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Global TBM Company, newly established by industry veteran Lok Home, is proud to announce the recent purchase of substantially all the assets of The Robbins Company. The company will operate as Robbins and with Mr. Home as the President and CEO. The acquisition will result in a seamless transition for a number of ongoing projects throughout the world, as Robbins renews its commitment to service, quality underground equipment, and top-notch support that its customers have come to expect. For a brief message from Lok Home, view the video here.
Home said the company has a bright future as a result of the transaction. We are starting off the new year with a respectable backlog of orders,” he noted. “In 2021 and beyond, our clients can depend on Robbins to deliver high quality machines, and technically superior machines for very difficult projects,” said Home. “That’s where Robbins really stands out.”
Home went on to say that Robbins is starting 2021 with no significant bank or institutional debt. “We have many projects to look forward to,” he continued. “Robbins is currently delivering Crossover machines and TBMs equipped for challenging geological conditions in many countries including the U.S., Norway, India, China and Canada.” The company’s conveyor and small boring machine divisions will also continue to deliver equipment worldwide.
Home emphasized that Robbins has always been focused on building the best and strongest machines. He pledged that they will continue to do that. “We still have our strong engineering team and we plan to continue our many industry involvements including the International Tunneling Association (ITA) and its associate member organizations. We’re glad to be a part of this community and this industry,” Home added.
The company expects to continue with exciting new developments as well, including a soon-to-be-unveiled non-circular rock boring machine. Robbins remains focused on creativity and innovation to solve the industry’s greatest challenges.
Robbins is one of the world’s foremost developers and manufacturers of advanced, underground construction machinery. Headquartered in Solon, Ohio, USA, Robbins is a total supply firm offering customized Tunnel Boring Machines, conveyors, cutters, and more, as well as knowledgeable field service personnel and technical support. The company has been an active industry participant and innovator for nearly 70 years.
From the first modern Tunnel Boring Machine built in 1952 to recent innovations such as the Crossover TBM for varied ground conditions, Robbins engineering and innovations have made a success of the world’s most difficult tunneling projects.
A 6.5 km (4 mi) long tunnel for wastewater storage below Louisville, Kentucky, USA has more to it than meets the eye. “At first glance, this seems like a straightforward project, but it turned out to be much more challenging,” said Shemek Oginski, Project Manager for the contractor, a joint venture of Shea/Traylor. The 6.7 m (22 ft) diameter Robbins Main Beam TBM and conveyor system had to cope with overstress in the crown that resulted in significant rock fallout in seven different areas, as well as methane gas in the tunnel. By the machine’s breakthrough on September 22, 2020, the crew had much to celebrate.
The machine was refurbished and consisted of older components as well as a brand new cutterhead supplied by Robbins and completely rebuilt electrical and hydraulic systems. “This was definitely an older machine—I actually operated it on the DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit] tunnels in Dallas, Texas in the 1990s, but with many of the components being new we were confident in it,” said Oginski.
The original tunnel was expected to be 4 km (2.5 mi) long, but a change order added to the length by 2.1 km (1.3 mi). The extension was ordered by the owner, Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), and its Engineer-of-Record Black & Veatch in order to eliminate four surface CSO storage basins. That included one basin originally located at the site of the TBM breakthrough, explains Oginski: “The original CSO site was located in close proximity to Beargrass Creek and had flooded multiple times. It was decided to extend the tunnel to that site in order to use the tunnel as storage instead, and connect it to the sewer system.” MSD installed a sheeting wall to protect the site from floodwaters while Shea-Traylor installed liner plate in the retrieval shaft, resulting in a site that is in much better shape.
It was in the 2.1 km (1.3 mi) extension, essentially a bifurcation of the main tunnel, where the crew encountered much of the crown overstress. “The longest section of overstress was 700 m (2,300 ft) and took two and a half months to get through,” said Oginski. The crew switched up the prescribed rock bolt pattern of four to six bolts at 1.5 m (5.0 ft) centers, and instead installed six bolts at 1 m (3 ft) centers. “It worked out to two rows per push. When that wasn’t enough, we installed wire mesh in the crown, mine straps, and channels. It definitely took extra time to install steel support, remove loose rock, and deal with the rock coming down so we could install rock support safely.” Overbreak varied from a few inches above the machine to 30 cm (1 ft) or more.
“We also had encountered natural methane gas in the tunnel just shortly before holing through,” said Oginski. The methane was discovered while the crew were probing out 150 ft ahead of the machine—something that the crew did continuously throughout the bore, using one, two or four probe holes depending on the geology. “We were down for about two weeks and were able to contain the methane within the cutterhead, where concentration spiked at 100% LEL. We were able to resume work after systematically ventilating, probing and grouting multiple times.”
Despite the challenges, the TBM was able to achieve up to 658 m (2,159 ft) in one month and 192 m (630 ft) in one week. The Robbins conveyor, including a 68.6 m (225 ft) long vertical belt, made this progress achievable, said Oginski: “The conveyor is definitely the way to go, especially for longer drives. There was quite a difference in performance between the extension tunnel, which we mined with lift-boxes, and mining with the conveyor. Our best month in the extension tunnel with the boxes was 221 m (725 ft), so that is a big difference.”
With tunneling now complete, Oginski is “definitely proud that we got to the end, as this is a challenging project.” The contractor is removing the components of the TBM to be stored in their yard in Mt. Pleasant, PA, and sees future applications for the equipment. “If the right project comes up then yes, it’s likely we would use this machine again.”
On July 24, 2020, a jubilant ceremony marked a milestone for southern Turkey’s arduous Bahçe-Nurdaği High-Speed Railway Tunnel. The first TBM-driven portion of tunneling using an 8.0 m (26.2 ft) diameter Robbins Single Shield machine is now complete. The 8.9 km (5.5 mi) long TBM tunnel was no easy bore, as it was excavated through some of the hardest and most abrasive rock ever encountered in the country.
“We are proud of the TBM crew who acted rapidly and were well organized to overcome the challenging ground conditions with a unique Single Shield TBM for the completion of the first tube of the Bahçe-Nurdağı Railway Project,” said Deniz Sahin, TBM Chief for contractor Intekar Yapi A.Ş.
Ground conditions during tunneling ranged from abrasive, interbedded sandstone and mudstone with quartzite veins to highly weathered shale and dolomitic limestone. The TBM encountered rock measuring between 136 and 327 MPa (19,700 to 47,400 psi) UCS. Water ingress with fines was expected in fault lines and shear zones affected by the East Anatolian Fault. “The TBM became stuck in three different fault zones, which we got through by building bypass tunnels. In smaller fault zones, we encountered excessive material flow and the TBM had to be stopped, while ground had to be stabilized with chemical injections while we cleaned the cutterhead,” said Sahin. Water inflows of 10 liters per second on average were removed using a dewatering system.
The majority of tunneling, said Sahin, was in metasandstone with quartz, with an average of 220 MPa (31,900 psi) UCS and a Cerchar abrasion value of 3.87. In such regions, the TBM’s 19-inch back-loading disc cutters had to be changed frequently and there was high vibration. Despite the challenges, Sahin was impressed by the machine’s overall capacity: “The Robbins Single Shield TBM’s motor power, hydraulic power and cutterhead torque were quite strong. The secondary ventilation and air suction systems inside the TBM were powerful. The connections between the gantries, scaffolding systems, walkways and working areas were good.”
The TBM ultimately achieved up to 456 m (1,500 ft) per month, a result achieved with the help of a Robbins continuous conveyor system for muck removal. “The electric motor and gearbox capacity of the conveyor system was quite enough for a 10 km (6.2 mi) tunnel and we had no failure on them. The conveyor performed well even under excess material and the whole system was quite robust,” said Sahin.
The owner, Turkish State Railways Directorate (TCDD), is aiming to overhaul the railway connection in southeastern Turkey by providing a shorter, faster route in one of the country’s busiest railway corridors. The new rail line between the towns of Bahçe and Nurdağı includes two parallel 9.8 km (6.1 mi) tunnels being excavated by both NATM (850 m / 0.5 mi) and TBM (8.9 km / 5.5 mi).
In January 2020, a Robbins 5.97 m (19.6 ft) diameter Main Beam TBM cleared its final hurdle when it broke through in Guangxi Province, China. The TBM excavated its first of two tunnels, an 11.9 km (7.4 mi) long conduit for Lot 1 of the North Line Water Irrigation Project, Letan Water Reservoir, Drought-Relief. The tunnel was marked by a gauntlet of challenges, from karst cavities to fault zones and water inflows. The workers on the jobsite, contractor Guangdong No. 2 Hydropower Bureau Co., Ltd., and the owner, Construction Management Bureau for the Letan Water Reservoir, had much to celebrate after completion of what is widely regarded as the most complex and longest tunnel on the North Line project.
Boring with the Robbins Main Beam TBM and continuous conveyor system began in summer 2015. “There was no precedent in this province for using a Main Beam TBM to excavate a tunnel longer than 10 km. We didn’t have relevant local experience to use for reference,” explained Yongjiu Jin, Deputy Manager of the Project for contractor Guangdong No. 2 Hydropower Bureau Co., Ltd. The machine did encounter a number of difficult geological obstacles as it bored through limestone rock, but was still able to achieve advance rates up to 40 m (130 ft) per day in good ground.
Much of the geology consisted of lightly weathered limestone in rock class II to III, with some sections in class IV to V rock that required the heaviest amount of ground support, ranging from rock bolts to ring beams and mesh. “Our team encountered a coal seam, gasses in the tunnel, two large water inrushes, three fault zones up to 103 m long, 11 karst cavities, and more. In order to solve the ground problems, there were more than 160 special technical research meetings held,” said Yongjiu.
Throughout tunneling, the contractor expressed thanks for Robbins Field Service staff. “Robbins personnel provided good technical support from equipment installation and commissioning through to tunnel completion. After the equipment was handed over to our company, they still helped us with equipment usage on our project, which makes us very satisfied with the Robbins after-sales service. Robbins really delivered: the after-sales phase was not the end of service, but the beginning of site service,” said Yongjiu.
While the completion of the first tunnel—the longest single-heading construction on record for water tunnels in Guangxi—is a milestone, there is more to do. The Robbins machine will be inspected and relaunched to bore a second tunnel 4.2 km (2.6 mi) in length. The ground conditions are predicted to be equally challenging, but the tunneling operation has some help from ground prediction methodology. Tunnel Reflection Tomography (TRT)—consisting of ground prediction using seismic waves—is being used to detect changing conditions ahead of the TBM. The method can predict the distribution and scale of joints and fissures, allowing the crew to plan ahead.
Located near Laibin City, the North Line project provides much needed drought relief using a network of tunnels totaling 29.4 km (18.3 mi). “This tunnel will realize the dream of drought control that people in Central Guangxi have had for many years. The breakthrough is the most important milestone event in this first phase of the North Line project,” said Yongjiu.
In December 2019, the City of Dallas, Texas, USA unveiled the largest hard rock TBM ever to bore in the U.S. The 11.6 m (38.1 ft) diameter Robbins Main Beam TBM will excavate the 8 km (5 mi) Mill Creek Drainage Relief tunnel, and its size is not its only distinction. The adaptable machine will change size partway through the bore, to a more compact 9.9 m (32.5 ft).
The unique Robbins TBM will be used to dig a tunnel designed to provide 100-year flood protection for east and southeast Dallas, areas affected in recent years by severe storms. The tunnel will protect 2,200 commercial and residential properties, including Baylor Medical Center. The current drainage system in these areas was constructed 50 to 70 years ago, and only provides two to five years of flood protection. “The completion of the TBM assembly marks a major milestone in the Mill Creek Tunnel Project,” said Council Member Lee Kleinman, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the City of Dallas. “I’m thrilled to see this type of engineering marvel happening right here in Dallas.”
The dual-diameter aspect of the Robbins TBM will be a first-of-its-kind conversion process. The contractor, Southland/Mole Joint Venture (SMJV), will make the conversion underground about 2.8 km (1.8 mi) into the bore. The two diameters are needed as the upstream section of the tunnel is designed with a circular cross section and peak flow rate of 42 m3/sec (15,000 ft3/sec), while the downstream 2.8 km (1.8 mi) portion has a higher peak flow of 565 m3/sec (20,000 ft3/sec) and was initially designed as a horseshoe cross section. Using the TBM for the entire tunnel is less time consuming and costly. “Robbins and SMJV are working closely to create the safest and most efficient sequence for completing this conversion within the limits of the bore. The City of Dallas (Owner) and our Project Team are very excited to embark on this unique challenge,” said Nick Jencopale, Project Manager for Southland Holdings.
The Robbins TBM, named “Big Tex” with permission of the State Fair of Texas, has been designed with a specialized cutterhead including removable spacers and adjustable bucket lips to convert to a smaller diameter. The TBM will first complete its 11.6 m (38.1 ft) diameter section of the alignment, then back up about 21 m (75 ft) to a transition area for the conversion, which is expected to take six to eight weeks.
As the TBM bores, it will pass through Austin Chalk between 12 to 30 MPa (1,800 to 4,400 at depths from 31 to 46 m (100 to 150 ft) below the city. The route is potentially gassy, so probe drilling is mandatory throughout the project. Crews will utilize ground support including eight 3.9 m (13 ft) long rock bolts every 1.5m (5 ft) with wire mesh and channel straps as needed. The finished tunnel will be lined with a 380 mm (15 in) thick cast-in-place concrete lining.
“Big Tex will work 24 hours a day to excavate the tunnel with crews ranging in size depending on activities,” said Rachel Sackett, marketing and communications director for Southland Holdings. Based on previous work through similar geology, the project team expects TBM excavation to progress rapidly to an average of 25m (80 ft) per day, allowing the project to be completed on schedule in 2023.
In 1979, a 4.56 m diameter Robbins Double Shield TBM was delivered to bore the Severomuysky Service Tunnel, a 15.3 km long railway through the remote mountains of Siberia. Now, 40 years after the original machine was delivered, Robbins is returning to the role. Two 10.37 m diameter Crossover (XRE) TBMs will bore the second Severomuysky Tunnel, clocking in at 15.5 km long and running through mixed ground and fault zones. The new rail line is needed due to limitations on carrying capacity on the current Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway through the area. Currently 16 million tonnes of cargo are carried through the existing Severomuysky tunnel but the Russian Government wants to increase cargo carrying capacity by more than six times in the region.
The largest global anthracite producer, Sibanthracite Group, is taking on the tunnel construction with management by VostokCoal Management Company. The companies, owned by Dmitry Bosov, aim to increase coal transport by up to 100 million tonnes per year through the addition of the second tunnel. “Robbins has established itself on the market as the best manufacturer of hard rock machines, which are able to provide the maximum penetration rate in hard rock. This is one of the determining factors in connection with the tight deadlines for the implementation of our project. Also, Robbins is the only manufacturer to build the Crossover TBM,” said a representative of Sibanthracite Group. Other aspects of the supply include a continuous conveyor for muck removal, rolling stock, spare parts, and cutting tools.
Sibanthracite Group chose Crossover technology for a number of reasons, geology being chief among them. “A Crossover type tunnel boring machine was selected for tunneling due to the fact that the construction of the tunnel will be carried out in difficult heterogeneous geological conditions (from unstable waterlogged soils to hard rock). The Crossover is able to operate in two modes: Open mode, used while boring in hard rock formations, and closed mode (with earth pressure balance), used when boring in unstable water-logged soils,” said the Sibanthracite representative.
The lessons learned during the first Severomuysky tunnel—the importance of probe drilling, consolidation grouting, and preventing a shielded machine from becoming stuck in fault zones or squeezing ground—are all part of the Crossover TBM solution. “I was a young engineer working at Robbins when the Double Shield TBM was delivered for the first tunnel, so it is a special honor to bring this new technology to the second Severomuysky Tunnel in Siberia,” said Robbins President Lok Home. “Per the contract Robbins is supplying Crossover TBMs for the new parallel rail tunnel—these machines are made to bore in highly variable ground conditions while maintaining good advance rates. With our latest technology we hope to again prove TBMs are the better choice over Drill and Blast when difficult ground conditions are to be encountered.”
The machines will be designed for varying water pressures, ranging from 5 to 20 bar. They will feature Water Inflow Control, a system that seals off the face and periphery and creates a safe working environment in which to dewater and consolidate ground. The machines will feature probe drill ports and capabilities for 360-degree probe drilling and grouting ahead of the excavation face, while the Robbins Torque-Shift System will enable the machines to bore through collapsing ground and other situations that demand high torque. The machines will also be designed with a belt conveyor in hard rock mode that can be switched out with a screw conveyor when crossing into soft ground.
Crews will bore through the Severomuysky Ridge, a mountain range in Buryatia and part of the Stanovoy Highlands, which separates the basins of the Upper Angara and Muya Rivers. “The second Severomuysky tunnel is located in one of the most geologically active areas of our planet—on the north-eastern flank of the Baikal rift zone. The region is characterized by high seismic activity, difficult geological and hydrogeological conditions against the backdrop of a harsh climate (the summer period lasts only 80-100 days, temperatures from + 39°C in summer to -58°C in winter). The construction work on the portals is complicated by the presence of permafrost as well,” said the Sibanthracite representative. Construction of the new tunnel is expected to begin in 2020 and take five years.
In August 2019, a small diameter Double Shield TBM made a big impact. The 2.46 m (8.07 ft) diameter Robbins machine completed 3,475 m (11,400 ft) of boring with no intermediate access, making it the longest rock tunnel ever bored by a Double Shield TBM under 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in diameter.
The machine completed the Parmer Lane Wastewater Interceptor in Austin, Texas, USA for contractor S.J. Louis Construction. Despite obstacles including two tight curves of 150 m (500 ft) radius and unexpected ground conditions that required modification of the cutterhead in the tunnel, advance rates were good. The machine reached up to 380 m (1,250 ft) per month while mining in single 12-hour shifts per day. “It was a hard rock TBM, and it performed better than expected through hard rock,” said Zach West, Project Manager for S.J. Louis.
The challenges for the TBM and its crew were varied, explained West. “The pairing of this tunnel length, which is on the longer side, and the diameter, which is on the smaller side, is challenging. The survey in a small tunnel with tight radius curves and limited surface access for over two miles is very difficult.” He added that the shallow tunnel depth, and the alignment to within a few feet of sanitary lines, high-pressure gas mains, and fuel tanks for gas stations, made TBM guidance critical. “I would say that I am most proud of our ability to guide the machine successfully through these obstacles and into our retrieval shaft within our expected tolerances.”
Through one stretch, the tunnel advanced directly between a 30 cm (12 in) diameter, high-pressure gas main and fuel tanks for a gas station with limited as-built information. “Navigating this section took a great deal of coordination with the local utility companies. Because the tunnel diameter was too small for an automated guidance system, we manually surveyed the front of the machine at every push to ensure the machine was on track,” said West.
“I’m proud that they mined the longest tunnel to date for a small shielded gripper machine of this size without any safety issues. Kudos to their management philosophy and jobsite team,” said Tom Fuerst, Robbins Utility Tunneling Sales Manager. Robbins assisted the crew while in the tight 150 m (500 ft) curves and helped with modifications required to the cutterhead and disc cutter arrangement.
The tunnel is located in an environmentally sensitive aquifer, with ground conditions ranging from soft dolomite with clay to limestone from 13 to 68 MPa (2,000 to 10,000 psi) UCS. “While we tunneled through the softer material, our best advance rate was close to 0.9 m (3 ft) per hour. When we tunneled through the expected limestone, advance rates were over 5.2 m (17 ft) per hour. Our best day was 25 m (81 ft) in a single shift,” said West.
The majority of the tunnel used a simple two-rock-bolt pattern for support. In the last 10% of the tunnel, ribs and lagging were used as support. Final carrier pipe, which is now being installed, consists of 110 cm (42 in) diameter fiberglass pipe.
The successful project is part of a larger trend towards small diameter, TBM-driven rock tunnels in the United States, says Fuerst. “It is primarily due to demographics and business growth. The parts of the USA that are growing need to build out their sewer and water infrastructure. TBMs can mine long distances with tight curves. They can reduce the need for multiple shafts, which lowers the overall project cost. And, given that most small diameter pipelines follow a road or municipal right-of-way, traffic problems are reduced significantly compared with open cut operations.”
The Parmer Lane Wastewater Interceptor connects to two existing lift stations at Lake Creek and Rattan Creek. The tunnel allows for these lift stations to be decommissioned, and will provide additional flow capacity by gravity, reducing operating costs for the City of Austin.
Adapted from the official press release of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP).
On Tuesday August 13, The New York City Department of Environmental Protection completed excavation of the Delaware Aqueduct Bypass Tunnel, a significant milestone in the USD $1 billion effort to repair leaks in the longest tunnel in the world. The moment happened at 6:51 a.m. when a tunnel boring machine broke through a wall of shale bedrock nearly 700 feet (210 m) beneath the Town of Wappinger in Dutchess County, New York, USA. Excavation of the tunnel was completed on budget and ahead of schedule.
“I want to congratulate the engineers, project managers and local laborers who steered us toward this milestone with considerable skill and precision,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said. “Holing through is a major achievement for any tunneling project, especially one as large and complex as our repair of the Delaware Aqueduct. The moment is also a reminder that much work remains to be done as we move steadily toward completing this project in 2023 and ensuring the long-term reliability of the water supply system that sustains 9.6 million New Yorkers every day.”
The Delaware Aqueduct Bypass Tunnel is the largest repair project in the 177-year history of New York City’s water supply system. Its centerpiece is a 2.5-mile-long bypass tunnel that DEP is building 600 feet (180 m) under the Hudson River from Newburgh to Wappinger. When the project is finished in 2023, the bypass tunnel will be connected to structurally sound portions of the existing Delaware Aqueduct on either side of the Hudson River to convey water around a leaking section of the tunnel. The 85 mile (138 km) long Delaware Aqueduct, the longest tunnel in the world, typically conveys about half of New York City’s drinking water each day from reservoirs in the Catskills.
A massive Single Shield tunnel boring machine, manufactured by The Robbins Company in Solon, Ohio, USA, began to excavate the tunnel on Jan. 8, 2018. The tunneling machine mined 12,448 feet (3,794 m) during the 582 days that it pushed eastward from its starting point nearly 900 feet (270 m) below the surface in the Town of Newburgh in Orange County. According to data tracked by DEP, the machine excavated 89.8 linear feet (27.4 m) on its most productive day, 354.8 feet (108.1 m) during its best week, and 945 feet (288 m) during its most productive month. The tunnel boring machine excavated through three bedrock formations, starting with the Normanskill shale formation on the west side of the Hudson River, the Wappinger Group limestone formation, and finishing in the Mt. Merino shale formation on the east side of the river. The location and condition of these bedrock formations was well documented by New York City when it originally built the Delaware Aqueduct in the 1930s and 1940s. Engineers used that historical information to design the tunnel boring machine for the bypass tunnel and plan for its excavation.
As the tunnel boring machine forged ahead, it also lined the shale and limestone bedrock with precast rings of concrete. A total of 2,488 concrete rings were installed by the machine. Now that mining is finished, DEP will begin to install 16 foot (5 m) diameter steel liners inside the first layer of concrete. After the 230 steel liners are installed and welded together, they will be coated with a second layer of concrete. This “triple-pass” design will provide the bypass tunnel with structural stability and prevent leaks from occurring again in the future. During the excavation, the tunnel boring machine was driven, maintained and supported by dozens of local laborers who worked 24-hours, six days a week. They operated cranes, trucks and underground trains to collect the pulverized rock and haul it to the surface. They removed and replaced cutting discs on the front of the machine, and maintained the many complex systems that kept the tunnel boring machine functioning properly.
The Delaware Aqueduct Bypass Tunnel is the first tunnel built under the Hudson River since 1957, when the south tube of the Lincoln Tunnel was finished.
Background on the Delaware Aqueduct repair project
DEP has monitored two leaking sections of the Delaware Aqueduct – one in Newburgh, and the other in the Ulster County town of Wawarsing – since the early 1990s. The leaks release an estimated 20 million gallons (76 million liters) per day, about 95 percent of that escaping the tunnel through the leak near the Hudson River in Newburgh. DEP has continuously tested and monitored the leaks since 1992. The size of the cracks in the aqueduct and the rate of leakage have remained constant over that time.
In 2010, the City announced a plan to repair the aqueduct by building a bypass tunnel around the leaking section in Newburgh, and also by grouting closed the smaller leaks in Wawarsing. The project began in 2013 with the excavation of two vertical shafts in Newburgh and Wappinger to gain access to the subsurface. These shafts, 845 and 675 feet (258 and 206 m) deep respectively, were completed in 2017. Workers then built a large underground chamber at the bottom of the Newburgh shaft. That chamber has served as the staging area for assembly and operation of the tunnel boring machine, and as the location from which excavated rock is brought to the surface by underground trains and a large crane.
The existing Delaware Aqueduct will stay in service while the bypass tunnel is under construction. Once the bypass tunnel is nearly complete and water supply augmentation and conservation measures are in place, the existing tunnel will be taken out of service and excavation will begin to connect the bypass tunnel to structurally sound portions of the existing aqueduct. While the Delaware Aqueduct is shut down, work crews will also enter the aqueduct in Wawarsing to seal the small leaks there, roughly 35 miles (56 km) northwest of the bypass tunnel.
The project will mark the first time that the Delaware Aqueduct will be drained since 1958. In 2013, DEP installed new pumps inside a shaft at the lowest point of the Delaware Aqueduct to dewater the existing tunnel before it is connected to the new bypass tunnel. Those pumps will be tested several times before the tunnel is drained in 2022. The nine pumps are capable of removing a maximum of 80 million gallons (302 million liters) of water a day from the tunnel—more than quadruple the capacity of the pumps they replaced from the 1940s. The largest of the pumps are three vertical turbine pumps that each measure 23 feet (7 m) tall and weigh 9 US tons (8 metric tons).
Background on the tunnel boring machine “Nora”
The Delaware Aqueduct Bypass Tunnel was excavated by one of the world’s most advanced tunnel boring machines (TBM). The Robbins Single Shield TBM – which measures more than 470 feet (140 m) long and weighs upwards of 2.7 million pounds (1.2 million kg) – was named in honor of Nora Stanton Blatch Deforest Barney, a noted suffragist and the first woman in the United States to earn a college degree in civil engineering. Nora, who worked for the City’s as a draftsperson during the construction of Ashokan Reservoir, was also the first female member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The USD $30 million TBM arrived at the site in Newburgh in 2017. It was delivered in 22 pieces and took four months to assemble. The 21.6-foot (6.58 m) diameter TBM was built to withstand more than 30 bar of pressure. The machine needed to withstand high pressure because workers encountered huge inflows of water under immense pressure when the aqueduct was first built more than 70 years ago. The TBM was equipped with pumping equipment to remove up to 2,500 gallons (9,400 liters) of water per minute away from the tunnel as the machine pushed forward. The TBM was also outfitted with equipment to install and grout the concrete lining of the tunnel, and to convey pulverized rock to a system of railroad cars that followed the TBM as it worked. The railroad cars regularly traveled back and forth between the TBM and the bottom of Shaft 5B in Newburgh, delivering workers, equipment and rock between the two locations.
On May 23, 2019, a celebration was in order: The last of six 8.93 m (29.3 ft) diameter EPBs had completed excavation at Lot 4 of Mexico City’s Túnel Emisor Oriente (TEO), a feat marking the completion of ten years and 62.1 km (38.6 mi) of tunneling. “We are proud of having successfully finished the excavation, despite all the adversities we faced, such as large inflows of water, hydraulic loads and constant changes in geology. We solved these by adapting the excavation mode according to each type of geology found,” said Hector Arturo Carrillo, Machinery Manager for Lot 4 contractor Carso Infraestructura y Construcción (CARSO).
Despite multiple challenges, the operation achieved a project record of 30 m (98 ft) in one day, and a high of 528 m (1,732 ft) in one month. It’s a result that, Carillo says, has much to do with the continuous conveyor system being used for muck removal: “It should be noted that our advance rates were achieved thanks to the great Robbins conveyor design. The tunnel conveyor was composed with elements such as the booster, vertical belt, curve idlers, and advancing tail piece, as well as elements on the surface. Personally, I think it is a great, admirable system that has helped us achieve the TBM’s performance.”
The breakthrough was the latest and greatest milestone for an urgently needed wastewater project that spanned some of the most difficult geology ever encountered by EPBs. The 10.2 km (6.3 mi) long Lot 4, running from Shaft 17 to Shaft 13 at depths of up to 85 m (280 ft), included sections of basalt rock interspersed with permeable sands with high water pressure. “Our machines had to go through the worst geology, but they were designed for it,” said Roberto Gonzalez Ramirez, General Manager for Robbins Mexico, of the three Robbins EPBs and continuous conveyor systems used on Lots 3, 4, and 5 of the project.
All of the machines were designed for water pressures from 4 to 6 bars, with mixed ground, back-loading cutterheads to tackle variable ground conditions. High pressure, tungsten carbide knife bits could be interchanged with 17-inch diameter carbide disc cutters depending on the geology. Other features included man locks and material locks designed to withstand pressures up to 7 bar, a redesigned bulkhead, and Hardox plates to reinforce the screw conveyors as well as removable wear plates to further strengthen each screw conveyor flight. The rotary union joint was redesigned to improve cutter change times during cutterhead interventions, while a new scraper design offered more impact resistance in mixed ground conditions with rock.
The Lot 4 TBM was assembled in the launch shaft no. 17 and commissioned in August 2012, with the bridge and all the back-up gantries at the surface. Two months later in October 2012, after advancing 150 m (490 ft), the machine and its back-up were completely assembled in the tunnel. One month later, the continuous conveyor system was installed and running.
After 405 m (1,328 ft) of excavation, the presence of rocks, scrapers, parts of the mixing bars and other wear materials in the excavated muck prompted a cutterhead inspection. With high pressure up to 3.5 bars, it was determined that a hyperbaric intervention was necessary, and on June 2nd, 2013 the first hyperbaric intervention through an EPB in a tunnel was performed in Mexico. However, these interventions were done at great cost and proved to be time-consuming. After about 50 hyperbaric interventions the remainder of the project’s interventions were done in open air. “The interventions carried out in atmospheric mode were the biggest challenge. The great influx of water tested the limits, because we were excavating on a decline. In all of these interventions we had to implement a double pumping system, at both the TBM and the shaft,” said Carrillo. Despite the challenges of pumping water at volumes up to 180 l (48 gal) per second and cleaning fines from the tunnel each time the operation was performed, atmospheric interventions were still lower in cost and quicker than those done at hyperbaric pressure.
Even when conditions were tough, Carrillo felt his operation was well-supported by Robbins Field Service: “Robbins were always present giving ideas and contributing all their experience to solve the problems. One of the most recent examples, almost at the end of this project, was where the machine encountered a blockage to the shield and could not move forward. It became necessary to implement the exceptional pressure hydraulic system, reaching a pressure range of 596 bar on 28 thrust cylinders. Robbins personnel helped us during all that time and we were able to get through it.”
In April 2019, a Robbins Double Shield TBM defied the notoriously difficult geology of the Himalayas to break through about one year ahead of the overall project schedule, and seven months ahead of the TBM tunneling schedule. Nepal’s first tunnel boring machine, at 5.06 m (16.6 ft) diameter, achieved over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) monthly advance on two separate occasions and averaged over 700 m (2,300 ft) per month over the course of tunneling. The machine completed the 12.2 km (7.5 mi) Bheri Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project (BBDMP) for the Government of Nepal’s Department of Irrigation (DOI) and contractor China Overseas Engineering Group Co. Ltd. Nepal Branch (COVEC Nepal).
The large and well-attended ceremony featured a speech by the Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli, where he praised the project and its success for the future of TBM projects in the country. “It is not just that new technology has entered Nepal; it is a matter of great gain. The government has plans to execute various other multipurpose projects such as the Sunkoshi-Marin Diversion Project.”
The machine’s completion of the tunnel in just 17 months came nearly a year ahead of the DOI’s deadline for completing the tunnel of March 28, 2020, with the contractor’s schedule being more aggressive. “The breakthrough ceremony was great. We’re proud that we finally did it and were ahead of the overall schedule by almost one year,” said Mr. Hu Tianran, Project Manager for COVEC.
When the BBDMP was fast-tracked as one of the country’s “National Pride Projects” feasibility studies showed that Drill & Blast excavation of the tunnel could take as long as 12 years. The DOI needed a faster option, and they found it in TBMs. They began working with local Robbins representatives MOSH Tunnelling to bring what would be the first Nepalese TBM ever into the country. The process for the DOI to acquire funding for the project and select a contractor through international competitive bidding took seven years, spanning from 2007 to 2015, when project commencement officially began. “We are proud to have introduced TBM technology successfully,” said Prajwal Man Shrestha, Robbins Representative in Nepal with MOSH Tunnelling. “Despite roadblocks and resistance along the way, we eventually introduced this technology, which broke all tunneling records in Nepal. The country has received international attention and contractors and developers from around the world are now considering Nepal for future TBM projects.”
The tunnel is located in the Siwalik Range, part of the Southern Himalayan Mountains, where geology consists of mainly sandstone, mudstone, and conglomerate. “Using the TBM method instead of the conventional drill and blast method was the key factor for the success of this project. It has set a good example for the implementation of a large number of similar tunnels in Nepal’s water/energy/transportation projects in the future. There are promising prospects in the application of TBM technology in Nepal in my point of view,” said Mr. Hu.
To ensure the best TBM performance and to prevent downtime, machine maintenance occurred daily at a fixed time. Geological engineers analyzed the ground conditions twice daily to adjust the tunneling parameters if needed. The careful plan of excavation worked: The knowledgeable COVEC team traversed a risky fault zone, the Bheri Thrust at the 5.8 km (3.6 mi) mark, with no problems, and overcame a stuck TBM shield at another point with a bypass tunnel constructed in just five days. To cope with the conditions, the Robbins machine was designed with Difficult Ground Solutions (DGS), a suite of features including enhanced probe drilling and forepoling capabilities, as well as a stepped machine shield and smooth cutterhead design to avoid becoming stuck in collapsing ground.
The secret to the machine’s rapid excavation is good planning, says Mr. Hu: “As the contractor and the equipment supplier jointly carried out in-depth research and detailed design in the preliminary stage, the TBM was matched to the various conditions of the project. Together with the advantages in hard rock construction that The Robbins Company has, we made an excellent performance of the TBM on this project.”
Once the BBDMP is operational, it will irrigate 51,000 hectares of land in the southern region of Nepal, and provide 48 MW annual generating capacity. It will divert 42 cubic meters (1,500 cubic feet) of water per second from Bheri River to Babai River under a head of 150 m (490 ft) using a 15 m (49 ft) tall dam, providing year-round irrigation in the surrounding Banke and Bardia districts. The estimated annual benefit in Nepalese Rupees is $2.9 billion for irrigation, and $4.3 billion for hydropower, making a total of NPR $7.2 billion (approx. USD $64 million) in benefits once the project becomes active.
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