The World Tunnel Congress 2023, held from 12 to 18 May in Athens, was a joyful and varied affair. From sporting events to round tables, technical papers to social events, it was a time for attendees to celebrate the industry’s achievements but also to address some of the major changes and challenges that are facing society – and tunnelling.
“We are all here in such numbers because we understand that the world needs us now,” Professor Arnold Dix, the president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA), told the opening session of the congress. “We are many peoples, we share just one planet and what we can offer the future is uniquely with us in terms of urban solutions, environmental protection and a way forward for our species and the species we share the planet with.”
Change was in the air at the congress, which was organised by the Greek Tunnelling Association. The ITA now has a new cross-cutting sustainability group, headed by Tommy Olsen of Cowi; a review of ITA’s working groups and committees is underway, led by ITA vice president Dr Jamal Rostami of Colorado School of Mines ; and management changes are planned too, with an official announcement expected soon. And, one year into his three-year tenure as president, Dix appears to be shifting the tone of the ITA, taking the opportunity on several occasions to underline the fact that different approaches are needed in different regions.
High on the agenda of the congress was the challenge of resilience and how underground space can help cities face the changing demands placed on them by urban migration and climate change. Projects in the spotlight included the Delhi Metro, Lisbon Drainage Masterplan and the Auckland Central Interceptor. Antonia Cornaro of Amberg Engineering, co-chair of the ITA’s Underground Space Committee ITACUS, presented on the new ‘Mission Earth First’ programme which seeks new underground solutions by considering how communities could live self-sufficiently in space.
Five working and activity groups presented the fruits of their labour to the congress. Sindre Log of ITAtech and Sintef reported on new guidance on rock classification for TBMs: Günther Volkmann of ITAtech and DSI Underground outlined new guidance on radial bolts for conventional tunnelling; Magalu Schivre, co-founder of INCAS Partners and Roberto Schuerch of Pini International showcased ITA Working Group 17’s (WG17’s) guide to logistics for long and deep tunnels; Marcel’t Hart of TEC presented WG11’s guide to submerged floating tunnels; Patrick Bravery, Liberty Specialty Markets, presented the 3rd edition of the risk management code of practice, a joint publication between ITA and IMIA, the international association of engineering insurers.
WTC2023 saw the first ever ‘Women in Construction’ session, run by Professor Chrysothemis Paraskevopoulou, of Leeds University and Dr Paraskevi Yiouta-Mitra of the National Technical University of Athens. Extremely well attended, the session included career histories from women including Sanja Zlatanic, tunnel services practice leader at HNTB, a presentation from the Canadian Tunnelling Association (TAC) about its efforts to understand the flow of young women out of the industry, and some frank discussions about some of the barriers experienced by women and other under-represented groups in tunnelling.
Fitting for the birthplace of the Olympics, WTC2023’s programme included two ‘athletic events’. First a cricket match to celebrate the Pakistan Tunnelling Association joining the ITA family where Tunnelling Journal editor Tris Thomas opened the bowling for the team comprising players from the UK, Australia and Pakistan. Competitiveness soon gave way to coaching, as children from the school hosting the event were invited onto the pitch with Pakistan donating cricket equipment to the children at the end of the sessions. Thursday saw a symbolic run of ten laps around the Panathenaic Stadium, an impressive feat for anyone after Wednesday night’s conference dinner held at Golf Prive to the south of Athens. Participants in the run donated money to go to charity ELEAP which rehabilitates children with disabilities. Unfortunately, Tunnelling Journal can claim no sporting glories from this event as its ‘athletes’ were in recovery.