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July 06, 2011

MMC-Gamuda: Engineering The Future

By M. Saraswathi & Choong En Han

KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 (Bernama) -- In building the Berapit Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in Southeast Asia, MMC-Gamuda Joint Venture Sdn Bhd has taken Malaysian engineering to greater heights.

Through this project, the company implemented advanced technologies, and generated a pool of young engineers with hands-on experience in tunneling.

MMC-Gamuda is the contractor for the 329-kilometer Electrified Double Track Project (EDTP) between Ipoh and Padang Besar, encompassing two train tunnels of 3.5-kilometers, each.

The twin-bore, single-track Berapit tunnel cuts across a granite hill, connecting the Padang Rengas portal in Ipoh with the Taiping portal.

The tunnel is the main feature of a project costing RM12.485 billion, with tracks running across four northern states - Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis. It will be completed by 2014.

To date, over 6,000 people have been directly or indirectly involved in the Ipoh-Padang Besar section of the EDTP, of which 1,000 are engineers.

EXPERTISE

Tunneling is not new to the MMC-Gamuda team. The company previously undertook the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) project in Kuala Lumpur, which involved 11.5 km of bored tunnel.

The tunnel was a big accomplishment, and the company's innovative solution attracted the global engineering community's attention.

Others tunneling projects involving Gamuda and MMC, individually or together, are the Sungai Selangor Dam Diversion Tunnel, Penchala Tunnel of the Western Kuala Lumpur Traffic Dispersal Scheme (Sprint), and Kaohsiung Metropolitan Rapid Transit System, Taipei, Taiwan.

Currently, MMC-Gamuda is also bidding for the tunneling works of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project.

The Bukit Berapit railway tunnel was no small feat, either. Hailed as the longest railway tunnel in South East Asia, it boasts the world's largest pipe arch. Its construction required 2.38 million man-hours, involving 240 employees. The fatality rate was zero.

While the tunnel is designed for speeds up to 180 kilometers per hour (km/h), actual travel speed is restricted to 140km/h, for safety.

The tunneling involved techniques from the New Austrian Tunneling Method, Swedish and Japanese heavy machinery, and local and international talent, making it a project of global scale.

UNSUNG HEROES OF MMC-GAMUDA

The construction was no small feat, considering the risks involved. Extreme conditions, possible collapse of the cavity while tunneling under the North-South Expressway (NSE), use of explosives to blast through granite, and varying ground conditions, were some of them.

One of the toughest challenges the engineers encountered was tunneling under the NSE, with traffic plying on it, said the project's deputy head of construction, Ir Abd Razak Othman.

"One wrong move could result in serious casualties and the caving-in of the highway, but with deliberate and careful collaboration with PLUS Expressways, we successfully tunneled across the NSE," he said.

For that section, the team used a micro tunnel-boring machine, he said.

He said about 70 per cent of the tunnel was categorized as 'Section A' - a mined tunnel through Bukit Berapit that required risk calculations, and absolute precision in drilling and blasting.

"Working with granite is not as easy as it seems. Every meter of the blasted area needs to be reinforced with steel-rib support. Otherwise the whole tunnel might collapse under its own weight.

"We could only make progress of about four meters, on an average, daily," he said.

YOUNG ENGINEERS

Besides giving a boost to intercity rail transport upon completion, the EDTP is expected to produce a pool of local talent with expertise in tunnel construction.

Many of the hired professionals are in their mid 20s or early 30s, and the experience they gained by working on a project of this scale has improved their career prospects.

For Alvin George Francis, 26, and Prakash Sannasy, 25, being part of the country's landmark construction project was a remarkable experience.

"The tunnel is made to last for 100 years, which could be way after the lifetime of many of us involved in the construction work," said Alvin.

Although the work took him away from his family in Pahang, it was a matter of great pride to be part of the EDTP project, said Prakash.

"The experience that I gained is priceless," he said.

"I did civil engineering, and had no knowledge of tunneling work, but I have learned a lot after being involved in the job," said Muhammad Azman Mohd Hata, adding that the exposure would open up many opportunities for him.

Muhammad Azman said he wants to create Malaysia's own tunneling standard.

Believing knowledge is best when shared, all three young engineers wish to contribute to the country's engineering industry.

Tunnel Manager Subramanian Andiappan, who has 25 years experience in tunneling, said the train tunnel is too long for a single subway.

"A project of such length has to be separated into two tunnels," he said, adding that there would be nine cross passages built at 350-meter intervals, for people to walk to the other tunnel in case of emergencies.

PROGRESS OF BERAPIT TUNNEL

To-date, 75 per cent of Berapit twin-bore tunnel has been completed. Initial mechanical and electrical work has begun, said assistant manager for mechanical and electrical (M&E) works Chiew Wee Yee.

"The M&E work will be in full swing, come September," he said. The project also involves the Larut Tunnel, 330 meters in length, 96 per cent of which is completed.

Others parts of the Ipoh-Padang Besar EDTP are fully complete, including a 27 km viaduct in Perak. The new Prai Swing-Bridge in Penang is 58 per cent complete.

System works have started in all states, with the installation of overhead catenaries system mass trial, and soil treatment at open locations, depending on soil conditions, utility and drainage work.

With the construction of Bukit Berapit, MMC-Gamuda will strengthen its reputation as the region's foremost tunneling expert.

-- BERNAMA