Antoinette Slabbert
6 minute read
26 Apr 2016
1:33 pm

Gautrain could get a new tunnel

Antoinette Slabbert

Court to give direction in complex construction claims say M&R.

The Gauteng Management Agency (GMA) has to take hard decisions in the next few months on ways to curb excessive water ingress in a part of the train tunnel that could cost billions and see it impact plans to build another tunnel.

Unless a court ruling indicates a different direction . . .

While the construction of the 80km Gautrain rapid rail system was completed in July 2011, it still has a serious construction hangover in the form of multi-billion rand claims to be settled with the concessionaire, Bombela Concession Company (BCC).

Listed construction company Murray & Roberts (M&R) has a 33% stake in BCC and therefore a material interest in the outcomes of the claims. It also has a 45% stake in Bombela Civils Joint Venture (BCJV) that was contracted by BCC for the civil works.

Excessive water

The claim that will occupy the GMA and BCC’s attention in the next few months is about excessive water ingress in the tunnel section.

While the tunnel has been designed to allow consistent water drainage, the amount of water exceeds the specifications and the GMA maintains this will shorten the life of the infrastructure. Equipment in the tunnel that is supposed to last for example 20 years, might have to be replaced after 15 years due to the increased humidity, it argues.

In terms of an earlier award in the GMA’s favour, BCC has to pay the GMA compensation for the deviation from the specifications in the section between the Rosebank and Marlboro stations.

According to CEO of the GMA Jack van der Merwe, the quantum is being determined. There is a possibility that the insurance will pay for it, failing which it will be for BCC’s account, he says. BCC in turn, would recover it from BCJV.

Ordered to fix

The sticky bit is however the 2.6km section between Park station and emergency exit E2, which Bombela has been ordered to fix.

BCJV has twice tried to do so by drilling and grouting – that is injecting grout into surrounding rock in an effort to limit the drainage, but without success.

The options are to try that for a third time, or to line the tunnel with concrete, Van der Merwe says.

In light of previous unsuccessful grouting, BCC is expected to submit designs for a concrete tunnel lining by November, he says.

This solution however means that that section of the tunnel will have to be stripped completely and that traffic would have to be stopped for up to two years according to BCC’s calculations.


M&R made a R300 million provision two years ago for its share of the estimated R600 million costs to implement the solution. This however does not include compensation to the concessionaire for loss of income, estimated to be another R600 million at BCC level and R300 million for M&R.

Van der Merwe says one option is to expedite the construction of another Gautrain tunnel.

In an effort to keep the Gautrain project within affordability levels, government earlier opted to build only one tunnel between Sandton and Park stations. This means that trains travelling in opposite directions have to take turns travelling through the tunnel, which limits the possibility to increase capacity by shortening intervals between trains.

Second tunnel

According to ridership projections, the GMA had the building of a second tunnel pencilled in at the 13th year of operation.

Van der Merwe says in peak hours, ridership volumes are already at the projected 13-year levels and the single tunnel is creating a bottleneck already.

The option would then be to build the second tunnel first and when it has been completed, divert traffic to that tunnel while the first tunnel is being fixed.

Further implications

While this could save the Gautrain from having to interrupt its service, it has further implications.

A tunnel-boring machine (TBM) would be used to construct the second tunnel. These machines are custom designed for every job. It excavates and lines the tunnel at the same time and is buried alongside the tunnel when the job is done.

TBMs are designed to construct a tunnel of 10km-15km and it would only make sense to construct the second tunnel all the way between Sandton and Park station, rather than only the 2.6km section between Park and E2 that is the subject of the water ingress problem.

Van der Merwe says the GMA would have to pay for the balance of the second tunnel, excluding the 2.6km.

Cost allocation

These are difficult decisions, Van der Merwe says. A tunnel-boring machine could easily cost about half a billion rand and the allocation of costs between BCC and the GMA would be very complex.

M&R CEO Henry Laas agrees that it will serve no purpose to re-grout the tunnel.

M&R and its partners however maintain that there is no technical reason for any further work on the tunnel. Laas acknowledges that the drainage does not comply with the specifications, but disputes the notion that the excess drainage would have any detrimental effect on the infrastructure.

He says if lining the tunnel is the solution, it would mean that BCC would have to build something that was not at all part of the original design. That would require a variation order as well as a number of approvals from third parties that have nothing to do with the dispute.

He says there is no obligation on BCC to build a second tunnel and discloses that the GMA has referred the arbitration order placing the obligation on BCC to fix the tunnel, to the South Gauteng High Court for confirmation.

The hearing is scheduled for early June and the outcome will be instructive on the way forward, Laas says.

Other claims

He emphasises that the water ingress issue is only one of several big claims between the GMA and BCC and that BCC and by extension M&R stands to win much more than it stands to lose.

The other claims include:

  • An arbitration ruled in favour of BCC about extra costs related to the construction of the Sandton station cavern, that is being taken on review by the GMA;
  • Claims by BCC relating to the bridges over the Jean Avenue and John Vorster Drive off-ramps on the N1;
  • The multi billion-rand delay and disruption claim by BCC that relates to the late handover of sites between September 2006 and September 2007.

Laas says a commercial settlement in the context of all the claims, rather than a piecemeal process could be the best solution. Commercial settlements with state entities like the GMA are however never easy, he says.

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