The idea of transparency is one that we most often hear touted in politics and policies. But transparency is a concept that applies to our underground industry as well. Widespread knowledge sharing can and should be the policy in our industry, but all too often jobsite politics, confidentiality agreements, and fear of poor public opinion limit what is ultimately divulged. I argue that transparency in tunneling is a help, not a hindrance, and we can make steps today towards clearer communication.
Why It’s Needed
- Learn from Experiences in the Field: Tunneling professionals deserve full access to the successes and the problems that have been encountered in the field. If we were to employ universal knowledge sharing, tunneling operations themselves could become safer and more efficient and overall project costs could be reduced.
- Improve Tunneling Technology: Knowledge of advance rates, performance in specific ground conditions, wear rates for cutters and other surfaces in contact with the cutting face, performance of ground conditioners and foams, and many other types of info are imperative to improving technology. Tunnel boring could be made faster, safer, and more cost effective with such knowledge. It could also improve willingness to try new and emerging technologies in the industry, which benefits all stakeholders. With a good knowledge of TBM performances in specific ground conditions, TBM specifications could also be written to greater accuracy and result in using the most cost effective solutions.
- Improve Risk Sharing: Risk is often apportioned unfairly on today’s tunneling projects. In many cases the TBM supplier is required to shoulder a larger part of that burden than their potential returns. With a better understanding of the risks through knowledge of past projects, as well as knowledge of past risk sharing strategies, this problem can be resolved.
- Ensure Fair Financial Practices: With transparency in terms of contractual pricing and project spending, payments for work performed, etc. and other unsavory practices can be lessened.
- Reduce Litigiousness: Claims in tunneling projects are on the rise worldwide. Recent projects have resulted in separate and duplicate claims against different parties, such as the equipment manufacturer and the owner, for the same issues and without their mutual knowledge. Such claims are unfair, and through transparency and equal access by all parties to a Dispute Review Board, the frequency and extent of lawsuits in our industry could be reduced.
From the Equipment Supplier Perspective
As equipment suppliers, we strive to share the information that is available to us. We’ve opened up about stuck TBMs, challenging drives, and how we’ve overcome those issues. We’ve also tried to share whenever possible why we think fast advance rates and good efficiency were achieved on various projects.
Unfortunately knowledge is sometimes not shared even within parties on the same project, such as the contractor, project owner, owner’s representative, and equipment supplier. Time and again we see that communication between all parties is key to overcoming challenging conditions. The road to transparency starts here: with clear communication between all coordinating parties on a given project.
Not Without Precedent
Transparency is not an untested idea in our industry. A great recent example is that of the U.K.’s Crossrail project. The project follows governmental codes of practice for data transparency and the country’s Freedom of Information Act. Details such as project and equipment costs, spending budgets and records, safety records, and more are available for download on their website, and special requests can be made for additional data. Multiple reports have also been up front about TBM performance, advance rates, and other experiences on the project. The Crossrail project was highly successful and, arguably, transparency played a large part in that. Crossrail is also just one example of transparency at work in the U.K.—governmental programs such as Transport for London’s Transparency Strategy aim to give clear and consistent information to the public about all road and public transit spending.
A Call for Clarity
Transparency is possible in the tunneling industry, but it may require things like international regulations, or at the very least certifications that could be provided by an international organization like the ITA. Such a certificate would be highly beneficial to all stakeholders: It could certify corruption-free practices, and guarantee knowledge sharing. Transparency is not an easy thing to achieve, and there are certainly barriers to the process in various areas of the world. But we can start with transparency requirements within projects, and then move outward. To be clear: knowledge sharing is something that can only benefit our industry. It is our recommendation we start today.
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