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The selection of a tunnelling machine to excavate in a given geological situation is based to a large
extent on the machine giving satisfactory performance in the rock types anticipated to be prevalent
mostly along the tunnel line. There is often the possibility of the tunnelling machine encountering
adverse ground conditions, which have not necessarily been anticipated or the effects fully
appreciated. In several tunnelling projects probing ahead and around the tunnel is carried out in
order to try to detect adverse, and/or hazardous, ground conditions so as to implement appropriate
control or ground improvement measures.

Effects of Adverse Conditions: General Appreciation

Tunnelling machines can respond differently to encountering adverse ground conditions. They can
become trapped, buried or be even displaced physically back along the tunnel by the pressures
exerted by wet unconsolidated materials flowing into the excavation. Some TBM machines can be
designed, however, to counteract encountering inflow conditions by plugging the entire tunnel
whilst remedial measures are carried out to subsequently allow normal tunnelling to proceed.
Adverse conditions can also arise should the tunnel drivage meet an unexpectedly high strength and
abrasive rock type such as an igneous intrusion. This can create problems if the tunnelling machine
type does not have the capability of excavating through such zones at satisfactory rates of progress.
Table 8.1 serves to indicate some types of adverse ground conditions which have been encountered
in different tunnelling situations. The effect of such adverse conditions was carefully observed and
an assessment made of the duration of the influence on the operations. Comments are also included
in Table 8.1 which highlights the nature of the problems encountered and the type of difficulties
experienced by the tunnelling machines. The dolerite intrusion of 350 MPa UCS adversely affected
the ability of the machine to cut such rock and this resulted in slow progress and increased cutter
costs. Attention is particularly drawn to the following geological conditions which also impair
tunnelling progress:
1. Zones with extensive minor faulting;
2. Wide fault zones containing gouge with boulders;
3. Weak zones with collapse potential; and
4. Disturbed zones containing weakened joint structures, heavily weathered bedding
planes, and major water inflows.
The incidence of such adverse zones is generally low when taking into account the total distance
driven by the tunnelling machine. Table 8.1, however, is a useful indicator of the significance of
encountering particular types of adverse ground conditions in tunnelling projects [8.1].
Table 8.1 Summary of case histories of machine tunnelling in adverse ground
Source: McFeat-Smith [8.1]

Case Machine type Geology Geological Av. advance Delay to

Tunnel dia. feature m/week progress

A Roadheader Mudstones 15 m wide fault zone. 109 53 h

(lightweight) & 30% coal Minor water inflows

B Roadheader Soft sandstone Wide zone of quartzite 48 50%

(med. weight) SE = 5 MJ/m3 in sandstone near major
5m & 6-5m fault. SE = 14 MJ/m3

C Roadheader Mudstones, Thin limestone in floor. 2 7* Several

(heavy weight) sandstones, SE = 29-1 MJ/m3, months
4m siltstones, Quartzite in roof: install-
thin quartzite SE = 26-4 MJ/m3 ation &
& limestone removal

D TBM Moderately 23 m length of 14 0 76 h

(med. weight) strong intensely jointed
3-5 m sandstones mudstone & sandstone

E TBM Dolerite sill 350 m of competent 90 60%

(heavy weight) intrusion into dolerite sill,
3-5 m sedimentary 350 MPa UCS

F TBM Pure mudstone 18 m length of soil 90 342 h

(heavy weight) at roof level infill zone in roof
3-5 m overlying caused by solution
limestone effects of limestone

G TBM Sandstones, 200 m throw fault 120 67 h

(med. weight) mudstones giving 15 m clay gouge
3-5 m zone with boulders &
10 m shattered zone

* potential never reached

Table 8.1 (continued) Case histories of machine tunnelling in adverse ground
Source: McFeat-Smith [8.1]

Case Tunnelling problems Design aspects Comments

in adverse zone

A Generally minor. Minor damage to Roadheader well designed

Support: arches + boom jacks from for conditions
lagging installed falling lumps

B Slow cutting, drill & Machine rigidity on this Later models now
blast used in sections; early type was a problem. capable of cutting
sandstone: 24 m3/h Good access available in this situation
quartzite: 6-5 m3/h for blasting

C Slow cutting, excessive Machine rigidity was a Roadheader cutting

tool wear. problem, severe impact system inadequate
Limestone: 2 m3/h, damage to saint attack for installation
6-35 picks/m3. picks. Machine withdrawn
Sandstone: 5 m3/h,
8-10 picks/m3

D Generally minor Reliable mucking system TBM well designed

problems: arch and easy access for for conditions
supports used support installation

E Slow cutting. Triple button discs Operation considered

Average progress used although single to be a success for
reduced to 35 m/week. discs may nave been such hard rock
Cutter costs very high better

F Delays mainly for Long roof shield prevented Inadequate design

support and mucking installation of heavy features enhanced
due to collapse of roof temporary support, delays
conveyors choked

G Generally minor Suitable access for TBM very well designed

problems. Arch installation of arches for this severe
supports used; close behind face. Single condition
timber packing gripper pads most
required for gripper appropriate
Adverse Geology and TBM Tunnelling Problems
Adverse geological conditions give rise to a range of problems which include: rock fall-out and
blockage at the face; rock failure in the proximity of the thrust jack gripper; the need for frequent
cutter changes; the need for probe hole drilling to detect water and faults. These problems can
significantly influence TBM potential penetration rates which under idealised rock conditions can be
greater than 3 m/h and 50 m/day. Attention is drawn to the following adverse geological features
with particular reference to TBM applications [8.21.
Hard, abrasive rock: Very hard, abrasive rock conditions may only marginally affect the drill and
blast method, but TBM operation can be severely influenced. Some TBM's have been removed due
to excavation difficulties in andesite or diabase dykes, pegmatite dykes, granites, siliceous
dolomites, quartzitic sandstones etc. The problems or TBM operation in such conditions include:
low penetration rates; excessive amount of time involved with carrying out cutter changes resulting
in low machine availability time; and high cutter costs.
Blocky, slabby rock: The conditions tend to encourage blocks/slabs of rock to detach from the
tunnel face, roof and side walls. Those rocks which are significantly jointed and exhibit weathering
or chemical alteration and shearing/faulting weaknesses fall under this category. The orientations of
joints and nature of the bedding are likely to dictate the occurrence of the most persistent fall-outs
within the tunnel. Those fall-outs from the roof and side walls can be usually effectively dealt with
by rock bolts and straps or by means of light steel supports, without undue influence on tunnelling
progress. Rock fall-outs can give rise to potential blockage of the debris clearance system at the
tunnel face, especially when large blocks need to be removed.
Squeezing ground: Stress-slabbing and squeezing ground deformation occurs mainly due to the
stress magnitudes around the tunnel excavation exceeding the natural strength of such materials.
Although such problems commonly occur with clayey rock, squeezing and stress-slabbing
behaviour are encountered with many rock types and especially those of poor quality which have
been sheared or are heavily jointed.
Highly stressed conditions usually accompany such problems as is the case with tunnels at
appreciable depth below the surface, but similar deformations and rock failure can occur where
weak ground conditions are met at relatively shallow depths. Clay-shales, rocks with clay minerals
generally, phyllites and volcanic tuffs are usually sensitive to free water. These can result in
significant swelling which can exacerbate ground squeezing and flow into the tunnel excavation.
Table 8.2 Specific adverse geological features and their effect on tunnelling machine operations
Source: based on McFeat-Smith [8.3]

(a) Effect of ground conditions on TBM operations and design

Geological feature Effect on machine usage Selection of machine

1. Gouge, seatearth, Low utilisation due to support Machine design allowing

completely mucking & steering operations easy access for installation
weathered of support and mucking
close to tunnel face.
2. Intense jointing As above but delays mainly for Experienced driver will
& shattering support. High cutter costs in reduce steering problems.
strong blocky rock

3. Sub-parallel Steering may be a problem if As above. Machine with one

discontinuities bracing difficult. Support set of gripper pads
arrangement again important preferable

4. High water inflows Delays for pumping, support, Waterproofed electrical

> 3000 m3/day mucking, track laying & equipment & large pumps,
in short zones silting of tunnel Advance probing?

5. Hard & abrasive Controls machine penetration Machine cutter head

rock rates and cutter costs. design important. Single
Accurate prediction important disc cutters preferable

6. Variable hardness Expected cutter wear should be Machine capable of cutting

& mixed face considered equivalent to full hardest rock; non-carbide
condition face of hardest rock tools preferable. Increased
maintenance desirable

7. Less intense Main areas for consideration These factors create poor
condition of variable are support, and mucking and machine ground conditions;
hardness & mixed steering to a lesser extent whilst good access is the
face than (6) key to effective TBM design
including jointing etc.

(b ) Effect of ground conditions on roadheader operations and design

1. Gouge, seatearth, Main delays occur with Roadheader well adapted for
completely supporting and mucking. tunnelling in soft or broken
weathered Tracking may be difficult ground as good access is
on soft floor available for most
2. Intense jointing operations. Selection of a
& shattering proven design is highly

3. Sub-parallel Collapse of wedges may Standard designs of

discontinuities require that large blocks roadheaders should be
have to be broken by normally adequate
pneumatic picks or secondary
Table 8.2 (continued)

Geological feature Effect on machine usage Selection of machine

4. High water inflows As with TBM's. Tracking may As with TBM's. Inclusion of > 3000 m 3/day
be a problem machine mounted drill will in short
zones assist probing

5. Hard & abrasive This is the main area for Specialist rock cutting rock
concern in roadheader tests can greatly help in
selection. Prediction is reducing the risks of
highly desirable if not a vital uncertainty regarding
factor cutting

6. Variable hardness High vibration with less rigid Selection of rigid machine
& mixed face machines giving rapid wear with heavy duty cutter
condition of machine components head, side stells and point
attack picks recommended

7. Less intense Main items for consideration As with TBM's. Key to

condition than (6) are support, mechanical & successful application is
electrical maintenance & considered to be accurate
mucking respectively prediction of cutting

Geological feature:
1. Moisture content, and physical size and geometry are regarded as important.
2. The condition assumes a spacing of less than 0-15 m and non-cohesive joints.
3. The formation of thin wedges in the tunnel walls is taken account of especially in this
4. The high water inflows are considered to occur over relatively short distances.
5. This condition includes rocks of high strength and associated with hardness and a high degree of
6. Anomalous variations in hardness such as the presence of nodules and hard bands etc. are taken
into account in this condition.
7. This condition considers less extreme variations in joint frequency, degree of joint opening,
degree of inclination and roughness of joints, character of bedding, weathering, water inflows,
and strength variations.

Potentially catastrophic conditions: Those conditions which are considered to be potentially

catastrophic include tunnels encountering the following situations:
1. Saturated, debris-filled caverns in limestone;
2. Wide fault zones with clayey and sandy gouge under high water pressure;
3. Highly stressed rock with bursting potential when subjected to strain relief during excavation.
4. Pockets of noxious gases under high pressure which have the potential to burst or seep into the
tunnel during excavation [8.2, 8.4].
Deere [8.2) has commented that the history of TBM's has seen several examples of such
machines having become trapped or partially buried for weeks to months in fault-zone gouge or
by squeezing ground. A tunnelling project in Guatemala which was being excavated by a 5-7 m
diameter TBM became buried following driving into a solution cavern along a fault plane in
limestone. This resulted in the release of 10,000 m3 of debris which flowed into the tunnel
accompanied by up to 3 m3/s of water. Around 250 m of the tunnel
became plugged by the inflow of such wet deposits. Prior to the collapse, the TBM had driven
around 7 km at rates of up to 9-12 m/day. The tunnel drivage was subsequently abandoned, but
later bulk-headed and a permanent bypass excavated. Potentially catastrophic conditions should be
sought and their risk determined at the tunnel design stage, and specifications frequently require
probing holes to be drilled 10-30 m ahead of the tunnelling machine. Such probing can give
advance warning of approach towards fault zones, water, caverns, or gas. It is recognised that such
probe holes may delay tunnel drivage, but their aim is to assist in reducing the possibility of a
potential catastrophe.

Tunnel cave-ins: general characteristics. Cave-ins are often associated with fault zones. As a
TBM drives into a wide fault zone containing soft in-fill, the debris is easily removed by the
machine. This can readily encourage the formation of a collapse chimney above the TBM with the
potential for further and more extensive collapse of weak ground or fault gouge which can result in
burial of the tunnelling machine. These conditions are made worse with increased risk of tunnelling
machine burial should water be present, and this is usually the case.

Encountering adverse ground conditions. Deere has drawn attention to the situation of a probe
hole encountering a fault which possesses potentially catastrophic conditions. He argues that
further proving should be carried out in order to establish the magnitude and orientation of the fault
zone. Additionally, water pressure and outflow from the fault debris should be assessed.
References to Chapter 8

8.1 McFeat-Smith, I. (1987) Considerations for mechanised excavation of rock tunnels, 6th
Australian Tunnelling Conf., Melbourne, March, Vol.1, 149-157.
8.2 Deere, D.U. (1981) Adverse geology and TBM tunnelling problems, Proc. RETC Eds.
RJ. Bullock and H.J. Jacoby, San Francisco, SME, Vol.1, 574-586.
8.3 McFeat-Smith, I (1981) Machine tunnelling in weak and fractured rock conditions, Proc.
Int. Symp. Weak Rock, Tokyo, Pub. Balkema, 1075-80.
8.4 Deere, D.U., Merritt, A.H. and Cording, E.J. (1974) Engineering geology and
underground construction,
Proc. 2nd Int. Congr. International Assoc, of Engng. Geology, Sao Paulo, Brazil, VII - GR1
- GR27.
8.5 Grandori, C. (1986) Fully mechanised tunnelling machine and method to cope with the widest
range of ground conditions: experiences with a hard rock prototype machine, Proc.
RETC,"' Las Vegas, 355 - 376.
8.6 Merritt, A.H. (1974) Tunnel boring machines: geologic control, Proc. 2nd Int. Congr.
International Assoc, of Engng. Geology, Sao Paulo, Brazil, VII - PC - 2.1 - 2.7.
8.7 McFeat-Smith, I. (1984) Mechanised rock tunnelling in
adverse conditions, Proc. Int. Conf. Case Histories in
Geotech. Engng., St. Louis, USA.
8.8 McFeat-Smith, I. and Tarkoy, P.J. (1980) Tunnel boring
machines in difficult ground, Tunnels and Tunnelling,
January - February, 12, 15-19. 8.9
8.9 McFeat-Smith, I. and Tarkoy, P.J. (1980) Site investigation
for machine tunnelling contracts, Tunnels and Tunnelling,
February, 12, 36-39.