From the magazine, Microtunnelling, Rehabilitation, Tunnelling

In conversation with Russell Cuttler

Managing editor Kate Pemberton spoke with Executive General Manager – Specialists Businesses Russell Cuttler about his experience in the tunnelling industry, the direction of John Holland and the company’s plans for the future.

Mr Cuttler originally began in the tunnelling industry as a graduate with Melbourne Water, working on the Western Trunk Sewer Project.

“I did the excavations of the shafts and the set-up work for the tunnelling, the dirt got under the fingernails and I’ve been involved ever since.”

When asked about the changes in the tunnelling industry Mr Cuttler said that in the past the focus has been on the water industry “solving and assisting with the water crisis”. The market has evolved because of the need to find and create new sources of water.

“It’s moved from a mixture of transport and water, to focus on the water industry, and now it is moving back to the transport industry – led by rail and some major road projects on the horizon.”

Both community attitudes and restricted surface space have contributed to the increase in tunnelling projects, says Mr Cuttler. “Some viaducts and elevated roads that were built years ago are being replaced and underground provides a sound and environmental solution; effectively dealing with noise, pollution and the visual impact.”

John Holland Group has commissioned seven tunnel boring machines (TBM) in the last 15 months and 29 roadheaders over the last three years. The company’s combined investment in new tunnelling equipment over the last five years has totalled $A400 million.

Three TBMs were launched and the excavation of two drives completed during 2008-09 on the Northern Sewerage Project (see Trenchless Australasia December for more information).

Meanwhile, the first roadheader was launched on the Airport Link Project in Brisbane (see page 11) and tunnelling works on the Sydney Desalination Plant were completed one month ahead of schedule. Two 4 m diameter Herrenknecht TBMs excavated, lined and grouted the 2.5 kilometre long inlet and outlet tunnels. In total, the TBMs installed 22,800 segments each weighing 1.2 tonnes, with the team removing 70,000 cubic metres of rock and spoil from under Botany Bay.

Building on experience

Reflecting on the long career of challenging and exciting projects Mr Cuttler says, “I’ve been fortunate to work on some of the biggest and best projects in Australia.” He also worked on the Channel Tunnel Project between the United Kingdom and France.

Two of the best projects were the Northside Storage Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel in Sydney, New South Wales.

Northside Storage Tunnel

The Northside Storage Tunnel has been developed to improve water quality in Sydney Harbour, reducing excess diluted sewage overflows at four main overflow sites located at; Lane Cove River West, Scotts Creek, Tunks Park and Quakers Hat Bay. The tunnel starts 40 m below sea level west of the Lane Cove river and runs 16 km east to finish 100 m below sea level (160 m below ground) underneath the North Head sewage treatment plant. With a diameter ranging from 3.8 m to 6.6 m, the tunnel has a total storage volume of nearly 500 million litres.

The project was the first public sector alliance. “It was a very tight time frame, involving 20 km of tunnelling using four TBMs in time for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.”

The project was unique as it had five objectives, says Mr Cuttler “cost was one, time was critical – but it also had objectives on safety, environment and community.”

Given that the project was based in a well established area some sections of the community were resistant to the necessary infrastructure works. The project alliance managed these concerns by “understanding how the community works, how they live and the activities necessary to alleviate inconvenience to residents and business.

“The harbour is a lot cleaner, with whales returning, the environmental improvements have been fantastic,” says Mr Cuttler.

Lane Cove Tunnel

From a construction point of view Lane Cove was a great project says Mr Cuttler. The project involved company innovations and successful consultation with the local community and resolution of environmental issues.

The tunnel, in Sydney, links the M2 and the Gore Hill Expressway. The project consists of 3.6 km of twin lane tunnel in both an easterly and westerly direction, with a total length 7.2 km.

The project operated with a very small footprint on the North Shore. The project required a large amount of spoil removal and related transport, “we developed an innovative solution by excavating a decline and turning circle for the trucks to drive and turn underground eliminating the need for the trucks to turn on the street,” he explained.

Technological advances

Some of the big advances include the increasing sophistication of TBM. Previously people worked in hazardous conditions created by compressed air machines. “We brought the first Earth Pressure Balance (EBP) TBM into Australia in the early 1990s, since then closed face TBMs have allowed projects with challenging ground conditions to go ahead.”

Guidance systems have increased the accuracy of the profile cutting, says Mr Cuttler, “the ability to cut elliptical profiles for road tunnels is an important advance for the industry.”

Projects and planning

The company reported that John Holland will work with key business partners to further the tunnelling business in Australia and overseas. The model is the foundation of a new partnership with Leighton Asia, targeting emerging rail projects in Hong Kong. The partnership will focus on Mass Transit Railway’s planned expansion program, which includes the $HK38.7 billion Express Rail Link Project and the $HK40.8 billion Sha Tin to Central Rail Link Project, which will come to market in 2010-2011.

Mr Cuttler explains that the Express Rail Link Project will total approximately 28 km, divided into eight tunnel sections – dictated by ground conditions. “In Hong Kong the ground conditions are unique, although somewhat similar to Melbourne, consisting of very hard rock of up to 300 MPa and very soft ground.”

The first contract for the Express Rail will be at the end of 2009 and subsequent contracts over the next twelve months.

Mr Cuttler is currently General Manager of John Holland’s tunnelling business and also looks after the five national specialist businesses including; water, power, mining, energy and resources. The company is looking to appoint a new General Manager of tunnelling from within the John Holland Group.

A positive workplace is very important to John Holland. “We’ve elevated our workforce and try to create an environment where everybody in the team feels part of it and has an ability to contribute. The result is the development of professionalism throughout the organisation,” says Mr Cuttler.

John Holland, celebrating its 60th anniversary in May 2009, employs 6,000 people across more than 100 projects. Mr Cuttler says, “with renewed investment in new transport infrastructure John Holland’s tunnelling skills places us well for strong growth.”

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