There was some great news on Thursday with City Rail Link announcing they’d made their first breakthrough, connecting the tunnels under Albert St to the ones built through the Commercial Bay site.

CRL’s CEO Dr Sean Sweeney, say, “The City Rail Link is a city-shaping project that will completely transform the way people move around the city.

“Today’s milestone is an exciting step that brings us closer to delivering the project’s many benefits for Auckland.

“While there has been some recent media focus on the financial issue with one contract, it’s business as usual with CRL and today’s breakthrough proves we’re on track and making great progress.”

Dr Sweeney added that the nature of this project has made today’s milestone even more significant.

“It’s fair to say that getting to this point has not been without its challenges. This is the largest transport project ever undertaken in New Zealand and building it within the middle of a built-up city is no small task.

“The nature of the excavation, the tight confines and the location all make building this project extremely complex and I’m delighted with the progress we have made to date.”

The breakthrough itself has been a gradual process over the past month that has required a staged approach to excavation, construction of shotcrete support between piles, and demolition of temporary concrete piles separating the two sites.

The tunnels between the two sites, meet under the Customs Street traffic deck which was built last year to keep traffic moving while the work is carried out underneath.

Dr Sweeney says now the CRLL contractor Connectus the McConnell Dowell and Downer Joint Venture team can complete the construction of the remaining third of the tunnel box and backfilling of the trench will continue until it is completely covered – expected to be mid-2019.

Dropping a banner might not be quite as dramatic as a tunnel boring machine breaking through – that will come later as part of the main works – but is important none-the-less.

CRL also gave a few numbers on the Albert St trench to get to this point. It has involved:

  • 846,000 hours worked to date
  • 360 piles installed
  • 155 steel struts
  • 250 services relocated
  • 50,000m3 of backfill to complete the trench
  • 10,000m3 of tunnel box concrete

A few more photos from their Facebook page.

Looking down into the Commercial Bay tunnels
Looking south down Albert St

They also say the next breakthrough will come early next year when the tunnels between Commercial Bay and Britomart are connected. After the last few years of building new foundations for the old Chief Post Office building, they’re now hard at work on excavating out the tunnels. More images here and here.

I like how the old building columns are just hanging in mid-air.

For all the challenges they seem to be having with contracting the next phases, at least there’s some good progress being made with these works.

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45 comments

  1. Great to see this progress. All finished in another six months. So is the tunnel sealed up and unused for the next five years until the rest of CRL is constructed?
    Is this a planning fail by AT and CRLL or just a lack of expertise in NZ to manage this project with a timely delivery.
    Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in having the planned LRT online anytime within 10 years.

    1. The first stage was started early so that Commercial Bay could get on with building their tower on the old downtown mall site. The were understandably not keen to sit around waiting to develop a valuable site, while the main part of the project was contracted designed and built.

    2. This is effectively the result of AT and Auckland Council pushing on to do the first stage to coordinate with all the other building and projects downtown, while the government (the last one) dithered and blathered around.

      If we’d waited for Wellington to get on board, the new skycraper would be in the way and we wouldn’t be able to build the tunnel at all.

    3. There may well have been pressing reasons to get tunnels built under Commercial bay and it was logical to get the cut and cover tunnels up Albert St done.
      However, no matter how this great achievement is trumpeted, we cannot escape the fact that sitting unused and empty for 5+ years is laughable.
      It sure looks like a planning cockup and certainly calls into question the capability of those who planned the sequence and timetable of CRL construction.
      I can’t help thinking that some separation of C3 so that construction of the Aotea station box had paralleled the Albert St tunnel work to provide a working part of CRL with some trains terminating at Aotea by 2020/21 would have been major CRL achievement.
      Too late now. No enthusiasm to get the CRL completed sooner than 2024.
      She’ll be right 🙁

      1. “Bogle” the biggest problem with using the Aotea station is that the platform can only be half their normal length as the TBM has to be dismantled twice before it can be up and running proper

        1. Sorry that is only a minor and surmountable technical detail and not significant enough to justify a 5 year delay.

      2. The Aotea station box is a key part of the C3 construction, it will be used to either to deploy, turn or extract the TBM, there’s no way it could be used as an initial station.

        The tunnel into Britomart sat unused for four years, as in a similar situation to what we have now it was built before the main contract was finalised to allow for construction above the tunnel.

        1. Nah, dont believe that. A competent tunnelling engineer would easily sort out the TBM extraction and sending it back to Mt Eden end while Aotea station was operating. Maybe a few days/weeks shutdown but NOT a 5 year delay.
          I don’t think anyone here should be trying to come up with reasons to excuse basic planning incompetence.

        2. It may very well be technically possible, but at very least it would require one end of the station to not be constructed, so you would have to have either part of a concourse or a temporary concourse.

          Construction in a live environment adds significant costs, which is why it is avoided unless absolutely necessary. We would be much more the laughing stock of the engineering world for unnecessarily making it a live environment than we would for leaving a tunnel unused for a few years. Working in a live environment also slows things down, the last thing we need is more delays.

          This really is a solution looking for a problem and getting in the way while it does it. At best it will allow a small number of trains to run through to Aotea, with some doors not opening due to a short platform. All it does is means is some passengers on selected services get a shorter walk to work, while at the same time complicating AT’s operating patterns and adding costs to the project.

          The obvious question is why?

        3. Jezza, the complete station box could be built. The south deep wall where the tunnels are could be completely concreted with the appropriate tunnel portals and a temporary concrete brick wall used to seal the portals (if necessary). The technology used to keep TBMs on track would ensure they meet the portals spot on.
          Anyway it’s all academic now. The Albert St tunnels will have 5+ years to age and deteriorate. There will likely be $100m+ to refurbish, clean up, sort out faults, realign everything, redo drainage, sort out backfill settlement, ventilation reworking and significant inspection fees and remedial work management costs when time comes to actually use them.
          As I said, she’ll be right

        4. I don’t think they spent much refurbishing, cleaning up, realigning and all the other things you listed in the Britomart tunnels after they were left unused for a number of years, why would it be different for these tunnels?

        5. Given that 2018 is over and the tunnel box is still at least six months away, services are expected to start in 2023, the tunnels have no tracks, traction, or signals, and Aotea station hasn’t even been started, how on earth do you figure that the tunnels will be sitting idle for five years? Even if traction, signals, and tracks go to the fastest plan possible it would be less than 4 years *and there would be no station until at least the end of 2020*.

          You are proposing that we change a few peak period six car trains to three car trains for a loss in capacity to run a few trains 800m up the road and spend hundreds of millions of dollars for the privilege.

        6. CRLL have already pushed the CRL completion date into 2024.
          With Albert st tunnels completed early 2019 then that by my simple math means they are unused (ie no trains running through) for minimum 5 years. Given the likelihood of further delays that will be 5+ years.
          If the Aotea station gets built by end 2020 then why not put rails and ole from Britomart to Aotea and use Aotea for some peak services. Too complicated for AT?

  2. That looks amazing . The thing is whoever wins the C3 contract decides to bring in 2 TBM’s to bore the tunnels then these sections will be up and running sooner not later instead of just being a home for spiders .
    And will they allow a walk through for the public ?

    1. There will only be 1 TBM for the main contract.
      it will get taken apart and then back up to the top of the hill to bore the second tunnel…

      1. It’s usually the contractor that supplies the plant to do the job not the Client , so if they can get 2 at a reasonable rental price then they should do it , then the tunnels could be open sooner and at an earlier date which hopefully shut the nay/doom up that reckon it’s a waste of money .
        And the cost of the dismantle and moving it back to Mt Eden it could possibly be cheaper to use 2

        1. TBMs are generally made to order for the specific project (expected ground conditions, tunnel diameter, tunnel lining method etc.). Afterwards they get broken up for scrap or sold back to the manufacturer to be refurbished. It’d be wasteful and uneconomic to buy two of them.

        2. That depends on how much of a critical path the bore is, and how much time they might save on the build using two TBMs. A TBM is relatively cheap, my guess is it would be economic if it shortened the total build programme by a couple of months.

        3. It’s up to the bidders to decide and I had heard that one of the bidders in earlier stages of the tender process was thinking about using two TBMs to speed up the process as it would save quite a bit of time, both from boring but also because it lets them get on with the job of fitting out stations and means shorter overall street disruption. TBMs of train size are pretty cheap and common these days

        4. It is not just the purchase/rental of additional TBMs that is required. There is a need for additional experienced personnel to operate them, and multiple crews so that the TBM is operated across multiple shifts. These personnel are not that easy to find and do not come cheap as they are truly part of an international market for their unique skill set.

        5. “Mike G” in the last 20years there have been 4 major tunneling jobs done in NZ 3in the Auckland area and 1 in the Sth Island so there are the crews that can be put together and train extras to operate the TBM’s . With the Vector tunnel they had overseas experts come and train Kiwis who in the end took over the operation of the machines

        6. “david L”, as I said it is an international market, what has happened in NZ in the past really doesn’t make that much difference. Some of the trades can be bought in from other areas (eg electricians, welders etc), and some personnel will have worked on tunnels in NZ and then stayed in NZ working on non-tunneling projects; but there are some positions such as the TBM operators that need to be experienced people. I don’t believe that TBM operators, once experienced, are going to sit on their hands in NZ waiting for a tunneling project when they can work internationally due to the tremendous international demand for their skills. The skill and experience that is required by these people is very niche, highly in demand internationally, and is critical to successfully delivering a tunnel project. A poor decision by an operator can cost a project $10M plus and a year or more of delay. It is possible to find them, but there is both the cost component (ten years ago I worked with a couple of them in Australia that were paid AU$250k + allowances + bonuses) and getting the right ones. As noted, it is not just one of these operators, but one per shift (so two or three depending on shift rotations) that is required. Nothing is impossible, but this is certainly part of the calculation in whether to use one or two TBMS.

        7. “Mike G” As the 2 contenders are JV’s the overseas partner most likely will bring their own operators to start with as what happened with Downer and their Italian partner when they did the Vector tunnel . And they will train the operator’s and have an engineer as an overseer to keep it going in the right direction

  3. Anyone know anything about the contracting issues? I wonder if there is no one prepared to do it anywhere near budget? Is there a plan B? Dead end station at Aotea?

    1. They are re-running the tendering process and have bought in a second outfit for the final bids. Last I heard the winning tenderer will be announced in March 2019.

    2. By my count there have been 2 issues related to CRL contracts:

      C3 – One of the two preferred consortia pulls out of the tender process because the lead contractor, Fletcher Construction, decides to stop bidding on new work due to performance issues with some of its existing contracts. A replacement consortia is selected so the rest of the tender process still has two bidders.
      C7 – Design and build contract awarded to Opus (design) and RCR Tomlinson NZ (build). RCR Tomlinson’s Australian parent company has gone into administration, making their ability to fulfill the contract look unlikely. This is long before they need to start the physical works so plenty of time to find a replacement.

      Neither of these are any fault of CRL’s and neither of them have anything to do with budget. This sort of disruption isn’t unusual on large projects. There’s no reason to think that the delivery of CRL will be seriously impacted.

        1. It’s public knowledge that, following losses on a couple of major projects, Fletchers aren’t currently bidding for new work. It’d be very strange of them to bid for NZ’s largest construction project while avoiding smaller projects with (presumably) less risk.
          I’m interested in hearing alternative explanations though.

        2. The issues were in their building division, not their infrastructure one, which was still operating and was bidding for the work.
          I don’t think I should really repeat what I was told given the confidence in which it was told to me.

        3. Although after they pulled the plug on the CRL bid….
          Fletchers did bid on the Watercare central connector (est $1.2 billion) in Sept ’18..

          (with the same consortium the did Waterview with, and presumably the CRL bid)
          https://www.watercare.co.nz/About-us/News-media/Tenders-submitted-for-Watercare’s-Central-Intercep

          In the end they were not successful, but they did put in a bid well after they pulled the plug on the CRL…( so may be they are slowly “walking back” their “no new projects” status

      1. C3 – it was more about the unreasonable contract conditions the council were trying to impose at that time, the amount of risk the consortia were exposed to and difficulty in pricing something that would not be under consortia control. This shambles has added over a year to the opening date.
        C7 – RCR AU is a different entity to RCR NZ who from what I hear have not problem fulfilling the contract. This is for fitting out the track, so not urgent anyway.

  4. Using the tunnels util CRL is complete for storing trains for the AM / PM peaks was discussed previously. The ideas being to relieved some pressure on the Britomart bottleneck avoiding dead ending trains getting in the way of fulling incoming trains.. Still an option? Although I can imagine there may not be the room for the drives to walk out safely.

    1. I would assume there is room for the drivers as this room would be needed for an emergency evacuation of a train within the tunnel. The safety aspect would have to be operational, as the drivers would be walking on or close to potentially active track.

  5. The CRL tunnels – a beautiful sight to behold. An exclusive, segregated right-of-way for rapid transit through the heart of the CBD.

    No conflicts with road traffic.

    No risk to pedestrians.

    No environment-destroying compromise.

    Simply the unencumbered facility to transport large numbers of people safely and efficiently into or across the city.

    For decades this facility has been sorely-needed but didn’t exist. Now it is steadily coming into being.

    Forget stadiums or convention-centres. This project, this very construction, represents real, tangible, lastiing value. It will benefit every-day people, every day.

  6. Posted on the CRL’s Web page 20/12/18

    “CRL moves to single Alliance to deliver stations, tunnels and rail systems

    20 December 2018

    “Delivering City Rail Link on schedule is a key priority and was a critical factor in deciding to go with a single Alliance ”

    — Dr Sean Sweeney, CRL CEO
    City Rail Link Ltd (CRLL) today announced that it intends to proceed with a single Alliance to deliver the stations, tunnels and rail systems – including the C7 Rail Systems Contract.”

    This should have been done in the 1st place as it could help the tunnels to be finishe faster as now there will be no stepping on each others toes

    Here is the link :-

    https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/crl-announces-single-alliance/

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