the crane operator Ryan Whitfield. “It is a telescopic boom with five sections, 60m in total.”

In order to lift over the existing building the crane boom is fully extended. “I have full counterweight, yesterday I had three falls of rope and now I have two. They each have 8.4t capacity per line pull. Yesterday’s job was over 20t,” explains Whitfield.

“The sensors are automatically on. With the new computers, they acknowledge where the outriggers are so you can’t lie to it or put yourself in a position where you might make a mistake,” he says.

Improving safety was one of the reasons that Liebherr developed VarioBase, which comes as an option on its LICCON 2 operating system. The system identifies the machine’s precise centre of gravity and the tipping edges and then sets the two relative to each other. If a load is lifted over one support, the risk of tipping is lower than a lift to the side. This means that the system can allow a higher load capacity and a greater outreach. The greatest increases are in working areas above the supports when partial ballast is in use. Load capacity increase also means that sometimes full ballast is no longer needed.

“The crane control (LICCONSystem) calculates the load chart in real time, not using stored load charts,” explains Patrick Fähnle, technical trainer at Liebherr. “It is totally up to date because we have the length of the sliding beams, and the pressure of the support cylinders. It adds eight more sensors, four on each support cylinder and four to measure length. It is very safe,” he adds. The system tracks the capacity as the machine is slewing, so if lifting begins to approach the ultimate capacity, the crane will slow and cannot continue to be moved once the limit is reached. The LICCON 2 system itself was introduced in 2007, building on the success of LICCON 1. “We got to a point where the storage capacity was not enough for the new bigger cranes which have more configurations, more boom extensions, so the load chart data was growing and growing. We designed LICCON 2 with new architecture that would be suitable for the future,” says Fähnle.

Fundamentally the new LICCON 2 system combined the processing power of the PC with the screen in a single unit. “The monitor is now not only a screen, it includes the complete PC inside. Processor speed gets faster every year. We have a bigger memory card inside with much higher storage capacity than before,” he says.

Another major advantage of the LICCON 2 is that it comes with a work planner that allows operators to simulate the lift before they start work.

This was something that Southern Cranes found very useful in preparing for its confined London lift. Lifting in the city

Another company that sees the benefits of crane control systems that offer enhanced load monitoring and the ability to accurately assess true capacity under a range of outrigger scenarios is Belgium’s Sarens. In March it was announced that the firm would purchase 18 new Demag AC cranes which are fitted with the firm’s new IC-1 Plus system.

“Our IC-1 Plus system now allows outriggers to be set arbitrarily to get true configuration as your space constraints on the job site allow the extension. The system now onboard gives you charts for the capacity of the crane, for that configuration, and it is now slew angle related,” explains Ascan Klein, director, competence centre control systems at Terex Cranes.

“We monitor how the crane is set up,” he says explaining that sensors measure the outrigger position, and the amount of installed counterweight. Other data such as the boom configuration and reeving is entered by the operator. “Based on this data we have algorithms releasing the optimal capacity at the actual point of operation.” This means that the operator can optimise the crane capacity at every lifting point with arbitrary outrigger settings. Even when set on a standard outrigger base the slew angle related capacities are significantly improved compared to the classical 360° charts.

In addition the operator has a planning tool on board, which is embedded in the operator display but can also be used as a remote web based applicaton, which shows, depending on the outrigger settings, which capacity can be reached at a given point.

The seamless integration of this technology into the well-known, easy to operate IC-1 control system provides the operator continuously with an overview of the actual lifting situation and its surrounding.

So far the IC-1 Plus is available on all new AC cranes. It can also be retrofitted on to some models, but this has to be assessed on a case by case basis. Over time the firm plans to extend this across the Terex crane range.

“Customers from urban areas are excited about it. Wherever you work in confined spaces our customers really appreciate it,” says Klein.

This is certainly true for Sarens which has just purchased eight AC 100 4L cranes, seven AC 220- 5, and three AC 130-5 cranes.

Group equipment trade manager Jan L Sarens, says: “We have had a very positive experience with these cranes in the past. What we see now is that these are very operationally effective and cost efficient. Specifically, what we like about the IC1-Plus system is that it is good for city use.

“A lot of the cranes we have recently purchased are going to be used in London, so for city use it is a real big advantage because there is not always room to have outriggers fully out.”

He echoes the experience of other crane companies who find that the monitoring facility enhances capacity. “When the outriggers are out, you are not automatically downgraded to the load charts where they have 360 degree operation and that is really a very big advantage in those cases where you lose capacity compared to the full outriggers.”

The other big advantage for Sarens is safety. With over 1500 cranes in its possession including some with Liebherr’s VarioBase system this is paramount.

“The system is obviously to enhance safety. You can train people as much as you want and have much experience but in the end people can make mistakes,” he says explaining that the live load monitoring based on the actual outrigger positions prevents operator errors.

A mistake made by mobile crane operators in the past has been to assume full load capacity when one or more of the outriggers are only partially extended, manually overriding the safe working load system.

Although this was somewhat addressed under EN1300 and the removal of the override mechanism from the cabin, live load monitoring with the full range of outrigger positions is another useful step.

“When we buy a new crane now we take it as standard, VarioBase or IC-1Plus. Manufacturers offer it as an option but internally we decided to take it as standard because we see it as a safety feature,” says Sarens.

“The additional cost compared to the basic price of a crane is rather limited. We have to do it. We decided to make it default, for us it is not an option. Every system that can help the operator do his job safely is a big advantage.”

To read the rest of the piece and see more images visit Cranes Today for the full article

Visiting Germany’s Rastatt Tunnel

The exponential development of technology means that I am called upon less and less frequently to pack a bag and carry out a site visit IN REAL LIFE! Make no mistake there is no substitute for visiting a project in person. The story is better, the photos are better, the report is better. But the reality is that magazines don’t have much travel budget these days and the information kept by project teams is better than ever (usually) and so I find myself increasingly asked to call site teams using Skype or the old fashioned telephone and write the story from London.

Every now and then though, I inveigle my way onto a live project and get to meet the amazing people bringing the ideas for improving connectivity, providing essential services and improving economic growth to life. In Germany recently Jörg, Ursula, Martin, Sören and Ulrich of the Hochtief/Ed Züblin joint venture took time out of their 12 hour day (at least!) to talk to me about creation of the incredible Rastatt Tunnel.

But first I had to get there……..

Read More »

PPP: learning from the past


It is not difficult to find examples of failed public-private partnerships (PPP). From Mexico to France, and from Australia to the US there are many many examples of how PPP has failed to deliver the benefits intended. In France for example the trend to use PPP simply to keep expenditure off the public balance sheet has led to some disastrous projects and highway projects in the Americas have become roads to bankruptcy.

However it is not always a disaster and it doesn’t have to be.  Involving private finance in infrastructure from the very early days can bring a number of benefits and ensure that public projects are delivered in a timely and effective way. Sometimes it is the only way that projects can be delivered at all. But it is crucial that private firms are held to account throughout the life of the project with contracts that demand high performance levels for the full term, and like London’s forthcoming Thames Tideway sewer tunnel, that projects are structured to ensure that the cost of capital is as low as possible. Here the consortia tendered the cost of capital at 2.49% – significantly lower than the 6-8% that might typically be required for private returns. One of the biggest criticisms of PPP is that private money costs more than public money. It doesn’t have to.

So I was pleased to be asked by The Guardian (article here) to look at examples where PPP has worked, or is working, for companies and the public sector. Governments around the world, including US President Elect Donald Trump are looking to private finance to fund much needed infrastructure. Highlighting the ways in which this has been successfully achieved might help avoid some of the contractual catastrophes of the past. Bankers will tell you that PPP works best in sectors with clear revenue streams such as energy and aviation. For roads and rail it is much more difficult to make this work.

There are exceptions of course and A contract for 65 high capacity metro trains signed in November is the largest single order of new trains in the history of the Australian state of Victoria. It is also the state’s first ever public private partnership (PPP) for manufacturing. Unlike traditional contracts where trains are purchased as a commodity manufactured in the preferred location of the supplier, this partnership with the Evolution Rail consortium will ensure that sixty percent of manufacturing will happen locally creating 1,100 much needed jobs.

Job creation is key. Like the US, Australia has battled with the decline in local production industries particularly in the automotive sector. Ford closed its plant in October 2016 and Toyota and Holden will follow in 2017 leading to thousands of job losses. Not only does the new AUS $2bn PPP demand local manufacturing, further partnerships with Toyota and other local organisations will ensure that staff from the automotive sector are transitioned into the growing rail industry.

This and many other projects are covered in The Guardian article. Thanks to all that took the time to discuss the topic: ARCADIS, Pavegen, Mott MacDonald, Washington DDoT, Skanska Infrastructure Development, La Guardia Gateway Partners, Victoria Ministry for Public Transport and Major Projects and the IFC.






Exploring energy issues

Having storage in networks is a foregone conclusion in most industries. In the water sector reservoirs hold potable drinking water supplies and massive underground pipes act as additional storage for sewage. Gas is converted to liquid (LNG) and held in tanks for transportation or storage. But in the electricity sector storage remains elusive. And yet the need for this is becoming even more crucial as the UK seeks to decentralise and de-carbonise energy provision. How wonderful it would be if homeowners could store the energy generated by their solar panels, or farmers could capture the energy from their wind turbines for later use.

The good news is that this could happen sooner than we think. Two recent developments have thrust battery storage into a 12 month boom period. Before September 2015 Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who bring electricity from the national transmission network into homes and businesses, had zero obligations from third parties on grid-scale storage. But today there are around 20GW of obligations.

Driving this boom is Ofgem’s £500m Low-Carbon Networks Fund and National Grid’s Enhanced Frequency Response competition. Since becoming available in 2010 the Ofgem finance has led to massive investments in new storage technology such as the UK Power Networks Leighton Buzzard £17.2m Smarter Network Storage Project. The primary aim of the 10MWh facility is to allow deferral of the need to reinforce the network, so instead of extending a substation, the battery provides peak storage at the times of year where load exceeds the local constraint.

And in September 2015 National Grid launched the UK’s first ever competition to provide network storage that would respond within 1 second. The organisation received 37 tenders containing 64 proposed solutions and 61 of these were batteries. This is expected to result in eight new battery storage solutions being built in the UK.

At the same time the cost of renewable energy generation is falling significantly with onshore wind and solar power having the lowest capital costs of all technologies, and figures from Scottish Energy showing that offshore wind costs have fallen by a third over the past five years from £136MWh to £100MWh. The firm has launched a pilot “smart battery solar power home” which can store excess solar energy in a battery.

Yet despite the incredible technical advances being made and strategy levers being implemented there remains a need for clearer long term energy policy if major new projects are to move forwards. Investors are viewing the market with caution and the UK’s position in the single energy market remains a negotiating point with the EU for Brexit negotiations.

All of this and more was covered at the Major Projects Association event “UK Energy to 2025 – getting major projects moving” which I attended as a reporter.  A summary of the day produced for the MPA can be read here.





Final breakthrough in Doha

I’ve been writing about the Doha metro project for years and from the outset the challenge was huge. Building three lines of subway simultaneously, in a location where bored tunnelling experience is limited, facing some unusual ground conditions, and working to an immovable deadline (FIFA World Cup 2022) gave the project a level of difficulty that not many experience.

But Qatar Rail has now announced the 76th TBM breakthrough (yes 76th) on the Red Line South marking the end of tunnelling for the first phase of the scheme. In just 26 months Doha has delivered 111km of new bored tunnel consisting of over 70,000 tunnel rings, using 7m diameter Herrenknecht earth pressure balance machines. It is a huge achievement.


Delivering this in just over two years is even more impressive given that machine S-868 had to be shut down when seawater flooded its bore. Over 1000 new spare parts had to be sent over to Qatar from the Herrenknecht headquarters in Germany. But just three months later it was back in action.

Commenting on the achievement, Dr. Eng. Saad Al Muhannadi, Qatar Rail’s Chief Executive Officer said: “Completion of tunneling on the Doha Metro is yet another major milestone for the project and one we are delighted to have achieved on plan and to schedule. Until now 7.5km of above ground tracks viaducts have been installed and base slab and foundations have been completed on 33 stations. Roofs have been completed on 8 stations and roof slabs are progressing at 27 different stations. We are delighted to have been able to achieve all this within the timelines and budgets allocated and this is due to the hard work and dedication of all parties involved.”

Tunnelling started in July 2014 on the northern part of Red Line by TBM “Lebretha” in Al Qassar site. Now that tunneling has been completed we are moving to the laying of the tracks, awaiting the arrival of the train mockups, and working on the completion of the interiors of the stations with mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) works),” says Al Muhannadi.

The first phase of the Doha Metro project is expected to be complete in 2020. By 2030, all the three networks – Doha Metro, Lusail Tram and the long-distance rail, which will link Qatar with the GCC Rail network – are expected to be complete. By 2020 Doha Metro’s 37 metro stations are expected to be operative, with an average journey time of two minutes between adjacent stations.


Red Line North the ISG joint venture – Salini Impreglio S.p.A./ SK Engineering & Constructing Co Ltd/ Galfar Al Misnad Engineering & Constructing W.L.L (22.8km of tunnelling)

Red Line South the Qatari Diar Vinci Construction JV (QDVS)/ GS Engineering & Construction Corp./ Al-Darwish Enginering W.L.L (32.6km)

Green Line contractor PORR Bau GmbH/ Saudi Binladin Group Company Ltd/ Hamad Bin Khalid Contracting Co. W.L.L.(33.4km)

Gold Line the joint venture Aktor S.A./ Larsen & Toubro Limited/ Yapi Merkezi Insaat VE Sanayi Anonim Sirketi/ Sezai Turkes Feyzi Akkaya Marine Construction/ Al Jaber Engineering LLC) (23.3km)

More Doha metro articles here

Going for Gold

A Liebherr 630 EC-H 40 Litronic whcih can lift 5.8t at 80m reach on site at Las Bambas, Peru

Did you know that tower cranes are used extensively in the gold mining process? Neither did I until Cranes Today magazine asked me to investigate for their September issue. The first step was to find out more about gold mining itself and the key processes that strip the gold from the source rock. Expert Paul Wheeler at the Cambourne School of Mines explained:

“The chemistry of the process is that gold has great affinity with cyanide, so if you add this gold with large surface area (after crushing) to react with the cyanide solution the gold will then form a solution as a cyanide complex. What you can then do is add carbon into this mix and the carbon has an even greater affinity with gold which gets loaded on to the carbon from the solution.”

The final outcome is a substance called loaded carbon which is then taken to an elution plant where an acid wash strips the gold from the carbon after which the smelting process can take place. “It is a big industrial chemical engineering process as we are talking about very large volumes of rock to get small quantities of gold.”

This big industrial process needs cranes to change the crushing plant, insert equipment, maintain the motors and gearboxes and tanks. Firms such as Liebherr, SA French and ETAC all took the time to tell me more about how their cranes are used in the  mining industry and a full report will be in Cranes Today very soon.

Tunnel Vision

Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking into the research that is underway at UK institutions related to tunnelling. There was more than I expected. My 2000 word article is currently 3124 words. But I can’t bear to cut anything out. Should I omit some of the amazing work underway at Cambridge University which is using increasingly sophisticated sensors to give real time data that can be compared with the centrifugal and numerical model data? Or should I edit back the report on work at Edinburgh University where explosive spalling of concrete during fire and the influence of ventilation are major research topics?

Edinburgh University’s testing rig for studying the explosive spalling behaviour of concrete during a fire

I could miss out some of the incredible work being done at the University of Leeds Institute of Resilient Infrastructure where world leading research is being carried out into the cumulative effect of seismic loading on tunnels – something that design codes don’t currently cover. They are going to use sensors on two live tunnels in Chile where there there is an astonishing amount of earthquakes every month. Have a guess how many (the article will tell you – unless I have to cut that part)!

With the raft of tunnels planned in cities around the world the research at Imperial College London into the effect of tunnelling on existing tunnels, surely must be included. More specifically the university has carried out an incredibly detailed study into the impact on cast iron tunnels. Similarly Nottingham University is focused on the interaction between tunnels and buildings and its research is giving more effective tools for evaluating the effects of tunnelling on piled structures. City University too is focused on tunnel/structure interaction as well as undertaking research supported by the Pipe Jacking Association.  A current research project looks at the effect of tunnel excavation on escalator tunnels. Another focuses on ground support at the tunnel face and the effects on stability and surface settlement.

New technology and construction methods too have to be included. Dr Alan Bloodworth, who this week took over as the head of the UK’s only dedicated tunnelling and underground space MSc at Warwick University, has been studying sprayed waterproof lining systems, examining whether composite action occurs between the primary and secondary sprayed concrete linings due to the bonded waterproof layer (it does). How can I cut that?

And what about the future? Universities have research plans a plenty. I simply must include those or how will people know that Cambridge wants to create virtual tunnelling models and research the redistribution of loads around cross passages; that Edinburgh is working on new design strategies for mitigating concrete spalling in tunnels during fire or that Leeds University will create a virtual platform where the public can view the earthquake response of tunnels in Chile?

As I said there was more than I expected. There is nothing boring about tunnels!