Crossrail tunnel construction: Monitoring for movement

This case study describes the techniques used to manage the risk of movement caused by tunneling across the City for the major Crossrail infrastructure project in London and the surrounding counties. 

Tunneling under the city for the Crossrail project.
Tunneling under the city for the Crossrail project.

Background

Crossrail is a £14.8bn new train line currently being built across London from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. The 118km route will pass through 21km of new twin-bore tunnels beneath London. Managing the risk of movement caused by tunneling under the City was a huge challenge for the engineers working on the project.

Project construction - Contract C510

BBBMV, a joint venture comprising of leading construction companies Balfour Beatty, ALPINE BeMo Tunnelling, Morgan Sindall and VINCI Construction, is involved with building the station tunnels at Whitechapel and Liverpool Street station 30 - 40m below the City. Major construction work on this £250 million contract began in April 2011 and is due for completion in 2015, three years ahead of the route opening.

Project challenges - monitoring movement

Managing the risk of movement caused by tunnelling under the City was one of BBMV's first challenges. It needed to know the baseline levels and positions of buildings and streets above contract C510 and up to 100m around it, ahead of construction commencing. And of course, this information had to be recorded accurately and repeatedly at the start of the contract and to the same level of accuracy during construction and, potentially, a number of years after completion.

Instruments called "total stations" are widely used on construction sites to measure and record positions. More than 100 of these instruments were supplied for this contract by instrument manufacturer Topcon to automatically measure movement above ground and manually check tunnel alignment below ground.

Installation of 'Total-Station' instruments to monitor movement

For monitoring movement above ground, the challenge was not only in achieving the required accuracy and reliability of results, it was in accessing the instruments and the information measured. Many of the instruments had to be fixed onto the side of buildings from where they collectively measured the exact location of thousands of prisms fixed to other critical buildings or infrastructure being monitored.

The total stations were installed on buildings such as schools, office and residential blocks and supermarkets and at high level using Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs). "Once we identified which buildings needed monitoring, prisms were located on these buildings and total stations installed on others," says BBMV's engineering survey manager Alastair Cruickshank. "One of our main concerns was always about logistics: 'how will we reach that total station location? Will we require a road closure? Can the total station see the prisms we need to survey?'"

Crucially, once the total stations had been installed (they also need to be connected to a reliable electricity supply), Cruickshank and his team wanted to avoid having to revisit them due to the time involved in organising road closures, notifying building owners and the cost of hiring plant and trained personnel. One reason for revisiting an instrument could be if additional prisms were installed on new structures to be monitored, requiring the instrument to be manually programmed to measure the position of each new prism.

How the instruments are used

Lazer measure mounted on the tunnel walls
Lazer measure mounted on the tunnel walls

An automatic total station manufactured by Topcon provided a solution to this problem. The MS05AX model has a function called "matrix detection" which can routinely scan for new prisms. A simple function, but one which was not standard on other total stations on the market.

"Using the latest matrix detection technology from Topcon, the automatic total stations can scan and locate the position of each prism – the instrument finds all the prisms," recalls Cruickshank. Without this function, the task of reprogramming each total station to measure every newly placed prism over four years would have significantly impacted on the overall construction programme. Some locations are very difficult to revisit – the school can't be accessed during school hours and another near a railway line can only be accessed at night. The roads around Liverpool Street are also very congested making daytime access difficult," he adds.

Each total station works by routinely and automatically spinning 360 degrees on its base and locating and measuring the angle and distance of up to 100 prisms within its sight line. So accurate are the instruments that Cruickshank recalls occasions when millimetres of rainfall have been detected after a thunderstorm.

The MS05AX sends readings to a central computer which can be scrutinised by an engineer to assess whether any movement has taken place. The instrument can be programmed to use different software, allowing the engineer to use whichever is most familiar to him or her, or can be run using Topcon's software. On contract C510, monitoring software is provided by Sol-data.

Data from total stations are reviewed every 12 hours (although measurements are taken much more regularly – every 15 minutes, if necessary) and if any movement has been detected, established trigger values are consulted and the construction process altered if necessary.

Tiny amounts of movement may be acceptable, but even a small amount might prompt a change in the tunnelling procedure to counter the movement. More movement, closer to a "trigger" value will alert the engineer.

Benefits identified

"The benefits [of using the MS05AX] for BBMV are that we saved a lot of time and we have a system which allows us to add more prisms in any order as necessary and there's no concern over whether the total station has missed any," says Cruickshank.

Lazer measure ontop of buildings to watch for movement
Lazer measure ontop of buildings to watch for movement

"Matrix detection on the system meant that many man hours were saved which would otherwise be lost to resetting instruments to find prisms," he adds. Prisms are occasionally lost when buildings are repainted, for example, so the matrix detection function is still being used to scan for additional prisms 18 months on from the start of construction.

Out on location, the robotic total stations have to withstand wind, rain and even the occasional indiscretion by pigeons. The total stations are encased in a thin wire mesh cage in some locations to deter pigeons from landing on them.

Eighteen months into the project and there are 60 total stations above the Whitechapel and Liverpool Street Stations monitoring movement and 19 in operation within the station tunnels checking alignment. Ten are used for general surveying across the site.

Cruickshank is full of praise for the equipment, particularly in the tunnel environment where instruments have to perform reliably while subject to vibration and dust, and in the dark. Readings are consistent and the project team is regularly impressed with the MS05AX's accuracy and robustness. "We know exactly when excavation has started because there is a movement of about 0.1mm," he says.

Next steps

Tunnelling recently started under the Hammersmith and City Tube Line near Liverpool Street Station where ground movement will be closely monitored to ensure the existing infrastructure and public are safe. There is also compensation grouting on this site to reinstate stresses in the ground which may be temporarily lost due to tunnelling. Ground movement before and after compensation grouting is also scrutinised to ensure the ground is responding as predicted.

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