Tunnel borers arrive in Qatar

19 November 2014

With 21 tunnel boring machines set to operate simultaneously beneath the streets of Doha, the first challenge has been to deliver them safely to Qatar

As of late October, 14 of 21 state-of-the-art Herrenknecht earth pressure balance (EPB) tunnel boring machines (TBMs), brought in to help out on the metro project, had arrived in Doha. Their safe arrival required multinational cooperation and a dose of good fortune.

Bad weather and storms can delay even the most well-planned journey, but so far delivery of the machines has gone smoothly. Qatar Railways Company (Qatar Rail) tells MEED four machines have been delivered to the Red Line North, five to the Red Line South and five to the Green Line of the planned Doha Metro.

The journey has seen the majority of the EPB machines embark upon a month-long ocean voyage as they are moved from Germany to Belgium before beginning their Atlantic passage, which takes them along the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Suez and into the Middle East before reaching Doha.

Logistical challenges

“The TBMs’ supplier, Herrenknecht, arranged the maritime transportation from the factories where the machines were manufactured in both Germany and China,” says Daniel Leckel, chief technical officer and chief programme officer at Qatar Rail.

The machines, weighing up to 900 tonnes, must be split into 22 segments before being transported, and, according to Herrenknecht, the heaviest of these is about 64 tonnes. A ship sets sail from Antwerp every two weeks and each shipment takes 28 to 31 days.

Upon arrival at Doha port, the operator, Milaha Company, enables the discharge of the lorries carrying the TMB components on the enormous vessels. “Qatar Rail’s logistics department handled the communication with Doha port,” says Leckel. “Our representatives held several meetings with Milaha Company, highlighting the importance of the machines to our metro project. We explained that the TBMs are ideal for Doha with very little impact on the city’s life, as they operate underground without interrupting the bustling streets. Qatar Rail’s logistics team monitored the discharge of the machines from the vessels and accompanied the TBMs to the dedicated construction sites.”

Key fact

The tunnel boring machines have to be split into 22 segments before being transported to Qatar

Source: Herrenknecht

The first machine, named Lebretha after a location in the country, arrived in April and is being used by the Red Line North contractor consortium of Italy’s Salini Impregilo, South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction and the local Galfar al-Misnad Engineering & Contracting. The $2.2bn package involves 23 kilometres of tunnel excavation and will be carried out by four machines all named after locations in Qatar – Al-Mayeda, Al-Khor and Al-Bidda. 

According to tunnelling tradition, a TBM can only start work once it is given a name, a sign of good luck for the project ahead. However, Qatar has started its own trend by naming the TBMs after locations in contrast to the tradition of using female names. “Since our TBMs will be operating across Qatar and since we are keen on integrating Qatari culture into our operational system, we decided to name them after historical towns and cities, each carrying its own story and background,” says Leckel.

Division of work

On the Red Line South, five EPB machines have now arrived named Lehwaila, Al-Wakra, Msheireb, Doha and Zubara. The 33km, $1.5bn tunnelling contract is being undertaken by local/French QDVC with South Korea’s GS Engineering & Construction and the local Al-Darwish Engineering.

The consortium for the $3bn Green Line contract is led by Germany’s Porr Bau with Saudi Binladin Group and the local Hamad bin Khalid Contracting Company. Five machines called Al-Rayyan, Al-Gharrafa, Al-Messila, Al-Shahaniyah and Leatooriya will bore 33km between them. Another TMB will also be used on this line, taking the total to six. The remaining six machines will all go to the $3.5bn Gold Line being undertaken by Greece’s Aktor with India’s Larsen & Toubro, Turkey’s Yapi Merkezi and STFA Marine Construction, and the local Al-Jaber Engineering.

Construction of the tunnels is scheduled to be finished between 2016 and 2018, with more tunnelling required for the $3bn Blue Line expected to be awarded in 2015 for completion in 2020.

By the time the 2022 Fifa World Cup kicks off in Qatar, locals and visitors alike will be using what could be the largest metro ever to be built in a single phase, and the TBMs will perhaps have set sail again to bring the same benefits to other cities.

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