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Extracted from New Civil Engineer May 2005

Design and construction

failures caused
Singapore tunnel
works and design
highway was also destroyed.
The disaster was triggered by
the failure of a connection
between horizontal struts and
and construction
waling beams, which between
errors led to the them supported the diaphragm
fatal collapse of walls, the inquiry heard last
Singapore's week.
deepest ever cut The explanation was given
and cover tunnel, the public as part of a summary of
inquiry into the disaster heard evidence submitted to the
last week. Committee of Inquiry in
The collapse hit a 110m section Singapore.
of tunnel being con structed for The general causes of the
Singapore Mass Rapid Transit's col lapse were agreed last month
new Circle Line, adjacent to the by client the Land Transport
six lane Nicoll Highway. Authority (LTA), main con tractor
Four workers died when steel Nishimatsu-Lum Chang joint
struts supporting the excava- venture (NLC), NLC's designer
tion's diaphragm walls failed, Maunsell Asia, NLC project
causing the tunnel to cave in on engineer Paul Broome, base
slab subcontractor L&M,
20 April last year. Part of the strutting subcontractor Kori,

persisted in using it and refused had S$25M (83M) against it in

to change." claims for late delivery against
Combined with further errors schedule.
Nishimatsu-Lum Chang for undrained soils, Shanmugam in temporary works design, this "If LTA knew that NLC's
(NLC) was negligent, stated. led to strut-water connections design had serious defects, and
reckless and dishonest "Use of Method A was being under-strength by a factor that NLC was concerned and
during design and grossly erroneous. It was a of two, he told the inquiry. uncomfortable about its own
construction of the collapsed substantial error. Use of Method LTA claimed that the design, the LTA would probably
section of tunnel, client A led to serious underprediction problem was compounded by have stopped work, and in these
Singapore's Land Transport of the forces acting on the NLC's substitution of C-channel circumstances NLC would have
Authority (LTA) claimed last temporary works, and hence led shaped steel sections for plate had to bear the costs of delay on
week. to underdesign in the temporary stiffeners to strengthen the strut- its own."
NLC's catalogue of design works in general. wafer connection. Even after struts failed at
errors started with the use of "This was an error which NLC cut costs by using two adjacent NLC sites the
inappropriate soil analysis during bedevilled the entire design, and "scrap material to replace contractor maintained that its
the early stages of temporary consequently the entire system stiffener plates which they had temporary works designs were
works design, LTA's counsel had insufficient capacity to cater run out of," Shanmugam stated. satisfactory, and pressured
K Shanmugam told the for the loads coming onto it." "NLC ignored its own risk LTA to allow it to resume work,
inquiry into the Nicoll NLC's soil analysis meant analysis which stated that a Shanmugam said.
Highway collapse. that as excavation got deeper fundamental reassessment NLC breached its legal
Finite element analysis of deflections of the diaphragm wall had to be done in light of duties to reveal key information,
ground conditions used the increasingly exceeded those stiffener plate buckling." he added. "LTA never had
mechanical properties of drained predicted. The situation worried NLC, sufficient material information
soil - known as Method A. For Shanmugam insisted that but it sought to suppress from NLC to justify exercising its
deep excavation of the Nicoll "NLC knew from the outset in information to prevent LTA
2001 that there would be contractual powers to stop work."
Highway tunnel in the highly interfering in its construction
plastic marine clays found on potential problems with Method schedule, Shanmugam
site, NLC should have used data A, but recklessly and dishonestly claimed. By April 2004 NLC
Extracted from New Civil Engineer May 2005

diaphragm walling subcon- diaphragm walls apart during

tractor Bachy Soletanche, cut and cover tunnel works.
project insurer Aviva, LTA These connected with hori-
project directors Ng Seng Yoong zontal walers running along the
and Sripathy and Singapore's tunnel walls (see box overleaf).
Ministry of Manpower. The catastrophic failure
Although the general col lapse started at the ninth level strut-
scenario is agreed, the details waler connections, 30m below
are being disputed by the ground, and only 3m above
contractor and the LTA (see formation level, the Committee
boxes). of Inquiry heard.
In all, nine out of 10 levels of Yielding of the level nine
temporary horizontal struts had connections allowed the
diaphragm wall to deform,
been installed to hold the

Unforseen downward movement relative to king posts had been NLC dismissed the importance
in diaphragm walls triggered the observed on other sections of attached by the client LTA to
Nicoll Highway tunnel collapse, Singapore's Circle Line cut and the use of drained soil data in
main contractor Nishimatsu-Lum cover excavation. But there finite element analysis of
Chang jv (NLC) claimed before was no evidence of this at ground conditions on site.
the public inquiry last week. Nicoll Highway, said the It said this was appropriate as,
A sudden drop in the height contractor. "Collapse was not at shallower depths, it tends to
of the wall relative to king posts inevitable. The collapse give conservative results,
supporting the temporary struts occurred because the forced although there was no precedent
altered the angle at which struts sway mechanism dramatically for such deep excavation using
connected with the walers. This reduced the time in which it Method A in Singapore. During construction NLC
caused them to deform rapidly, developed," claimed NLC During the early stages of discovered a buried channel
leading to "sway failure", the counsel Philip Jeyaretnam. construction, NLC claimed LTA in the old alluvium base
contractor said. Although the struts were accepted that deflections strata into which the
Sway failure happens when close to the limit at which they measured on site were close to diaphragm walls were toed.
the junctions between the flanges could fail, there was no evidence those anticipated using Method A This was filled with deep,
and web of an I-beam act as that loads exceeded the ultimate finite element analysis, soft, organic clay. There was
hinges, causing the beam to capacity of the temporary works, Jeyaretnam said. also a bowl of soft estuarine
flatten under heavy loading. he added. "There was no NLC's independent clay below the marine clay
NLC coined the term evidence of a build up of loads engineer Dr Andy Pickles of which covers most of the
"forced sway failure" to before 20 April. consultant CPG had briefed site. Neither was detected
describe the violent forcing of "If the loads exceeded actual LTA on the soil analysis in during site investigation.
this mode of collapse. capacity the connections would May 2002 and LTA's The temporary works had not
Movement of diaphragm walls have failed as excavation supervising engineer had been designed for these
beneath each strut reached the described alternative conditions, and had to be
10th level, or as loads built up analysis models as over- adapted, said NLC counsel
with time after completion of cautious, he added. Philip Jeyaretnam.
Extracted from New Civil Engineer May 2005

struts in levels
above, causing
them to buckle.
This triggered a
collapse of the
tunnel walls.
The failure was rapid. Only an
hour elapsed between failure of
the first strut-waler connection
and total collapse of the
Overloading of the temporary
works coincided with the
excavation of a sacrificial prop
installed using jet grouting
methods just below the ninth
level struts.
NLC admitted to the inquiry that
failure of the temporary works
resulted from underdesign and
inappropriate detailing of the
strut-waler connections.
NLC's design engineers
misinterpreted building code
BS5950, said counsel for NLC
Philip Jeyarentnam.
This resulted in the adoption of
smaller than required steel
sections for the struts, reducing
redundancy in the design.

The collapse occurred east of installation of reinforced

the planned Nicoll Highway concrete diaphragm walls
station in a section of cut and and two deep level jet-
cover tunnel adjoining a grouted slabs before
large diameter reinforced excavation got under
concrete shaft. way.
This had been built in The lower slab formed the
preparation for the tunnel base while the upper
launch and extraction of one was sacrificial, located
a tunnel boring machine, 6m above the base slab.
which was to drive a It was installed to
section of tunnel under provide temporary
the Kallang river. support to the
The collapsed cut and cover diaphragm walls.
section was on a curve in an The sacrificial slab was to
area of reclaimed land,
consisting of 6m of made
ground over 27m of soft
marine clay and 5m of
estuarine clay.
It was unusually deep, with
a base slab at 33m below
ground level. This was to
accommodate the LTA's
plans to build a future road
tunnel above the rail tunnel.
Construction involved the
Extracted from New Civil Engineer May 2005

But this design deficiency NLC replaced waler web plate

was made drastically worse by stiffeners with a C-channel
omission of load spreading stiffening detail - a "C" shaped
splays at the ends of the struts piece of steel commonly used
during construction (see in Nishimatsu's home country
diagram). Japan.
The contractor's failure to All parties agreed that the
include these crucial sudden failure of this detail on
structural components in the the level nine strut-waler con-
strut-waler connection was not nections caused the collapse.
picked up during routine But there is intense disa-
works supervision the inquiry greement between the parties
heard. over why this detail should
Consequently, the entire have failed so suddenly and
axial load of each strut was dramatically.
directed into the waling beam Head of the Committee of
through a single point of Inquiry, Judge Richard
contact. Magnus, is expected to reach a
Forces of 4,000kN to decision on who was to blame
4,600kN were being channelled for the collapse later this
through a detail designed with month.
a capacity of 2,551kN. Andrew Mylius, in Singapore
Laboratory testing and The Land Transport Authority's
finite element analysis of iden- expert witness, Benaim
tical strut-waler connections director of geotechnical
after the collapse revealed an engineering Richard Davies,
actual ultimate capacity of will be speaking about the
4,030kN-4,260kN. Nicoll Highway collapse and
Overloading of the connec-
inquiry at NCEI's Megatun-
tions led to buckling of the nels conference, Wednesday 18
waler web in several locations
Details: www.megatunnels.
com, tel: (020) 7505 6944.

be broken out and replaced rotational moments that

with steel struts as excavation could have undermined
advanced. the structure's integrity.
In all, 10 levels of struts The curved tunnel
were to be installed between alignment near the TBM
the base slab and the launch shaft forced a radial
surface. arrangement of struts. This
Level nine struts had disrupted the symmetry of
been installed and work on the strut to panel
level 10 excavation, connection pattern, and
including breaking out the would have resulted in
sacrificial jet-grouted prop, uneven loading of
was under way when the diaphragm wall panels.
collapse occurred. A more flexible strutting
Strutting in the area of the system was therefore
collapse was unlike that designed, with struts
being used on neighbouring connected to horizontal
cut and cover tunnel waling beams which
sections where the spread loads over a larger
alignment was straighter. area.
The inquiry was told NLC Strutting forces in the
was fixing struts directly to curved section were to be
the 6m wide diaphragm wall further distributed by I-
panels over most of the section spreaders, branching
excavation. Struts were at 4m from the strut-ends at 45.
centres. Struts were supported mid-
Struts were connected to span by king posts connected
diaphragm wall panels by longitudinal stringer
symmetrically to prevent beams. Struts, waling beams
uneven forces being and king posts were 400mm
applied. by 400mm I-sections.
Asymmetrical wall panel
loading would have