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Tunnel Business Magazine Article

Shaft Design and Construction

Posted on Apr 5, 2012 in Technical Papers | Comments Off
By Glenn M Boyce, PhD, PE

Shafts are the doorways to the underground, serving as the location at which all material
enters and exits. They vary in size and depth, and their design and construction are key to
the successful completion of any tunneling project.
When designing a shaft, ask yourself these four key questions: Where is the groundwater table?
What type of ground will be excavated? How much working space is needed? How deep is the
tunnel horizon? The answers to these questions determine which shaft construction methods are
feasible and best to use on your project.
The most common shaft construction methods, from simplest to complex, are:

Trench boxes and speed slide rails

Soldier piles and wood lagging (or steel plates)
Liner plates
Precast segments
Conventional excavation with rock dowels and shotcrete
Sheet piles
Secant piles
Drilled shafts
Cutter soil mixing
Slurry walls
Ground freezing

Some of these methods only work in soils, some only works above the groundwater, and some
are restricted by the depth of construction. It is not unusual for methods to be used in
combination. This article provides a brief discussion of shaft design and a summary of the
different shaft construction methods available and their limitations.

Shaft Design
Before determining your shaft construction method, decide your minimum shaft size. During
design, the minimum dimensions are typically determined by the physical layout of the final
structure to be constructed or space needed for launching a tunnel boring machine (TBM). For
water and wastewater tunnels, final structures will include drop shafts, access shafts, pump
stations, gate valves and surge chambers. For transit tunnels, shafts can be used for access,
elevators, ventilation, transit stations and utility drops. It is difficult to determine exactly what
size shaft the contractor will need because you will not know the proposed means and methods

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and the exact equipment that will be used. When surface space allows, assume the contractor
may need to increase the footprint of the shaft.
The big design question is: Can the shaft be circular? A circular shaft is structurally stable. The
earth loads on a circular shaft place the shaft support in ring compression. The benefit of a
circular shaft is that the reinforcement in the structural elements can be reduced and the need for
internal support is eliminated.
Traffic patterns and traffic control may also influence allowable shaft size. Some cities require
shafts to have traffic plates placed over them at certain times of the day because of rush hour.
Other cities want concrete barriers around shafts for public safety. Fall protection provisions
must be provided at all shafts.
The laydown area around a shaft can require the contractor to conform to some unusual
requirements, like working under bridges or restricted access. Aboveground features such as
light poles, electrical transmission lines, other utilities, structures and vegetation may
unfavorably impact the laydown area required. Consider noise and vibrations from the shaft
construction on adjacent neighbors.
Even with a watertight shaft, a sump and sump pump should be installed. Water can enter the
shaft from minor leaks, rain or launching of the TBM. Providing power and backup power to the
sump pump is important to prevent flooding of the shaft. A project can be down weeks or months
if a shaft and tunnel are allowed to flood.

Shaft Construction Methods

There are several different shaft support methods available. A watertight shaft support system
should be used below the groundwater table. Watertight shoring systems will not require
dewatering to lower the groundwater table. Dewatering can be an expensive process.
Discharging the water can be an even greater challenge particularly in an urban environment.
Trench boxes and other pre-engineered systems, such as speed rail systems, are normally limited
to 20 ft deep and should be dewatered if the shaft invert is below the groundwater table. Trench
boxes and other pre-engineered support systems are designed to meet OSHA requirements based
upon soil type. Shoring needs to be in contact with the ground. Speed slide rails, similar to trench
boxes, are a series of telescoping boxes, one inside the other. The boxes support the ground on
all four sides, as compared to a trench box, which is open at two ends.
Soldier piles with wood lagging are a common method of shaft construction, allowing for
flexibility in shaft size and dimensions. They can be used with dewatering and in combination
with other shaft construction methods, and can be removed and reused. Soldier piles are drilled
into place at the design spacing and depth. Excavation is sequential, with wood lagging installed
between the soldier piles. The depth of a solider pile shaft is limited by the cantilever depth
available from the ground type. The earth between the soldier piles can also be supported by
steel plates inserted from the surface.

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Liner plates are used extensively in the Midwest, typically with dewatering, and can be
constructed to withstand hydrostatic pressure after completion of the shaft. Individual plates are
bolted together to form a circular ring. Plate length is 3.14 ft, orounting the number of plates
used to form the circular ring gives you the diameter of the shaft. The plates are added to the
previous ring of plates as the shaft is excavated. Joints are typically staggered. Ring beams are
added as required to the inside to provide internal shaft support. The ring beams are usually
reclaimed and reused as the shaft is backfilled. Liner plates can also be reused after shaft
Precast segments are used extensively in Europe. The segments are similar to the ones used in
the running tunnels. The segments are bolted and gasketed together to form a ring. Rings are
added at the top when used as a caisson or at the bottom when the ground has stand-up time.
Adding segments at the bottom is similar to using liner plates.
Conventional excavation with rock dowels and shotcrete is a method used in rock or ground with
stand-up time. The ground is excavated in lifts and supported with reinforced shotcrete and rock
dowels. The shotcrete provides a sprayed-on concrete hardened surface to support the ground.
The shotcrete is reinforced with fibers or wire mesh and multiple layers. The dowels are installed
by drilling an inclined hole, inserting a steel rebar, and then grouting the rebar in-place. The
spacing of the support for a conventionally excavated shaft can be varied vertically and
horizontally to meet the actual ground conditions encountered. Dewatering is typically needed to
help deal with the hydrostatic pressure.
Sheet piles are a typical method of shaft support. The sheet piles are driven into the ground or
can be vibrated into place. Predrilling can be done for harder ground and for deeper installations.
When using sheet piles, the interlock needs to be inspected to ensure watertightness. If there is a
small leak, the contractor can weld the joint between two sheet piles. Sheet piles can be difficult
to install in ground with cobbles and boulders. One disadvantage is the noise and vibration
generated when sheet piles are installed. They come in different shapes and sizes with different
design properties. Typically, sheet piles are used to support a rectangular shape and, in that case,
are braced with internal walers and struts.
Secant piles are small-diameter (3 ft) concrete columns drilled side-by-side, an effective way to
build a watertight shaft. As depth increases, the drill holes used for construction tend to drift.
Extra care is needed to maintain verticality with the deeper secant piles. Secant pile shafts
typically max out at a 70-ft depth, although some are now being drilled to 115 ft. The shaft may
require surveying of the drill holes. Contractors can install a second ring of piles if windows
form from drifting secant piles.
The piles are installed one at a time. While the concrete of the first pile is still green, a second
pile is drilled. Piles are placed in an overlapping pattern and filled with concrete until a circle is
completed. The overlapping piles provide the vertical watertightness. The center of the shaft is
excavated with conventional excavation equipment.
Drilled shafts are used for smaller diameter shafts (<10 ft). A drill rig with an auger is used to
excavate the shaft opening. Slurry keeps the bored hole stable until a steel casing can be inserted

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and grouted in-place. Many times a corrugated metal pipe (CMP) is used instead of a steel casing
as a cost saving measure.
Cutter soil mixing is a new method of shaft construction. Like slurry walls, panels are created.
The panels are a mixture of soil and cement. Depth is limited to 90 ft. The problem with the
deeper panels is the heat generation from the increased amount of cement in the ground.
Slurry walls are a series of excavated panels. A panel is excavated and remains stable and open
with the use of slurry. After panel verticality is checked, a reinforcement cage is lowered into the
excavated panel/slot. The slurry is displaced with tremie concrete and allowed to harden.
Primary panels are installed first. After the primary panels are in place, the secondary panels are
excavated between the primary panels. The overlapping panels provide the vertical
watertightness. Slurry walls can be dug in any configuration. Care is required to obtain
acceptable verticality. Verticality of 0.5 percent is typical. Slurry wall panels can extend to
depths of 200 ft.
Ground freezing requires the presence of groundwater or partially saturated ground. The
advantage is that you only need to drill simple boreholes from the surface in the needed
configuration, which allows shaft construction in unstable ground. Ground freezing may also
experience drill hole drift. If the water is saline or moves quickly, its freezing point may be lower
than standing water and the saline water cannot be frozen with a brine solution. Liquid nitrogen
may be required to drop the temperature low enough to freeze the salt/saline water or moving
water. Ground freezing can be expensive and unpredictable, and the process can also freeze other
liquids used in tunneling applications.
Caissons are typically constructed from the surface, in the wet, and without dewatering. They are
excavated from the inside, and the dead weight forces the caisson down as soil is excavated near
or from the bottom. The caisson is cast-in-place at the surface. The shaft bottom is excavated to
allow the weight of the caisson to drop into the ground. Once the caisson reaches a set height, the
concrete forms are added to the top. Concrete is placed in the forms to create the next top section
(lift) of the caisson. Metal angles act as a guide to help maintain the verticality of the caisson.

Many different shaft construction methods are available. The key to deciding on a method is
determining if there is a groundwater table presence. If so, use one of the watertight construction
methods. Also, see if you can design your shaft with a circular shape to minimize or eliminate
the need for wall reinforcement and internal bracing. If you are not sure which shaft support
method to use, consider contacting contractors in your area to find out the types of shaft
construction used with the local ground conditions.
Glenn Boyce is a Senior Associate with Jacobs Associates in Walnut Creek, Calif. (Photo by Sue
Bednarz, Jacobs Associates)