Heathrow collapse firm wins Dubai Metro work

Geoconsult to advise Dubai Rapid Link on tunnelling package for US $3.4 billion project

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By  Sean Cronin Published  March 11, 2006

The consultant involved in the 1994 Heathrow Airport tunnel collapse has been appointed to the tunnelling team of the Dubai Metro. Austrian engineering firm Geoconsult was blamed for its part in the tunnel collapse, which was described by the judge in the trial that followed as “one of the worst civil engineering disasters in the United Kingdom in the last quarter of a century”. Now the company’s Singapore office is taking charge of overseeing tunnelling work on the Dubai Metro after being appointed by the Dubai Rapid Link Consortium, whose members include Japanese companies Obayashi and Kajima, as well as the Turkish Yapi Merkezi and Capita Symonds from the UK. Geoconsult was responsible for monitoring ground movement on the Heathrow project, which was excavated using the controversial New Austrian Tunnelling Method. The collapse caused a huge crater to appear between the airport’s two main runways and caused damage to car parks and buildings. It took months to clear up the damage. The company was later found guilty of falling “seriously short” of the appropriate standards, resulting in serious breaches of the Health and Safety Regulations. It received what was then a record fine of US $868,000 (£500,000) and ordered to pay a further $174,000 in costs. But the company refused to pay the fine — a move that led the British government to lobby Brussels to close a loophole in a European directive, allowing foreign firms to avoid fines imposed outside of their domestic markets. And 12 years after the collapse, the court is still chasing the fine. A court official contacted by Construction Week confirmed that the fine had not yet been paid by the company, and according to court records, the last reference to the case was in October 2004, when the court was pursuing the enforcement of the fine abroad after Geoconsult had launched an unsuccessful appeal. Singapore-based Geoconsult project manager KC Lee declined to comment on the Dubai Metro award. He said: “To be frank with you, we have received an email from the owner saying that we shouldn’t talk to anyone about the job and they want to keep it confidential. The best people to talk to are Capita Symonds.” But Capita Symonds’ project controls manager also declined to comment on recent appointments to the Metro construction team. The first phase of the Metro project will be the 52.1km ‘Red Line’ running between Rashidiya and the industrial zone of Jebel Ali. The second phase will run 17.6km from the airport, through the city centre on both sides of the Creek. There will be over 11km of TBM-bored tunnels on both lines, with most of the excavation work taking place underneath the Creek, and between Union Square and Rashidiya. The appointment of Geoconsult is the latest to be made to the project management team on the Metro. Atkins has also been drafted in as an advisor, although the company has not yet been given an official title on the project.

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