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Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders The use of Lattice Girders in the Construction of Tunnels Komselis C.

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders

The use of Lattice Girders in the Construction of Tunnels

Komselis C. 1 , Blayney N. 2 , Hindle D. 3

1 Bekaert OneSteel Fibres Australasia (Brisbane Australia) 2 ROMTECH Ltd (Witham UK) 3 London Mining and Mineral Consultants Ltd (London UK)

In recent years considerable advances have been made worldwide in the design and construction of sprayed concrete tunnel linings. Included in these advances has been the move away from traditional support using heavy rolled steel arches in linings, to lighter, more manageable lattice girders, steel mesh and/or steel fibres providing a continuous support. The development of lattice girders has provided engineers and contractors with greater options in design, increased flexibility and a more cost effective method of construction.

This paper outlines the development of lattice girders within the tunnelling industry, advantages of the product, other applications and specific project details from the United Kingdom and Australia.

History of Steel Support in Tunnels

At the turn of the 20th century steel supports were being used sporadically in tunnelling, usually patterned after the timber sets that were in widespread use at the time. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, steel began to be adopted more widely as its superiority was gradually recognised. By this time metallic linings such as cast iron were in virtually universal usage in soft ground tunnelling. With this major advance in lining an expansion of deep urban metro tun- nels had been seen, particularly in London, which contrib- uted generally to the increased use of steel.

The most common form of steel support used was rolled steel “I” or “H” section beams bent, welded and bolted to form an arch to fit the particular tunnel profile and secured in place by wood packing and wedges that span the re- maining gap formed by over break. Horizontal tie bars con- nect adjacent arches and wood or steel sheeting supports the exposed face behind. The completed arrangement is often referred to as “ribs and lagging” and is still in use today, particularly in the mining industry. In terms of con- struction the main disadvantage of this support method is the unwieldy nature of the heavy arch sections that often have to be manhandled in place.

From a design point of view the support system is es- sentially passive; i.e. ground movement must take place following installation for any load transfer to occur. If the arches are not correctly set or the blocking and lagging becomes loose or is insufficient, failure of the ground can occur locally placing severe loadings on individual sup- ports that then deflect.

Increasing emphasis on key elements of tunnel support such as: safety, speed, economy, performance and sur- face settlement led to major innovations during the late 1960’s and 1970’s with the development of tunnel boring machines with bolted, gasketted and fully grouted steel re- inforced precast concrete segments and the rapid spread of steel reinforced sprayed concrete or “shotcrete”. These methods offered systems that are quickly installed in full contact with the ground and are, therefore, able to provide early support that can restrict ground movement by struc- turally interacting with the surrounding ground to provide an active support system.

The first recorded application of shotcrete in tunnelling was in the USA during the early 1920s but it was not until the mid to late 1960s that it gained significant recognition following the development of new and innovative forms of tunnelling for the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric power scheme in

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Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders Australia and the New Austrian Tunnelling Method in Europe. This followed pioneering

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders

Australia and the New Austrian

Tunnelling Method in Europe. This followed pioneering work carried out in 1954 by a little known Austrian mining engineer, Anton Brunner, who patented a support system using the method.

Development of Shotcrete and Lattice Girders

Initially, shotcrete was applied either unreinforced, often in conjunction with rock bolting, or with more conventional steel arches embedded in a shotcrete lining. However, as the method was developed further, the main support was no longer provided by the steel arch sets but by the shot- crete shell in connection with the ground, which as a con- sequence required a thinner overall structural section than was possible with discrete arches. The steel arch became increasingly used only as a temporary supporting element to protect the face workers from unstable ground until the shotcrete was fully set. More suitable “V” section rolled steel arches became more popular for the thinner shotcrete lining and are still in sporadic use today, however, as is the case with conventional steel sections they are difficult to fully embed in the shotcrete shell without shadowing.

The problem of providing a steel arch that has both a low profile section and offers a minimal barrier to the place- ment of the shotcrete shell led to the development in the late 1970s of the lattice girder. Their ease of manufacture, transport, storage and handling underground ensured their rapid gain in popularity with tunnelling engineers and crews with additional benefits accruing to the design of the shotcrete lining itself. In tunnelling, the lattice girders retain many of the basic functions of conventional steel arch ribs requiring a degree of strength and rigidity that is efficiently provided by the 3dimensional steel lattice configuration.

Two basic types of lattice girder have been developed and relate to the number of main support members present. The most commonly manufactured threechord lattice has an isosceles triangular section with a larger bar diameter (25 40mm) at the apex and two smaller diameter bars (20 32mm) at the base corners. The apex bar is separated from the sidebars by small diameter (10 12mm) sinusoi- dally bent bars that are welded at each node to the main bars. The entire fabrication is radiused about the apex of the triangle with the apex being located either on the inside or outside of the curve. The basal bars are separated and braced by straight 16mm diameter cross bars welded at the node locations of the “sinusoidals”. The much less fre- quently used fourchord lattice has four equally sized bars (20 40mm diameter) located at the corners of a square or rectangular section. Pairs of bars on each side of the rect- angle separated and braced by sinusoidal bars and the two pairs are crossbraced by 16mm diameter crossbars

in a similar manner to the 3chord lattice. The sinusoidally braced sides are normally radiused or form the upright member in a straight lattice girder. In both forms of lattice girder the ends are secured by steel plates either butt weld- ed to the main bar ends or fillet welded to form base plates or connections.

Function and Design of Lattice Girders

Lattice girders provide the following important functions in the tunnelling process:

  • - Emergency temporary support/restraint for unstable ground.

  • - Accurate template guide for profiling the tunnel excava- tion.

  • - Rigid fixing and support for steel fabric reinforcement to the intrados and extrados of the shotcrete lining shell.

  • - Cantilever fixing for spiling ahead of the advancing tun- nel face.

  • - Temporary support to the shotcrete as it is being ap- plied and until it gains sufficient strength to support it- self.

  • - Accurate guide to the thickness of the shotcrete appli- cation.

  • - Contribution to the overall structural steel reinforcement in the completed lining shell. In structures such as ring- beams the lattice girder may provide the primary stee reinforcement member.

  • - Accurate fixings for tunnel convergence monitoring sta- tions.

In determining the relational dimensions of the various bars that make up the lattice the following aspects of lattice de- sign must be considered:

  • - Required rigidity, capacity and moment characteris- tics.

  • - Avoidance of shotcrete voids (shadowing) for complete encapsulation.

  • - Required shotcrete lining thickness and cover to steel.

  • - Minimum required arch radius.

The optimisation of the lattice design is in part calculated but is largely based on experience. Consequently, manu- facturers usually offer a comprehensive range of lattice configurations that have known structural properties from which the tunnel designer can select the girder size that best suits the tunnel diameter and lining thickness. The separation distance between girders is usually equal to the advance length of each tunnel round and the girder may extend around the crown arch of the tunnel only or con- The Masterbuilder - April 2012


Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders tinue below the springing line to the tunnel invert. Where full invert

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders

tinue below the springing line to the tunnel invert. Where full invert closure is critical to the tunnel construction the lattice girder may be completed across the tunnel invert.

In larger tunnels a sequential excavation sequence is used with the full tunnel profile being excavated in stages to form a top heading, bench and invert, sometimes involving single or multiple side drift excavations that are staggered longitudinally by several metres. The versatility of the lattice girder provides a particularly useful means of setting out and temporarily supporting complex excavation sequenc- es. For this the complete lattice girder arch is fabricated in manageable sections that can be bolted or pinned to- gether at the end plates to form full moment connections when fully encapsulated in shotcrete.

There is some debate as to whether to orientate the apex of a threechord lattice girder towards the intrados or extrados of the lining. Structurally there is little difference between the two options and there is some argument against in- trados orientation as the single bar may induce a crack to form in the unrestrained, exposed lining surface. On the other hand this orientation provides distinct advantages in terms of providing a more efficient load transfer between the formation and the girder. In addition, by placing the girder apex towards the intrados the insertion of a spile through the lattice located at the advancing tunnel face and cantilevering it against the preceding girder’s thickest bar is certainly simpler and more efficient.

Manufacture of Lattice Girders

To ensure that the lattice girders fulfil their design criteria to function in a safe and predictable manner, as a tempo- rary support and profile former, it is vital that the product is manufactured in a quality controlled factory environment.


Materials used in the manufacture process must comply with the relevant Engineers specification and the national standards of that country providing full traceability back to a reputable source. The material strength will determine the load carrying capacity of the section and the chemistry the ability to bend the section to the desired dimensions and its ability to be welded.


Personnel involved in the manufacturing process will have had to undertake an induction p eriod on the construction of lattice girders. A suitably recognised welding qualifica- tion with proven competence in welding are also required. The welding of the sections determine the performance and the tolerance of the sections. Purpose built jigs should be used for repetitive construction which will improve toler-

ances and manufacture speed. Individually made girders will require additional measurement checks for tolerance control.

Quality Control

Stringent documented procedures are enforced to ensure that each component is completed to specification. The documents cover issues of:

  • - traceability for each uniquely numbered girder from material source through to all stages of manufacture

  • - weld quality and strength through non destructive testing

  • - tolerance and dimensional check requirements de- pending on the complexity and number of sections.

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders tinue below the springing line to the tunnel invert. Where full invert

Photo 1 Typical Lattice Girder Sections

Installation of Lattice Girders

The lattice girder is usually the first structural member to be installed in the tunnel excavation either as soon as the excavation round is completed or a “flash’” layer of shot- crete is applied to protect a potentially unstable profile. The girder is usually installed, often using a laser setting out guide, as close to the tunnel face as is practicable with- out interfering with the excavation of the next tunnel round. This is to enable the following shotcrete lining to be com- pleted as far forward as possible to minimise the length of unsupported ground and to provide a profiling guide for the next excavation advance. The girder is usually offered up in place manually, sometimes from mobile cradles, or it can be elevated and manoeuvred into place using spe- cial attachments fixed to the excavator. The girder can be temporarily held in place by propping or pinning it to the formation. Alternatively, it can be bolted to a girder that has been already secured.

Traditionally welded wire fabric (WWF) is placed behind the girder and tied in place lapping to the WWF from the previ- ous round. An initial layer of shotcrete is then applied to

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Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders cover the WWF half encapsulating the lattice girder. The second, inner layer

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders

cover the WWF half encapsulating the lattice girder. The second, inner layer of WWF can then be fixed in place and the shotcrete layer completed to the required thickness. This staged installation improves the penetration of the shotcrete though and around the steel without overload- ing the girder with shotcrete that has not reached sufficient strength to begin to support itself. Also the initial shotcrete layer should not have cured sufficiently to prevent the sec- ond layer from bonding to it. In addition, the application of the second shotcrete layer normally falls short of the newly installed girder in order to stagger the construction joint be- tween rounds and reduce water penetration. The process also provides a safe working environment minimising the exposure of unsupported ground.

With the development of Fibre Reinforced Shotcrete (FRS) the need for two passes of plain shotcrete to fully encap- sulate the lattice girder and mesh has been eliminated. Full thickness single pass FRS can achieve full encapsulation and increase the speed of tunnel advance. The FRS is ta- pered towards the end of advance to offer protection and create a lapping section for the next section of spray. The use of single pass layers is discussed further in section 9.

Where the tunnel heading is constructed in side drifts a temporary lattice girder supports the section of the main arch in the crown and is removed as the second side drift is excavated. An easily dismantled pinning arrangement is normally incorporated in the design of this temporary connection whilst the permanent bolted connection with the adjacent girder in the crown arch must be protected from becoming encapsulated by shotcrete until the arch is completed. Where the lattice girder is extended down the sidewall of a bench, the design must incorporate some form of temporary longitudinal support to the base of the crown arch that is undermined by the bench excavation. Alternatively a horizontal lattice girder is placed below the crown arch girder that bridges the gap between the bench and the last installed sidewall girder. This configuration is termed a “wall plate” from the similar arrangement in tra- ditional “ribs and lagging” support and is a particularly ap- propriate use of a 4chord lattice girder. The base of the lattice girder arch is formed simply from a buttwelded steel plate that can be packed underneath to temporarily sup- port the structure until it is encapsulated in shotcrete.

The key to efficient construction of the lattice girder arch is the close consideration needed for the lattice girder geom- etry and connection detail in relation to the tunnel geometry and excavation sequence. Safety and handling consider- ations are also important, as it is often the ease of setting out and erecting the girder in a confined space and in a limited time period that dictates the accuracy and function- ality of the completed lining.

Special Support Systems and Applications

In addition to simple tunnelling applications, the versatility of the lattice girder/shotcrete lining system allows complex underground openings to be created even in soft ground. Multiple junctions into shafts, tunnels and caverns are pos- sible using specially fabricated lattice girders that form the opening “eye” or ring beam support. In addition, the “eye” beam can be further supported by the insertion of rock bolts and spiles through the lattice which when en- capsulated in shotcrete forms a structural connection and intimate bond with the ground. In addition to bored tunnel construction a lattice girder and reinforced shotcrete shell can be used in cut and cover tunnel construction. Here the lattice girder arches are fully erected in an open cutting and braced by the fixing WWF to the intrados and extrados sides. Rough, temporary shuttering panels are then fixed to the extrados and the sprayed concrete is applied from inside the structure. Once the shotcrete has cured suffi- ciently to be selfsupporting, the shuttering is removed and further sprayed concrete is applied to the exterior face. The resultant reinforced concrete shell can then be loaded with backfill once it is fully cured. This technique has also been used to construct portal canopies and even surface struc- tures and buildings, further demonstrating the versatility of the method in the forms and geometries of construction that are possible, which would require complex shuttering and casting using conventional construction techniques.

Tunnel refurbishment is an increasing field of application for lattice girder and shotcrete support. For example brick or masonry lined tunnels can be strengthened by the in- corporation of reinforced concrete arches formed by local removal of the existing lining to form a slot in which a lat- tice girder can be erected. Infilling with shotcrete provides a good structural bond with the adjacent lining improving its overall load carrying capacity through the formation of reinforced concrete arches.

Projects in the Uk

Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Contract 410, North Downs Tunnel

The tunnel, constructed by a joint venture of Miller Civil En- gineering, BetonUndMonierbau and Dumez GTM, is 3.2Km long with a tunnel face area of 165m2 is the largest tunnel ever constructed on the United Kingdom mainland.

With cost and time major factors the JV decided to proceed with a sprayed concrete primary lining comprising of lattice girders, 2 layers of steel mesh, spiles and rock bolts.

The advance rates varied between 1 metre and 2.2 metres providing a recorded daily advance of up to 14 metres.

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Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders This allowed the cast concrete secondary lining to be started early, culminating

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders

This allowed the cast concrete secondary lining to be started early, culminating in the concrete works being com- pleted within budget and ahead of schedule.

The lattice girders provided commencement profiles for the portals as indicted in Photo2. Photo 3 shows the tunnel heading being advanced with support from lattice girders and shotcrete.

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders This allowed the cast concrete secondary lining to be started early, culminating

Photo 2. North Downs Tunnel London Portal

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders This allowed the cast concrete secondary lining to be started early, culminating

Photo 3. North Downs Tunnel Country portal

Greenway Pumping Station, Storm Water Surge Shaft

Constructed during 1998 the 21 metre deep x 15 metre di- ameter surge shaft would traditionally have been construct- ed using a precast segment lining. An alternative solution was accepted by the client Thames Water, using a sprayed concrete lining, reinforced with lattice girders at 2 metre vertical centres and two layers of steel mesh. The support method selected proved to be successful with construc- tion being significantly faster and cheaper than traditional precast methods.

Heathrow Express rail link from London to all four Heath- row Airport terminals

With the main running tunnels constructed using a precast segmental lining, it was decided that the more complex ar- eas of the tunnelling works would be constructed using the NATM method of construction in London Clay. These areas included two Terminal 4 platforms, Terminal 4 crossover, Terminal 4 turnout, and a turnout for the future provision of a fifth terminal and various adits and escalator shafts.

Lattice girders used in the turnouts and crossover were a complete ring at 1 metre centres with two layers of steel mesh. The method of construction used either a single side drift and enlargement or two side drifts and enlargement.

The construction of the first turnout was complex requiring 75% of the lattice girder sections to having varying lengths and radii every metre. The lattice girder dimensions were rationalised on further elements to increase speed of in- stallation.

Recent Projects in Australia Buranda Tunnel

The Buranda Tunnel forms part of the Water Street to O’Keefe Street section of the South East Transit Busway. The driven tunnel was 190 metres in length being ad- vanced in two stages, heading and bench, with a tunnel width varying between 19.2 metres and the southern portal and 12.6 metres an the northern portal. There were chal- lenges in driving the tunnel from the southern portal due to the rail freight line situated approximately 2.5 metres above the tunnel crown and the large tunnel width at this point, shown in photo 4. With the low overburden, canopy tubes were installed for the first 30 metres of the tunnel as tempo- rary support. Lattice girders and steel fibre reinforced shot- crete (SFRS) were then used as the primary support. The lattice girders were installed in 4 sections utilising bolted connections. Adjustable footing supports where used on the lattice to account for the varying profile of the excava- tion. Tie rods where used to transversely position the gird- ers. The tunnel was advanced in 1metre intervals from the The Masterbuilder - April 2012


Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders Southern Portal. Photo 4 – Buranda Tunnel Southern Portal Modified lattice girders

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders

Southern Portal.

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders Southern Portal. Photo 4 – Buranda Tunnel Southern Portal Modified lattice girders

Photo 4 – Buranda Tunnel Southern Portal

Modified lattice girders also proved to be useful as support to the water proofing membrane and to provide additional reinforcing for the final lining in the southern portal section, shown in figure 5.

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders Southern Portal. Photo 4 – Buranda Tunnel Southern Portal Modified lattice girders

Photo 5 – Membrane Support Lattice Girders

The northern portal lattice girders were installed at 1 me- tre intervals and increased to 1.5 metres as the ground conditions improved. The lattice girders were first installed and shotcreted in the top heading of the tunnel. Once the bench was excavated lattice girder legs were installed and shotcreted, extending the lattice girder to the invert level. Photo 6 indicates the connection point between heading and bench.

Vulture Street Tunnel

The Vulture Street Tunnel forms part of the City to Wool- loongabba section of the South East Transit Busway. The section comprises of a 410 metre driven tunnel with par- ticular interest to the 34 metre length of Y junction located in the tunnel. The purpose of the Y junction was to allow for future transport and dual use provisions. The Y junction provided complexities in both design and construction due to the width of the section and low overburden to the main road above. The section was advanced in multiple stages, with a central pillar to be removed once the two tunnel sec- tions were developed. The multiple advance, in 1 metre intervals, also allowed installation of rock bolts, cables, lat-

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders Southern Portal. Photo 4 – Buranda Tunnel Southern Portal Modified lattice girders

Photo x – Northern Portal Buranda Tunnel

tice girders and SFRS. The lattice girders were installed in 5 sections with the bolted and sliding joints used to accom- modate excavation tolerances. The sliding joint was the central connecting point once the pillar was removed. The sliding connection was suggested by the consultant as a practical method of installing the lattice girders in difficult conditions within complex geometries. The lattice girder was modified further to allow the rock bolts to be installed through the top chord of the girder eliminating large cum- bersome bolt plates.

Future Potential of Lattice Girders and Shotcrete Sup- port

Significant moves towards single pass permanent shot- crete linings have been made in recent years following im- provements in the wetmix sprayed concreting process and shotcrete mix designs, where the placed concrete quality can equal or even exceed Castinsitu reinforced concrete in terms of strength, compaction permeability and finish. Al- though there has been a parallel development of the use of steel fibres in place of the WWF reinforcement particularly for crack control and fire protection purposes the need for lattice girders to provide profiling will still exist.

New uses of the method are being developed for a wide range of civil engineering applications but it is perhaps the mining industry, where the method first began, that is likely to provide the main future growth. To date lattice girder and shotcrete support has had limited use in this industry with a tendency to use more traditional methods such as ribs and lagging, but the benefits of safety, economy and speed will, in the long run, prove attractive.


  • - Baumann Th. & Betzle M. 1984. Investigation of the Perfor- mance of Lattice Girders in Tunnelling. Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering 17, pp 6781.

  • - Baumeister A.E. & Ertel J. 1985. Lattice Girder Construction and Dimensioning. Tunnel 2/85, May 1985.

  • - Betzle M. 1987. Lattice girders giving arches a dig in the ribs. Tunnels & Tunnelling, November 1987.

Tunnel Engineering Lattice Girders Southern Portal. Photo 4 – Buranda Tunnel Southern Portal Modified lattice girders
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