For a long time the date had been marked in red in the calendar of many engineers. For after all, the STUVA had issued an invitation to come to Stuttgart from December 6 to 8, 2017 – to attend the tradition-steeped STUVA Conference, which has grown to become the world‘s largest international get-together for tunnels and infrastructure. The response was tremendous: never before have so many taken part at the Conference held every two years and never before was the STUVA Expo, the fair accompanying the event so large and impressive. Over 1900 participants attended the Conference and more than 200 exhibitors were present on an area encompassing more than 7000 square metres. Far more than at the previous record event held in 2015.
There are many good reasons for attending the STUVA Conference, for instance to further one‘s professional training or establish new contacts with customers. After all, no other trade conference from the infrastructural field provides such a range of lectures or involves so many decision-makers. And where else in the hectic world of tunnelling are you able to widen your professional spectrum for three whole days while exchanging views with over 1,900 other experts, consolidating existing contacts and establishing new ones? All this involving a copious lecture programme presented by 65 experts, backed by a giant exhibition, exciting field trips and last but certainly not least the grand Gala Evening held on Day 1.
Since 1963 this combination has regularly provided something very special every two years – featuring that particular STUVA feeling. Thus it came as no surprise that the grand lecture hall was absolutely full early on the Wednesday morning in order to hear the welcoming address presented by STUVA board chairman Univ.- Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Ziegler. First of all, he made it clear that the STUVA essentially chose the Stuttgart Messe Fairgrounds as it basically holds its conferences where as many tunnelling activities as possible are taking place. The Stuttgart–Ulm project is currently easily Germany‘s biggest tunnelling project but at the same time is of particular interest owing to the tricky geological and hydrogeological conditions. In stating this he also expressed the hope that the difficulties that have occurred during the project can be put into perspective and explained to the general public by the STUVA Conference.
„Cost increases and time delays during a project are not á priori a natural law but often can be attributed to additional or altered specifications“ the STUVA board chairman said. Frequently the causes like in Stuttgart are attributable e.g. to stipulations subsequently imposed during the approval proceedings, such as fire protection regulations, which are becoming increasingly restrictive or changes resulting from protests by citizens and protracted legal battles. Against the background of the disharmony surrounding Stuttgart 21 at any rate it should not be forgotten that pioneering work for the future must essentially be accomplished today. The desolate state of large parts of our transport infrastructure already shows this with great clarity Ziegler says. In his words of welcome that then followed the Baden-Württemberg Minister of Transport Winfried Hermann pointed to the fact that the STUVA’s decision to come to Stuttgart was most justified. After all, his federal „Land“ has the most road tunnels in Germany – no less than 95 tunnels with a total length of some 60 km. During the next ten years around 1.3 billion euros would be invested in building a further 15 road tunnels. Growth in the rail tunnel sector is even more impressive. At present no less than 16 tunnels with a total length of 33 km are being added on account of the major Stuttgart 21 project. Hermann stressed just as Ziegler had done previously the increasing importance of digitalisation for traffic in general. In this connection, the ever faster digitalisation leading to the equipping of tunnels operationally, something that is forging ahead at the moment, is trail-blazing for the future of the entire transport infrastructure and all the companies involved.
In March 2017 the STUVA board decided to award this year‘s STUVA Prize to the Deutsche Bahn AG. The prize acknowledges the company‘s long-standing achievements in tunnelling on numerous new rail routes and the innovation introduced in the process in conjunction with the partners involved together with the resolve shown. On December 8, 2017 – in other words coinciding with the last day of the STUVA Conference – with the inauguration of the 107 km long route between Erfurt and Ebensfeld, the new Berlin–Munich artery as a core of the German Unity Transport Project was opened. The 25 tunnels needed in conjunction with this project are 55 km long in total and have set new standards running as they do through all conceivable geological formations. „With reference to the tunnel accident at Rastatt, which occurred after the decision to award the prize and the increase in costs for Stuttgart 21“, Ziegler said in his award address „the STUVA Prize should act as both encouragement and a mandate for the DB AG and its partners – beyond the undoubted successes achieved – to continue with the intro- duction of innovations with courage and skill on the one hand while at the same time further improving controls by applying the most modern methods in order to further reduce the prob- ability of disasters“.
It goes without saying that such extensive digitalisation of the entire transport system along with the completion of new infrastructure and a growing need for maintenance costs a lot of money. However, the next speaker in the hall was able to placate his listeners. Rainer Bomba, undersecretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure pointed out that the federal government had long since recognised the fact that an efficient, modern transport infrastructure represents one of the keys for securing the competitiveness of our country in the long term.
Thus by 2030 an impressive 270 billion euros will be made available for the transport infrastructure. 70 % of this total will be earmarked for developing and upgrading the existing network. A whole pack- age of measures has been set up to spend this money wisely and effectively. For example a requirement planning scheme has been agreed on with the Deutsche Bahn AG so that important rail projects can be implemented more speedily in future. Towards this end the state will cough up for the full planning costs in future. Like those speaking before him, Bomba pointed to the special significance of digitalisation for transportation. Thus the application of BIM (Building Information Modeling) represents an important contribution for assuring deadlines and costs are secured.
Then it was the turn of the president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) Prof. Tarcisio B. Celestino to address the gathering. He acknowledged the STUVA as one of the most important institutions for spreading technology and know-how in the world for underground construction and the consistent use of underground spaces. He added that Germany has always been one of the most important member states as far as the ITA is concerned. After all, the two former STUVA CEOs, Prof. Günter Girnau and Prof. Alfred Haack were also ITA presidents and the cur- rent CEO of the STUVA, Dr.-Ing. Roland Leucker is continuing this successful collaboration. The Committee on Safety of Underground Facilities undoubtedly benefits from his leadership. Indeed it is impossible to heap high enough praise on the significance attached to COSUF. The Committee has contributed enormously to improving fire protection and safety in tunnels, something reflected in the drop in cases of damage during the past 15 years. Celestino went on to say that he was convinced that in the interim the world has understood just how essential tunnels have become as calculable and reliable infrastructure alternatives. Currently 7.1 % more per annum is being spent on tunnels – an amount almost twice as much as for the rest of the construction industry. Celestino called on the experts present to exploit the chances afforded by the tunnel and foundation engineering industry. „We should take advantage of the impulses provided by the STUVA Conference and accept them as a turning point to close the infrastructural gap. Towards this end we must prove that tunnel- ling can decisively improve the mobility of the population – and that tunnels are predictable and reliable in operation. That is the mission we are facing, esteemed ladies and gentlemen“.
After the 2017 STUVA Prize had been awarded to the Deutsche Bahn AG, the opening lecture was presented by one of the newly- crowned prizewinners: Ronald Pofalla in charge of Infrastructure with the Deutsche Bahn AG provided a compact insight into the ongoing dynamic development of the investment offensive for rail transportation and summed up the comparable targets for the federal Transport Infrastructure Plan and his own company‘s network concept until 2030: more traffic on rail, higher efficacy of the network and increasing attractiveness of rail traffic for the customer. For the DB according to Pofalla the requirements planning scheme with the state represents the decisive moment. Pofalla was convinced that as from 2018 in this way projects can be implemented more quickly and at lower cost and major projects will be accomplished up to five years faster than hitherto thanks to reduced bureaucracy.
Following the joint opening session the parallel series of lectures for tunnelling and tunnel operation began in the course of the forenoon. Since 2015 the STUVA has expanded its programme to include the increasingly more important segment dealing with tunnel operation. To sum it all up: the 2017 STUVA Conference impressively proved that tunnel operation deserves its place as an independent segment. It fits into the event formerly focused on aspects of construction providing a wide range of topics. Papers on no less than 31 topical themes only for tunnel operators kept the audience happy. Thus the first block devoted to „Metro, Urban Railway and Station Operation“ depicted the many problems faced by tunnel operation. The other groups of topics for tunnel operators during the next two days examined „Safety in Road Tunnels“, „Commissioning and Energy Saving“, „Road Tunnel Ventilation“, „Tunnel Planning, Development“, “Tunnel Doors“, „Rescue Concepts“, „Transport Tunnels and Geothermics“ as well as „IT Security“.
At the same time the papers on tunnelling were delivered in the large conference hall. After the presentation of thrilling major international projects such as the Folio Line Project and initial findings made here with excavating using double shield machines, project blocks featuring ongoing topics such as „BIM, Digitalisation, Monitoring“, „Updating Codes of Practice“, „Combined Construction Methods“, „Mechanised Tunnel Drives“, „New Developments for Tunnel Linings“, „Ground Freezing“, „Tunnelling in swelling Soils“ and „Underground Construction in the Region“ followed.
All the papers on tunnelling and tunnel operation were simultaneously translated into English or German. Many of the lecturers were skillfully able to take advantage of the impressive double point projection of the power point transparencies in widescreen format and in some cases functioned as a 32:9 presentation with plenty of space for visual information. Altogether 65 lectures were presented. They can be followed up on in the richly illustrated 454-page thick Proceedings of the STUVA Conference 2017.
It was evident months before the STUVA Conference that the space originally reserved for the STUVA Expo with the Messe Stuttgart would not suffice. Companies were registering to exhibit until shortly before the start. Ultimately the Expo filled practically all of Stuttgart Messe`s Hall 4. The booths were really busy on both days of the exhibition, where companies were able to display their innovations in an optimal fashion. The Expo at the STUVA Conference has been the right place to develop new markets, consolidate cooperation or initiate concrete projects for decades on end. The fact that a visit to the Expo was not solely limited to participants at the Conference. turned out to be an optimal concept for the exhibitors. Around 700 previously registered trade visitors were able to visit the Expo free of charge. Thus there was never a quiet minute at the exhibition in 2017 even when the series of lectures were taking place at the same time.
17 hand-picked field trips took place on Day 3 of the STUVA Conference. Apart from trips to the Karlsruhe „Combined Solution“, the Mercedes factory at Sindelfingen and the premises of the Herrenknecht AG, this time around the focus was of course placed on the construction sites of the Stuttgart - Ulm major project. Here we should like to express our thanks to the Deutsche Bahn AG, which enabled Conference participants to visit active sites such as the Filder, Albvorland and Boßler Tunnels - in some cases with TBMs in full swing. Competent staff from the construction management and supervision teams accompanied all excursions. Once again these field trips meant exclusive opportunities for experts provided by experts, which would otherwise not have been possible outside the scope of the STUVA Conference.
When there’s one down, there’s always another to go! The next STUVA Conference will take place in two years at the Congress Center Messe Frankfurt in Frankfurt am Main from November 26 to 28, 2019. Make sure you register so that you receive all the necessary details for signing up. Start of registration will probably be in November 2018. Heiko Heiden, the CEO of Deltacom Projektmanagement GmbH, is now available as your competent contact partner for the STUVA-Expo (tel.: +49 40 357232-0; firstname.lastname@example.org). For this time, the STUVA team would finally like to express its sincere thanks to all the lecturers, participants, exhibitors, sponsors and trade visitors. Without your involvement, the STUVA Conference would not be what it is. For the time being, all the best and see you in two years’ time!