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Tunnelling issues to delay Perth airport rail link opening

The Government of Western Australia Public Transport Authority (PTA) has said that work to repair damage caused following a ground collapse on the tunnelling for the Forrestfield-Airport Link is well underway but will delay opening of the link.

In a statement, the PTA said: “The Forrestfield-Airport Link is continuing to move forward, with significant progress made on the project and rectification measures identified for a damaged 26m section of one tunnel.”

According to the PTA, the project remains on budget but the timeline for the opening has been moved back from late 2020 to the second half of 2021.

The damage occurred on 22 September when a leak developed in a cross passage between the tunnel boring machine bores at a site located 200m to the north of the Forrestfield Station site. The leak led to the movement of 16 concrete rings, damaged a 26m section of the tunnel and led to a ground collapse at surface near Dundas Road.

In a statement, Western Australia transport minister Rita Saffioti said that investigations have indicated a number of potential causes, including construction defects in the grout block or failure of the join between the tunnel lining and grout.

“Tunnelling through the grout block and/or vibration from excavation of the cross passage may also have contributed,” she said.

“New measures will be put in place for the construction of future cross passages to reduce the risk of a similar event occurring. The construction of the next cross passage is due to start in January.”

The PTA said that the 26m damaged section of tunnel 1 has been stabilised and made safe with solid temporary supports. Cement grouting has sealed the leaks and the voids created by ring movement.

Options for a permanent repair include fixing the damage from inside the tunnel or rebuilding the impacted section of tunnel by removing the old rings and casting the new tunnel lining in-situ - either from the surface down, or from within the tunnel. Either solution will be required to achieve the tunnel life of 120 years.

Stabilisation of the ground around Dundas Road is also ongoing, with two traffic lanes to be opened later this month while compaction works continue.

Despite the issues on the project, Saffioti said that work has now reached the half way stage and commended the progress. “This Forrestfield-Airport Link is the biggest tunnelling project ever conducted in the Perth metropolitan area,” she said.

“The two tunnel boring machines are now halfway through their journey, and only recently finished digging under the runways at Perth Airport. This is a massive milestone, considering tunnelling under an operating airport has only ever been done a few times across the world.

“Our primary focus is on safety and quality, and that is why today we have set a revised timeframe for the project. It is also to make sure we inform the public of the proposed timeframe as soon as practicable.

“While the delay is unfortunate, this project is being built to last 120 years. I believe the time added to the construction schedule is a small price to pay to ensure we safely deliver this asset which will serve the people of Western Australia for generations.”

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