14 October 2010

Mega-Project Deep Beneath the Earth: Sub-Alpine Tunnelling

In the drilling of the tunnels, workers relied on eight gigantic, 3,000-ton tunnel drilling machines simultaneously. "An exceptional logistical plan" was necessary, says Thewes. An 800-meter-long shaft was drilled vertically into the mountain, for example, so that workers could begin working in the middle of the tunnel. _Spiegel
Eight workers died in the building of these two massive twin 57 km long tunnels. Each tunnel is 10 metres in diameter. The total length of tunnels drilled -- including side tunnels -- is 153 km. The work had to contend with some 90 different geologic problem zones, so perhaps the project is lucky not to have lost more men than it did.
After years of work deep under the surface of the earth, drilling on the Gotthard Base Tunnel is set to be completed on Friday. It will be years before the first trains roll through the 57-kilometer-long tunnel, but given the difficulties workers have encountered, it is a wonder they have come this far.

They are both celebrated as wonders of mankind's ingenuity and engineering expertise: the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, deep pathways slicing through the surface of the earth for the benefit of global trade.

On Friday, a third such wonder will take a decisive step toward completion. Only 1.8 meters (just under six feet) of rock stand in the way of the Gotthard Base Tunnel from becoming the longest tunnel in the world. On Friday afternoon, the gigantic drilling machine Sissi is scheduled to break through that final barrier far below the peaks of the Alps. Accompanied by a subterranean celebration and live coverage from the world's media, the breakthrough is a significant milepost on the road to completion for Europe's largest infrastructure project.

"Technically, it is an absolutely eye-popping project," Kurosch Thuro, a tunnel construction expert from the Munich Technical University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. His colleague Markus Thewes from the Ruhr University in Bochum says "the Swiss have set the bar so high that no one will easily be able to clear it." _Spiegel

Subterranean construction projects such as this are likely to become more important with time. It is important that we learn to build and drill deeply into the rock. Such experience will come in handy in the next ice age -- when vast underground nuclear fueled colonies may be necessary for some parts of the world.

Of course, once humans enter the environment of outer-space in a serious way, we will need to learn to engineer construction under the moon's surface, under the surface of Mars, and deep inside various asteroids and outer moons. We will need all the under-surface drilling and building experience we can get.

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Blogger neil craig said...

For the last 2 decades the Norwegians have been building about 700km of road tunnels across their mountainous country at an average price of $10 million/km.

You wouldn't get the environmental reports on them for that sort of price in the US & UK. This shows that increasingly 90%+ of the cost of public projects is paperwork.

The Norwgicams even have a plan to cut a tunnel for ocean liners ($300 mill). I hope they do - if you check Google Images they look impressive.

I suspect the NAWPA water project would be much easier now if the reduction in tunneling costs, through improving technology, were not eaten up by increasing bureaucracy.

Friday, 15 October, 2010  

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