Tunnel construction

The Difficulties, Challenges, and Surprises of Opening Tunnels - Underground Bridges

01 of December of 2020

I’ve always been fascinated by the challenge of building bridges. These structures connect two points to offer the easiest, fastest way to overcome any obstacle, quite literally.

The start of my career revolved around these challenges, but I ended up working on tunnels. I’ve found that, in a way, the tunnel is the bridge’s underground twin. Both aim to get around an obstacle and forge new connections, and they can have a big impact on people’s lives. There are also big differences: one of them is in the secrets we find when we start working underground.

A mammoth, washerwomen’s sticks, and Felipe II’s fence

In recent years, I’ve worked on numerous underground projects. These have all had one thing in common: the uncertainty of not knowing what we were going to find. The truth is, the earth has given us quite a few surprises.

Working in one of the three Serrano parking lots in Madrid, for example, we found a section of Felipe II’s fence. On Madrid’s Segovia bridge, we came across Roman remains from the first century. Working on a stretch of the M30 ring road around the capital, we discovered washerwomen’s sticks.

Findings like these mean that the project must be halted immediately, and the authorities for managing cultural heritage of that sort have to be informed. From a professional point of view, the first reaction is usually a question. How long will the project be stopped? However, such findings soon pique our curiosity. That’s when we start reading about what Felipe II’s fence was like. In that particular case, it was a wall built in the 16th century to establish fiscal and sanitary control of the city of Madrid. Or maybe we take a look at what the Romans built 20 centuries ago.

These discoveries often lead us to work hand in hand with the archaeology company in charge of studying and gauging their importance. This was necessary, for instance, when we came across something we never could have imagined: the remains of a mammoth.

Underground bridges

Most of the difficulties in designing and digging tunnels are related to the terrain itself – and extend beyond what we can reach. They therefore vary greatly for each project.

Our biggest fear in making the Surplus Rain Collector in Madrid’s Pinos subbasin was finding a high-pressure pocket of water, which could lead to safety problems. At Serrano, we had to look for alternative solutions due to finding not only Felipe II’s fence, but also an oil-cooled, high-voltage cable.

The solution for addressing these obstacles is often combining tunnels and bridges. Overcoming setbacks by bridging them just like on the surface, just underground. The only difference is that they’re subway lines or underground sources instead of rivers or mountains.

To do so, I’ve drawn on my previous experience in the field of bridges. I first fell in love with these structures during a civil engineering project. I went on to study them with professors like Javier Manterola, a leader in the world of engineering, and bring them to life in the world of work. Years later, I was able to use all of this experience in other areas at Ferrovial.

The importance of capturing and diversifying talent

My career wouldn’t have been possible without Ferrovial. As a flexible company, they seek to offer workers new opportunities. To me, this is a fundamental aspect that helps us grow as professionals and broaden our horizons in terms of work. However, especially beyond the company’s walls, there is still a lot that remains to be done. This is the case when it comes to educating girls and boys about equality.

When I was little, I wanted to be a pilot. On more than one occasion, I was told that I couldn’t but that I could be a stewardess. In school, women were clearly in the minority in engineering tracks. The world is very different today, and those numbers are growing. Still, there are very few female engineers on worksites, for instance. That’s why it’s so important to make an effort and educate on equality.

It’s only possible to find versatile workers who can face all kinds of challenges if we have talent and can diversify it. It’s like when we had to deal with tunnels and bridges, or the challenges of the two together.

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