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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Scottish Tunnel Project - Civil Service Reply Bombshell - Our Costs Always Rise 4% Faster than the Rate of Inflation

  I got this further reply to my further query about about the government decision not to consider the Scottish Tunnel Project because back in 2008 their own review "did NOT include the provision of any road tunnels across Scotland and the Isles". You can skip most of it. My reply is at the end.:

"Thank you for your e-mail of 27th September 2011 to the Minister for Housing and Transport in response to mine of September, in which you provide further comment on Transport Scotland. As your e-mail concerns an operational matter, it has been passed to Transport Scotland to reply.

A transport appraisal study focuses on objectives not solutions. This avoids solutions (such as those tunnelling proposals which you suggest) being brought forward without considering other options which may meet the identified transport problems and opportunities in a study area.

The STPR (described in my previous letter) was objective led and provides 29 agreed transport interventions which are being taken forward by Transport Scotland to meet its own established strategic criteria and hierarchy for investment of:
Maintaining and safely operating existing assets

Making better use of existing capacity; and

Targeted infrastructure improvements.
As part of the STPR process, interventions were proposed to Transport Scotland. While no tunnel projects were put forward, I can, however, assure you that Transport Scotland has no presumption against tunnelling projects, and if a successful Business Case for a tunnel emerged to meet a particular transport need, it would be taken forward to delivery in the same way as any other project.
The STPR does focus primarily on land based interventions. However, Scotland’s (second) National Planning Framework (NPF2) considers wider connections to Scotland’s islands, the Rest of the UK, and to Europe. This includes major developments at various Scottish ports, such as Loch Ryan, Galloway, and Scapa Flow, Orkney. Further information on NPF2 can be found at:
The Scottish Government is currently conducting a comprehensive Review of all domestic ferry services in Scotland. The main purpose of the Review is to develop a long-term plan for ferry services to 2022.
Alternatives to ferry crossings such as tunnels, bridges and causeways will be identified as part of the Review.

Forth Replacement Crossing (FRC)

The STPR Commission also covered a study of the FRC. The primary objective of this study was to identify the scope, form and function of any potential replacement to the existing Forth Road Bridge. The recommendation from this study was that the best overall performing option would be a cable stayed bridge. This was because it is significantly cheaper than the tunnel options, can be delivered quicker, has fewer risks associated with its construction and demonstrates best value for money. The total estimated cost range of delivering the project is now £1.45 billion to £1.60 billion, a substantial reduction on the previous estimate of £1.7 billion to £2.3 billion.

The tunnel construction costs that you cite refer to a single bore and appear to be from 1999 (the year in which the article appeared). Since then, construction costs have increased at around 4% above the standard rate of inflation. Your costs would therefore have to be at least doubled, and would also have to allow for the inclusion of other significant factors, as described below.

The FRC Policy Memorandum confirms that many crossing options were considered. In relation to the option of a tunnel instead of a Bridge, the FRC Study set out an analysis of current and future conditions on the transport network within the Forth area and having identified eight transport planning objectives for the study, a number of potential options were generated and subjected to an initial sifting process. From this sifting the provision of a replacement crossing was considered in five cross-Forth corridors.
Appraisals of the options concluded that the following proposals, in three of the five cross-Forth corridors, should be taken forward for further development:

West of Rosyth – tunnel (twin bore tunnel).

East of Rosyth/West of South Queensferry – bridge (either suspension bridge or a cable-stayed bridge) or tunnel (twin bore tunnel).

East of South Queensferry – tunnel (twin bore tunnel and immersed tube tunnel).

The technical challenges which would be anticipated in constructing each option were considered in detail and identified a greater number of technical risks and concerns for the three tunnel options:

the ground conditions of the Forth impact on the size of tunnel boring machine which may be used for twin bore tunnels and means that the provision of a continuous hard shoulder would not be available within the tunnel;
any incorporation of multi-modal options would require a third tunnel;
assessments indicated that a twin bore tunnel is likely to generate approximately 4 million tonnes of spoil which would require disposal;
substantial, intrusive, ventilation shafts would need to be on both sides of the Forth and these would need to be located within the unique setting of the Forth;
there are restrictions on the types of goods that can be transported in tunnels that impact on their operational effectiveness;
in respect of time-frame estimates indicated the construction of twin bored tunnels could take 7.5 yeas; and
at a higher cost (up to £2 billion) than a bridge and with greater cost uncertainty (since ground conditions can only ever be fully understood as the tunnel progresses).
Consideration of the construction of an immersed tube tunnel whilst presenting some advantages over bored tunnels also indicated a number of particular challenges.
Unlike other tunnelling techniques this approach requires prefabrication of sections followed by the floating of the sections in line before lowering them into place. There is therefore greater certainty of approach especially since a tube can avoid technically challenging geology on the crossing. There are, however, additional environmental constraints placed on this method. Locating the tube within a trench would require significant dredging and disturbance of sediments, as well as the requirement to create large cofferdams.
Engineering challenges in transitioning from the tube to a tunnel so as to link with the shore line and ultimately the road network made the option less attractive than a bridge. Though a suitable location for casting the immersed tube tunnel could be sourced locally it would require substantial modification which impacts on cost and delivery time. In terms of operational effectiveness, the immersed tube tunnel would also be placed under the same operating constraints as would apply to a conventional bored tunnel.
Though less costly to construct than bored tunnels the immersed tube tunnel option proved more costly than those options with a Bridge.
I hope this is helpful.
Yours faithfully,
Raymond Convill
Dear Mr Convill,
                           Thank you for your further response advising that the reason the 2008 review, which you previously gave as the reason for not considering tunnels, was probilited from considering such a tunnel, project because it is required to consider only existing objectives and pre "targeted  improvements" obviously of a very limited nature. This is indeed close to what I had surmised in my previous discussion when I said "they are specifically prevented from looking at any pro-active attempt to improve infrastructure" and that, for example, had the Forth Road bridge not been built in the 1960s the review would now be effectively precluded from considering building one. A system which you say "avoids solutions being brought forward" until all the Invented Here solutions have been done to death - this is indeed close to the Sir Humphrey Appleby position that "'many, many things must be done, but nothing should ever be done for the first time' .
  I note that in both letters you do not in any way dispute that such a tunnel programme could increase Scotland's GNP by about £40 billion. Nor that the costings of the Norwegian system are accurate. Nor that they do indeed, at least in 1999, show that such tunnels could be constructed here at similar prices, undercutting costs given by Scottish Transport by around 200 times - though if the price rises since then apply this would bring us to only 100 times.
Which brings us to an interesting assertion you made.
construction costs have increased at around 4% above the standard rate of inflation
  By comparison in my original article I said that the costs of tunneling have, as the technology improves over the years, dropped in real terms. This is why the Norwegian tunnel project worked. As evidence of this I pointed out that "you can get a "slightly used" tunnel boring machine for $300,000 nowadays".

  The assumption of 4% annual above inflation inflation does dovetail remarkably well with my previously pointing out that the current Forth Bridge budget is £2300 bn. Whereas the previous bridge cost £19.5 million - £320 million in infaltion adjusted money. That means you are charging the taxpayer nearly 8 times as much as predecesors charged for the previous one. A 4% above inflation increase since 1959, the year work started, is 7.99 - an incredibly consistent result

   As I pointed out the engineering cost for tunneling should actually be downwards in real terms. Indeed this is what one would expect in any practise which was technologically challenging 50 years ago and is less so now, as the electronics industry shows. We should thus expect to have achieved the same savings in any construction project, and indeed many other parts of the state structure that Norway clearly has.

  Technologically it appears clear that such cost reductions in tunneling have been made and should be continuing.

   I would thus like to know, as an FoI request, exactly why the Scottish civil service believes that inflation in their costs in tunneling projects; bridge building projects, other construction projects; and those other areas of government who claim this applies, insist that the very long term rate of cost increases for things they do simply cannot ever be reduced to less than 4% above what applies to the rest of the world. 

   One obvious answer would be an enormous growth of government employees whose work adds zero, or less, to productivity. Another would be massive fraud. I do not insist it be either but it is clearly, at least in this case, not in any way an engineering cost and there must be otherwise some enormous, irreducable and generationally continuing reason or reasons for this.

   Since you say ST accept, as an inevitability, that your costs must be expected to rise 4% faster than the world at large's you and the rest of the civil service must have put considerable effort into determining the cause of this conundrum.

   Obviously this effect does suggest, overwhelmingly, that, whatever the reason, no activity should ever be left in government's hands over the long term where it could possibly be put into the free market, even if there were cases where government appeared to be currently doing it at less cost.

Neil Craig

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Neil, I hope you ran your reply past a spell checker before you sent it otherwise it has lost its impact.
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