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Warning over lack of tunnelling expertise


A GLUT of tunnel design work recently commissioned in the UK has left major projects competing for resources, senior engineers said this week.

They called on the government to let projects sensibly to manage demand for skilled engineers.

The government needs to play a responsible role in managing demand and supply of resources, and preventing a resources crisis, by timing approval of schemes sensibly, ' said University College London reader in geotechnics Dr Richard Bassett.

Several tunnelling projects are all being developed in the UK including the Thames Tideway, Crossrail, the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link and the new Forth Crossing.

Basset said the crunch in supply of designers would come if more than one major scheme was under development at once and said that if design of Crossrail and Thames Water's Tideway sewer were to overlap significantly, both projects would struggle to hire enough engineers.

Speaking at the Tunnelling 2007 conference in London last week, Crossrail developer Cross London Rail Links project engineer, Frank Mimnagh, confirmed that getting engineers was a struggle. 'We're snapping up every competent tunnelling engineer we can get our hands on, but so is every other tunnelling project, ' he said.

'Even if we weren't in competition with other projects we'd probably struggle to find enough at the moment, ' he said.

Cambridge University professor of geotechnical engineering Robert Mair said that there would be no shortage of contractors to build the tunnels as international contractors will pitch for UK jobs.

'Tunnelling is a cyclical market. There are already big international players like Nishimatsu, Vinci and Hochtief working successfully in the UK.

A boom in UK tunnelling is likely to coincide with a slow down in places like Singapore, Japan or Hong Kong, which will lead to a natural migration of resources to the UK, ' Mair said.

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