Gates for third new lock reach Panama Canal expansion site

Photo courtesy of Panama Canal Authority

Photo courtesy of Panama Canal Authority

The Panama Canal expansion has reached another important milestone with the transfer of the first gates to the new locks complex on the Atlantic side. The first of the four gigantic gates that will serve this, the third lock, has now been installed.

The gates left Trieste in Italy by ship on 18 May 2014, and have now joined four others that were delivered during the summer last year. The remaining eight gates planned for the project are scheduled to be delivered by next year.

Italian-Spanish consortium GUPC (Groupo Unidos per el Canal SA) is in charge of the project, with MWH Global appointed to lead the design with TetraTech (USA) and Iv-Infra (Netherlands). The gates have been built in Italy by the Salini-Impregilo group.

Photo courtesy of Panama Canal Authority

Photo courtesy of Panama Canal Authority

Each of the lock gates is 57.6m long, 11m wide, 30m tall and weighs in at a whopping 3,000 tons. Instead of being hinged, the new gates – which are hollow – will slide, opening or closing in a time of 4 to 5 minutes.

To date, about 77% of the work on the expanded Panama Canal has been completed. Although it was hoped that work would be completed this year to coincide with the Panama Canal’s 100th anniversary, it is now projected that the enhanced canal will open in 2016.

Once open, it will allow the passage of Post-Panamax ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Post-Panamax vessels are nearly 400m long, and capable of transporting 13,000 containers – nearly triple current capacity.

By Gail Taylor

Written By Newsfeed 
July 24, 2014 11:03 am
Posted In Ports, TRANSPORT

Recognition for Australia’s colossal new reverse-osmosis desalination plant

3002 vdp1

Located near Wonthaggi in Victoria, Australia, the Victorian Desalination Project (VDP) has just been awarded the coveted Sir Osborn McCutcheon Victorian Architecture Award for Commercial Architecture 2014 by the Australian Institute of Architects. Working on the $3.5bn PPP project – one of the largest in the world – were peckvonhartel, ARM Architecture and landscape architects ASPECT Studios. Work was completed in 2013.

Also heavily involved were engineers Beca and Parsons Brinkerhoff who formed a joint venture to deliver engineering design services for client, Thiess Degremont Joint Venture (contracted by AquaSure).

The plant is one of the largest reverse-osmosis desalination plants in the world, capable of supplying up to 150bn litres of water a year – more than a third of Melbourne’s annual water needs – with capability to expand to 200bn litres a year.

According to Beca, the VDP is ‘the most technically advanced, environmentally sensitive and energy efficient desalination facility in Australia’. Its concept is based on a ‘green line’ that runs through the site, moving from a natural landscape element to a constructed dune formation, a living green roof (the largest in the southern hemisphere), a footprint encompassing buildings and, ultimately, a restored landscape within a coastal park.

The Beca/Parsons Brinkerhoff joint venture provided engineering design and construction phase services for the reverse osmosis desalination plant, inlet and outlet tunnels, marine structures, 52-mile (84km) water transfer pipeline and 54-mile (87-kilometre) underground power line to supply power to the plant.

Locating the underground power supply in the same easement as the transfer pipeline minimised construction time and maximised the use of space.

The plant has a very small footprint, taking up just 94 acres (38 hectares) of the 650-acre (263-hectare) site. The remaining 556 acres (225 hectares) are an ecologically sustainable coastal park with new habitat for local fauna, including freshwater wetlands, woodland and coastal heath landscape.

3002 vdp3

The underground pipeline connects regional communities to drinking water from Melbourne’s Cardinia Reservoir or the desalination plant via delivery points along the pipeline, as and when required. The two-way desalination pipeline connects areas in South Gippsland and Western Port to the Melbourne water network.

In September 2012, drinking water began to flow from the Victorian Desalination Plant through the underground pipeline and into Melbourne’s Cardinia Reservoir as part of the project’s commissioning process.

Written By Newsfeed 
July 08, 2014 11:44 am
Posted In Uncategorized

General Electric to buy Alstom’s energy business for $17bn

The Board of French engineering company, Alstom has given the green light to US energy giant General Electric to purchase its energy business at a price of $17bn. In order to protect the country’s interests and facilitate the deal, the French government will purchase a 20% stake in Alstom from its main shareholder, Bouygues.

Siemens and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also submitted acquisition proposals, but General Electric’s proposal won unanimous approval from Alstom directors. General Electric will now acquire Alstom’s power grid business, renewable operations, and nuclear steam turbines to form three joint ventures. In doing so, it hopes to open up its operations in China and Africa.

Conversely, General Electric (GE) is to sell its railway signal business to Alstom, who are the manufacturers of France’s TGV high speed trains. The deal is expected to close in 2015.

General Electric’s Chairman and CEO, Jeff Immelt said of the deal: “We will now move to the next phase of the Alstom alliance. We look forward to working with the Alstom team to make a globally competitive power and grid enterprise. We also look forward to working with the French government, employees and shareholders of Alstom. As we have said, this is good for France, GE and Alstom.”

According to a Reuters report, the two companies already have history. In Alstom’s home town of Belfort, 2,500 of its employees have worked for more than a decade ‘building electrical turbines just a few dozen metres away from a GE plant, whose workers they meet each day at lunchtime in a shared canteen’.

The article continues: “GE’s history in Belfort stretches back even further, to 1928, when one of its subsidiaries, Thomson-Houston, merged with the Socieate Alsacienne de Construction Mecanique to form Alssthom, then spelled with an ‘h’”.

Written by Gail Taylor

Edinburgh’s new trams on track at last!

Lesley Hinds, transport convener for Edinburgh City Council discusses the lessons to be learned from one of Scotland’s most controversial – and delayed – new public transport projects. The city’s new tram system finally opened three years late on 31 May 2014 and is now operating between York Place in the city centre and Edinburgh Airport.

Credit: Edinburgh Trams One of Edinburgh's 27 new trams makes its inaugural journey. Each cost around £2 million.

Credit: Edinburgh Trams
One of Edinburgh’s 27 new trams makes its inaugural journey. Each cost around £2 million.

Beset with disruption, bitter disputes, and angry traders, the project was not only late but came in at double the budget and with only half the originally planned network being realised. So great has been the outcry for answers as to what went wrong that last week Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, ordered a judge-led inquiry to investigate.

In the meantime we spoke to Councillor Lesley Hinds, who shared her personal views, not only on what went wrong, but how in the past two years the ailing project has been dramatically turned around. Some of her insights are gold dust to other cities thinking of commissioning a new tram system whilst avoiding the same pitfalls.

To start with, as is so often the case, the news isn’t all bad. Cllr Hinds reports that in their first week on the tracks, the new trams have attracted some 130,000 passengers. On one day alone 27,000 people used the new transport system (although admittedly it was partly down to boy band, One Direction, performing in town).

Credit: Edinburgh Trams Crowds throng to be aboard the first tram journey.

Credit: Edinburgh Trams
Crowds throng to be aboard the first tram journey.

Edinburgh’s tram system was granted funding by the Scottish Parliament to the tune of £500 million in 2007. The City Council formed an arms-length company called Transport in Edinburgh (TIE) to manage the project. TIE then appointed Bilfinger Berger/Siemens as main contractor.

Off the rails

Things soon went badly wrong and a protracted and entrenched dispute arose between the two. At one point, the roads were up and the contractor’s tools were down, while local businesses complained of resulting financial losses and even closure.

We asked Cllr Hinds what caused the problems. “In my personal opinion there were three reasons. The first and main one was the contract [between TIE and Bilfinger Berger/Siemens] which I believe was flawed. It was not detailed enough.

“In my experience, with any large project, if you want to ensure its success, all the details must be sorted out, everything must be tied down, before you sign a contract with any contractor. What happened in this case is that the contract then started to change after it had been signed. So I think there are many lessons to be learned from that.”

Cllr Hinds cites political conflict as the second reason, as at that time local government was a coalition between Liberal Democrats who were pro the Edinburgh tram project, and the SNP who were against. This, she feels, meant that no-one had outright control.

And it didn’t stop at local level. Cllr Hinds continues, “Thirdly, there was a change in administration of the Scottish government where the SNP came into minority control following a vote. Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems, and Greens voted to approve the £500 million to be spent on the Edinburgh trams, carried against the minority SNP administration. As a result, the Scottish government then withdrew the Transport Scotland government agency’s experts and advisors from the project. So what you had was the government signing off the money but then having no direct supervision or input.”

A change in approach

After all the stalling, the project did finally gather steam over the past two years. We asked Cllr Hinds how and why this happened, and, unsurprisingly, it all came down to improved communication. “About two years ago [around the same time Cllr Hinds became the new transport convener] a new chief executive, Sue Bruce, came into the council as a new appointment. One of the tasks she was given by all the councillors was obviously to sort out the tram project, which had come to a total impasse.

“She convened a meeting. Key councillors and the contractor sat down together for at least a week and they came up with a proposal that they both signed up for. That mediation has led to a very, very structured process of any decision-making or dealing any disputes on either side. If there’s a dispute there is a clear way of taking it through process at regular twice-weekly meetings. It stops things festering. It’s put on the table and gets resolved.”

Two years ago, Cllr Hinds was given a revised budget that raised the figure to £776 million* – which has been kept to – and a revised schedule to open the tramline in summer 2014. As she points out, they’ve managed to open slightly earlier, and she credits the strict structure and process they now work within for this.


Credit: Edinburgh Trams
Route map

Looking forwards

And what of the retailers and businesses that suffered along the way? Might things start to improve for them now? Cllr Hinds says, “Yes. There is evidence that people are already starting to come back into the city centre. Even those that didn’t want the tram initially are thinking that now it’s here they’ll use it and just get on with it and seem reasonably happy.

“However, you can’t underestimate the damage done to the reputation of the city of Edinburgh.” To help address this, a £1 million campaign named ‘This is Edinburgh’ was launched last February to promote the city’s attractions and encourage people back into the centre after the tram disruption.

Finally, we asked Cllr Hinds what her advice would be to other cities considering a tram system. She replies, “Listen to others who have done it, find out and learn. There will always be disruption when you’re putting in an on-road system, so think about ways of mitigating that and keeping businesses and people on-side. And bear in mind, some people will just be anti-tram whatever happens, although once they’re up and running that can change completely!” Nice in the south of France and Ireland’s capital, Dublin are both good examples of this particular phenomenon.

“But probably the most important point, to me, is the contract – communication between contractor and client – and to get all-party support if possible. Manchester didn’t face anything like the challenges we’ve had to because they had backing from all sides from the outset.”

* Edinburgh City Council financed the additional funds through a loan it will pay interest on for the next 30 years. Taking into account this interest, the total cost of the tram project is estimated to be nearer £1 billion.

Written by Gail Taylor

Written By Newsfeed 
June 10, 2014 12:04 pm
Posted In Rail

Could the UK’s first carbon-fibre bridge spark a revolution in civil construction materials?

please note: this is a representative image of a composite footbridge, not the actual bridge being installed.

Please note: this is a representative image of a composite footbridge, not the actual bridge being installed.


In an exclusive interview in the UK’s national newspaper, The Telegraph, Chris Hendy, head of bridge design for WS Atkins, reveals details of what is believed to be the first ever bridge in the country to be constructed using carbon-fibre.

The 8-metre bridge will be installed later this year in the rural village of Frampton Cotterell in Gloucestershire and is to span a drainage channel. Further details about the bridge will be released once it is in place and open to the public.

Hendy tells The Telegraph that “while the composite materials – which are made from layers of compounds bound together in moulds with resin to produce extremely strong but light materials – have been around in other sectors for some time” – namely in aerospace and Formula 1 – “they have yet to make the leap into civil construction”.

The article explains that although using composites can be almost twice as expensive as traditional bridge materials, they do not corrode as concrete and steel do, so maintenance costs over the lifespan of the bridge are dramatically reduced. According to The Telegraph, western Europe spends 5 billion euros (£4.1 billion) every year on fixing corrosion on infrastructure.

Hendy goes on to say that composite technology could also cross into other new areas such as non-rusting oil rigs. However, he concludes the interview by stating, “We’re not saying make the whole world out of composites. Just where it’s most efficient.”

Written By Newsfeed 
June 05, 2014 14:22 pm
Posted In Bridges

Could Google’s latest driverless vehicle transform our obsession with car ownership?

Google has last week unveiled the latest incarnation of the driverless cars it has been developing for the past four years. Unlike earlier versions, pedals and steering wheels have been eliminated altogether in the new pod-like prototype cars, so the driver is no longer able to take control manually (apparently a good thing as we tend to make bad decisions in emergency situations, according to Google’s test experiences).

The vehicles – which will run on electricity – are simply equipped with a button for ‘start’ and a panic button for ‘stop’. Sensors with 360-degree vision and advanced robotic engineering do the rest, theoretically far more reliably and safely than humans.

And rather than having to own a car, people would simply summon a driverless car-cum-taxi via a mobile phone app. All extraordinary stuff: bad news for parking wardens, very good news for hospital emergency departments and the environment. It also promises greater economy.

Artistic sketch of what Google's vehicle prototype will look like

Artistic sketch of what Google’s vehicle prototype will look like

The New York Times cites some interesting research showing that “Manhattan’s 13,000 taxis made 470,000 trips a day. Their average speed was 10 to 11 mph, carrying an average of 1.4 passengers per trip with an average wait time of five minutes.

“In comparison, the report said, it is possible for a futuristic robot fleet of 9,000 shared automated vehicles hailed by smartphone to match that capacity with a wait time of less than one minute.

“Assuming a 15 per cent profit, the current cost of a taxi service would be about $4 per trip mile, while in contrast, it was estimated, a Manhattan-based driverless vehicle fleet would cost about 50 cents per mile.”

The UK’s national Sunday newspaper, The Observer, also makes some important points, stating, “Google is, par excellence…an engineering company. And engineers dislike the untidy irrationality of real life.”

The article describes the status quo of one car per owner, the expense, the space required – not to mention the danger to life and the environment – saying that “engineers see governments and local authorities driven to distraction, if not to bankruptcy, by the costs of providing roads and infrastructure to support our motoring habit…and they think: this is nuts. So, say Google’s engineers, why don’t we stop thinking of cars as possessions and start thinking of them as services?”

Written By Newsfeed 
June 05, 2014 11:32 am
Posted In Road/Traffic

The great French train fiasco: new trains too big for old stations

The French government is red-faced and furious as news emerges that 2,000 new trains purchased by French national train operator, SNCF, at a cost of €15 billion are too large to enter 1,300 regional stations. As the UK’s Independent newspaper puts it, “The country that brought the TGV high-speed train to Europe has accidentally created another first – the TFT, or the Too Fat Train.”

It appears the problem has arisen because national rail operator, RFF, provided SNCF with measurements taken from platforms built less than 30 years ago, overlooking the fact that many of rural France’s platforms were built over 50 years ago when trains were smaller.

According to a report in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, SNCF has however admitted that it failed to verify the measurements itself before ordering the new stock from train engineering companies, Alstom and Bombardier.

To rectify the situation, the 1,300 stations in question will now be modified to fit the new rolling stock. These adaptations will cost RFF in the region of €50 million to complete, representing about 1 per cent of its annual budget for modernisation and repairs.

According to the BBC New Europe website, French Transport Minister, Frederic Cuvillier blamed an “absurd rail system” for the problems. “When you separate the rail operator from the train company, this is what happens.”

Interestingly, the Independent draws attention to the fact that “a draft law is due to come before the French parliament next month to merge, or re-merge, the two state-owned bodies from next year. Both SNCF and RFF support the plan.”

Written By Newsfeed 
May 22, 2014 14:34 pm

Bangkok’s skyride and skypark


Jon Sealey, Design Director of Marques and Jordy has submitted proposals to transform Bangkok’s skytrain system.

He proposes an elevated bicycle lane coined as “the skyride” which cantilevers from the existing train line structure. “The idea of the skyride is to reduce the congestion on the roads and encourage people to commute to work by cycling.” Explains architect Jon Sealey.


The sky ride offers a 55km of unparalleled cycle root through the heart of Bangkok and the suburbs East to the airport. Commuting times to the commercial centre would be reduced by as much 1.5 hours. “Bangkok is incredibly congested and the sky ride offers a way to reduce traffic and get people cycling.”

The proposal also offers an elevated park and a lowline park. The skypark landscape will be designed to reflect the identity of each local community it passes through and features local artworks and much needed public park space through the city. Jon explains “Bangkok is suffocated by concrete high rises. Development over the last 30 years has seen a massive decline in green space in the city. The skypark will provide the people of Bangkok with new accessible areas to enjoy running, walking and viewing the city from an elevated platform.”


The lowline will be a vibrant area for street vendors, markets and green space. Large sphere tent structures will have a variety of uses from housing emergency care units to structures to grow crops for the local communities.​


Written By Newsfeed 
May 16, 2014 11:32 am
Posted In Uncategorized

Work commences on bridge for Qatar’s newest planned city

Artist Impression 1 (© Lusail Real Estate Development Company)

After last year’s commission of the Lusail Pedestrian Bridges in Qatar, Octatube is now taking their part of the project into the installation phase. The design has been drawn by San Diego-based Safdie Rabines Architects.

Since 2006 the Lusail Real Estate Development Company has started to develop a 38 sq km site 15 km north of Doha. This new project is one of the largest commercial projects in the Gulf States.

The theme of Lusail, Qatar’s future city, has everything to do with water. The concept for the two pedestrian bridges is that of a necklace being draped along the ring of the island marina. After the realisation of a mock-up the first embedded elements are now on site.

Building Site (© Octatube)

The two cable-stayed bridges are brought to life with structural glass floors, aluminium louvre canopies, glass kiosk canopies and glass balustrades. Including the ramps, both bridges are approximately 200m long and span 90m from one quay to the other. Each bridge is fully illuminated, stimulating leisure activities during cooler evening temperatures.

Artist Impression 2 (© Lusail Real Estate Development Company)

The main structure of the bridges with the pylons, cables and concrete decks is built by FCC Construccion. Because of the marine environment, all structural elements are executed in duplex stainless steel. Octatube’s scope holds more than 200 tons of this high grade steel. It is used for the production of cantilevering glass floor structures, canopy structures, baluster posts and a number of other elements.

The project features 2,000 sq m of laminated glass, divided into walkable areas, overhead glazing and the guardrails. The glass throughout the project has bespoke fritting patterns and all along the guardrails both the glass and the walkways will be illuminated by integrated LED lighting.

Artist Impression 3 (© Lusail Real Estate Development Company)


Written By Newsfeed 
May 15, 2014 12:15 pm
Posted In Bridges

Balance of Power: The case for renewable energy for Europe

Reinier de Graaf, director of AMO, Research and Design, OMA

“Ukraine’s delay in paying for Russian gas has created a critical situation. In the event of further violation of the conditions of payment, Gazprom will be compelled to partially or completely cease gas deliveries. Undoubtedly, this is an extreme measure. We fully realize that this increases the risk of siphoning off natural gas passing through Ukraine’s territory and heading to European consumers.”

Vladimir Putin in a letter to 18 EU countries, April 10th, 2014

Europe Renewable Energy Blur_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

Five years ago, on the heels of the “failure” of COP15 in Copenhagen, our office participated in a project called Roadmap 2050*, which proposed the wholesale transformation of Europe’s energy infrastructure – away from fossil fuels, towards renewable energy sources – with the aim of cutting Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2050. The idea was simple: the integration of national energy grids into a Europe-wide supergrid would permit the sharing and exchange of different forms of renewable energy between nations. In terms of Europe’s energy supply, this would be nothing short of a revolution. Rather than each nation having to pursue a full mix of energy sources within its own territory, EU nations could be free to engage in extreme a degree of specialization, whereby each EU member state could focus on the type of (renewable) energy best suited to its specific geography and climate, and still be insulated from the supply fluctuations of renewable energy.

Although little more than a footnote at the time, there was another aspect to the project, which, given the current political climate, is perhaps more interesting at the moment: Europe could become self-sufficient in its energy supply. Tied to this is an interesting political trade off: independence from external energy providers in exchange for increased energy interdependence between EU member states. Strangely enough, the byproduct of this essentially technical exercise turned out to be a more compelling case for European integration than any which had ever been made in the political arena. For a while it looked as though European integration, 60 years after the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, could once again become an industrial project, this time with the building of an integrated energy infrastructure at its center: the transformation of national power sectors into a single integrated mutually reinforcing system of energy provision, turning Europe’s diversity into the ultimate strategic advantage.

Eneropa_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

Much has happened since. A near nuclear disaster has taken place in Fukushima. Germany (largely as a result of Japan’s misfortune) has embarked on an ‘Energiewende’. For a while the Arab Spring seemed to offer the prospect of North Africa becoming the great democratic reservoir that would provide Europe with politically correct (read: solar) energy. But if one calmly takes stock of Europe’s progress, both in terms of the share of renewables in Europe’s energy provision, and the formulation of a truly integrated European energy policy, there is still much left to be desired.

In view of the recent events in Ukraine and the overt threats of Russia to use its gas supplies as a means to impose its will, not only on Ukraine but potentially on Europe (and particularly Eastern Europe), the prospect of a self-sufficient, ‘energy independent’ Europe acquires an acute appeal. Not even in the coldest days of the cold war did the USSR leverage its gas deliveries to gain the upper hand in the battle for global dominance. The ideological balance of power was guaranteed by the accompanying balance of military force. In the world of globalization however, with economic entanglement among otherwise sovereign states, energy has the capability to replace military force as the prime strategic weapon in wielding geopolitical influence, giving its possessors ‘first strike capability’, with minimal consequences in return.

MetroMap_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

At the time of its launch in 2010, Roadmap 2050 was primarily driven by technological and environmental parameters; today, it is first and foremost the political aspect that grants the project a renewed momentum. Roadmap 2050 could provide Europe the necessary energy security, so it can remain firm about its democratic principles. Energy is primarily exchanged between European states that have committed to the same values and the dependence on outsiders is drastically reduced. The beauty of the idea lies in that within the proposed system no single European state can ever claim a monopoly on energy provision. Energy is exchanged for energy; todays suppliers are tomorrow’s recipients.

Dependencies shift, simply on the basis of seasonal or meteorological conditions. The very strength of the project resides in the fact that it ultimately does not assume energy is ever un-political and the profound knowledge that a Europe that relies on energy provided by those who do not share its principles may ultimately well be a Europe unable to afford those principles.

Sun Wind Map_Roamdap 2050_Copyright OMA

*Roadmap 2050 a practical guide to a prosperous, low carbon Europe. The mission of Roadmap 2050 project is to provide a practical, independent and objective analysis how to achieve a low-carbon economy in Europe, in line with the energy security, environmental and economic goals of the European Union. The Roadmap 2050 project is an initiative of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) developed by a consortium of experts funded by the ECF: McKinsey & Company; KEMA; The Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London; Oxford Economics, E3G; The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands; The Regulatory Assistance Project and The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA).

Reinier de Graaf directs the work of AMO, the research and design studio established as a counterpart to the architectural practice of OMA. He has been responsible for AMO’s increasing involvement in sustainability and energy planning, which has included Zeekracht: a strategic Masterplan for the North Sea, the publication in 2010 of “Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe” with the European Climate Foundation, and “The Energy Report,” a global plan for 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, made with the WWF.

Written By Newsfeed 
May 12, 2014 09:18 am