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Opportunities in tunnelling

David Donaldson looks at the future of tunnelling worldwide and the career prospects work will bring.

The new millennium, much heralded as a new beginning, finds tunnelling activity in the UK at a record low. There are no major tunnelling projects of national importance being undertaken and similarly there are few regional projects of any significance being built.

Designers and contractors alike have little work to do and there is little prospect of new tunnelling projects on the horizon.

This contrasts with the past 15 years, which have seen the completion of the Channel Tunnel, the London Water Ring Main and Jubi lee Line Extension .

Additionally, the water industry has dished up major tunnelling projects, most associated with infrastructure replacement and renewal, to comply with EU directives. Now these projects have been completed, tunnel boring machines and other specialist equipment worth hundreds of millions of pounds are lying mothballed (or rusting) in contractors' yards.

There are unsettling reports of redundancies within the tunnelling community.

Regrettably, we will lose some of our colleagues to more profitable careers such as merchant banking or running fish and chip shops.

There is, however, hope for the future.

Within the British Isles tenders are being prepared for the Dublin Port Access Tunnel, a major motorway tunnel which is commanding much interest.

Many are slavering in anticipation of the issue of tenders for phase two of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into London. These tenders include major tunnelling works and even the bid submissions will keep many engineers busy for months.

If and when construction starts on this project it will suck in engineers from all over the country and overseas.

Looking further ahead, construction of infrastructure tunnels for Heathrow Terminal 5 will hopefully carry on where the CTRL leaves off. In the meantime, there are countless overseas opportunities for tunnelling engineers.

Current hot-spots include Hong Kong and Singapore as well as more obscure locations in Turkey, India, South America and the Philippines.

For those hardy souls who want to combine a life of adventure with stumbling around in the dark, tunnelling is ideal. Many graduate engineers enter the tunnelling community by accident but once smitten by the bug they seldom leave.

So, hope springs eternal and we tunnellers commend our peculiar calling to all who wish for a career which brings interest, excitement and the reward of knowing that what we have built is a remarkable achievement at the end of a voyage of adventure.

David Donaldson is chairman of tunnelling and geotechnical consultant Donaldson Associates.He has more than 30 years experience in the industry and is a past chairman of the British Tunnelling Society.

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