Skip to content
Search
Type
Lecture

Groundwater lowering for construction of the Kilsby Tunnel on the London to Birmingham railway

Event organised by The British Tunnelling Society

Date
18 April 2024
Time

This event has now ended

Overview

This lecture will review the construction of the Kilsby Tunnel built in the 1830s under the direction of Robert Stephenson, which faced the problem of driving through 400 m of quicksand. The lecture will discuss route selection, geology, pumping, and construction methods.

The Kilsby Tunnel, constructed in the 1830s under the direction of Robert Stephenson, faced severe problems when a section of the tunnel, almost 400m long, was driven through water-bearing unstable ‘quicksand’ conditions. Contemporary methods were not well suited to tunnelling through such conditions, and in previous decades, several canal tunnels had been planned to specifically divert around expected ‘bad ground’, and others took years to complete at great expense.

Stephenson’s team, drawing on their experience from the mining industry, did not take this approach and ultimately worked through the unstable ground, albeit with considerable delays and cost increases. This was achieved in part by establishing a large-scale groundwater pumping system, unique for the time, that lowered groundwater levels and stabilised the quicksand, which resulted from a buried channel of glaciofluvial sands, cut into bedrock, that had been missed by trial borings. Steam engines were used to pump from multiple shafts (including four dedicated pumping shafts, off set from the tunnel alignment), with a reported pumping rate of 136l/s for several months.

The work at Kilsby was two decades before Darcy’s law established the theoretical understanding of groundwater flow. Despite the lack of existing theories, Stephenson used careful observations and interpretation of groundwater flow in the ‘quicksand’ to navigate the tunnel project to a successful conclusion.

Post-event food and drinks sponsored by Coffey Geotechnics, Stuart Wells, and WJ Group

Coffey Geotechnics Limited

Coffey Geotechnics Limited

Coffey, a Tetra Tech Company delivers technical excellence to manage complex risks for our clients – providing value throughout the asset lifecycle in the transport and property infrastructure, and energy and resources sectors.

Stuart Wells Limited

Stuart Wells Limited

Stuart Wells Limited has 40 years’ experience as a leading company for the provision of Construction Dewatering, Supply of Well & Geotechnical Materials, Borehole Testing and Well Services.

WJ Group

WJ Group

WJ Group are water management experts combining a global reach with local expertise and an impressive track record, worldwide. We offer a complete design, installation, and maintenance service for all your water management requirements.

Organised by

The British Tunnelling Society

The British Tunnelling Society

The BTS is a vibrant group of tunnelling professionals which spreads knowledge amongst members and the tunnelling industry.

The British Geotechnical Association

The British Geotechnical Association

The BGA is the principal association for geotechnical engineers in the United Kingdom and organises a number of high profile events each year.

Programme

17:30 - 18:00

Tea and coffee

18:00 - 19:30

Introduction and presentation

19:30 - 21:30

Networking and refreshments at the ICE Kendal's bar sponsored by Coffey Geotechnics, Stuart Wells, and WJ Group

Speakers

Mike Chrimes

Mike Chrimes

Institution of Civil Engineers

historian

Read more

Mike Chrimes

Mike Chrimes is a former director engineering policy and innovation at Institution of Civil Engineers. 

Mike has written and lectured extensively on information services for civil engineers and the history of civil engineering. For many years he ran the ‘History of the ICE’ series of lectures which were popular with young engineers preparing for their professional reviews. 

Since retirement, Mike has continued to lecture and write about the history of civil engineering. In 2014 he carried out research on the history of engineering and the work of British Engineers in South Asia during the British Raj. In 2023, he and Martin Preene were awarded the British Geotechnical Associations prize for a case study on the dewatering of the Kilsby tunnel.

Dr Martin Preene

Dr Martin Preene

Preene Groundwater Consulting

principal

Read more

Dr Martin Preene

Dr Martin Preene is a civil engineer with 35 years’ experience of dewatering and groundwater control with contractors and consultants worldwide and has worked extensively on major tunnel projects in the construction and mining sectors. He widely published in the field of groundwater engineering and is the lead author of the CIRIA Report C750, the UK industry guidance on groundwater control and dewatering, and the author of the textbook Groundwater Lowering in Construction, now in its 3rd edition.

For more information please contact:

Shelly-Ann Russell

Sustainable Development Goals: