Why the tunneling and underground space profession needs more collaboration, future-thinking and diversity

Tunneling and underground space has evolved significantly in recent years. In emerging countries, rapidly growing cities are experiencing increased demand for infrastructure. At the same time, in developed countries with dense urban environments, underground solutions are providing an answer to growing urban space problems.

Paris Metro Station

A superb illustration to this is the Grand Paris Express in the Paris region, which is the largest urban transport infrastructure project currently underway in Europe. Initiated in 2010, this ambitious program will double the existing metro network, adding 200 km of automated metro lines and some 70 new stations. Together with creating a more efficient transport network with better connections for the suburbs, the project is fully embracing sustainability, both in terms of social and economic development, and from a carbon footprint perspective, as illustrated by the approach taken to redevelop abandoned facilities into new stations.

It is vital that we continue promoting the use of underground space as a tool for reshaping and developing urban areas. In an increasingly digitized and technology-driven world, new challenges are being brought to our industry, opening new opportunities. At the same time, we see growing public expectations in terms of better energy consumption, efficient and safe transport networks, availability of green spaces, preservation of cultural heritage, all areas where underground space has a role to play.

Based on my thirty-five years’ experience in tunneling and underground projects at the design, construction, and operation & maintenance stages, I see three key elements of success in tackling these challenges:

Global collaboration and sharing

There is great value in collaborating and sharing knowledge and lessons learned. In my current position at Arcadis - a global consultancy for natural and built assets - part of my role is to connect the different expertise we have organized into networks within the company and get them mobilized where they can add value. These networks help us make the best use of our knowhow to the benefit of our clients and projects.

Professional associations such as the ITA (International Tunneling and underground space Association) play an essential role in bringing together all stakeholders and promoting the benefits of underground solutions. Through my involvement in such associations, I have witnessed the benefit of collaboration in consolidating know-how and preparing for the future. This also provides the framework for sharing on the significant developments that have occurred in the past few years, thus enhancing our ability to address new challenges and provide solutions to decision makers, particularly when planning and developing cities.

Look ahead and innovate

The development of new technologies and digitization provide major opportunities to respond to new expectations from citizens and reinvent the way we design, deliver and operate & maintain our underground projects. There is a tremendous potential for development if all industry players can work more together and share their ability to innovate and imagine the future.

Create the right environment for success

Creating the right environment is essential for success, particularly in view of growing needs for qualified resources. Having had the opportunity to live and work in many different countries, I am convinced of the crucial role of diversity in developing expertise and ensuring a sustainable future for our industry. We need to attract more female talents to our industry and facilitate an environment that recognizes their contributions and accelerates their professional development. Also, getting the perspective from younger generations will foster incorporating new technologies and addressing future public expectations. An environment which facilitates diversity will not only determine our ability to look ahead; it will also enhance our capacity to attract talents who will contribute to the delivery of sustainable and innovative projects. In this respect, established knowledge sharing networks will highly contribute to involving new talents and getting them connected to the benefit of all.

Great opportunities to improve citizens experience exist. The tunneling and underground space sector has a key role to play: in the way we design, build, operate and maintain our projects; in the way we attract talents; in the way we take advantage of digital solutions, in the way we imagine the future, and particularly the urban use… We need to put our collective knowledge to the service of our profession and more importantly to the service of people’s quality of life!

Eric Leca

Europe Leader Rail & Urban Transport +33 6 11 95 35 31 Ask me a question