More than 90 engineers from across the country attended a two-day training on control and monitoring of tunnels and underground space conducted by Druk Green Power Corporation and International Tunnel Association in Thimphu. Economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji attended the opening on November 27.

Light at the end of tunnel?

The country needs to build more tunnels and caverns, not just for hydropower, but also for road connectivity and exploring underground space for various purposes.

This was the message Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay conveyed at the closing of training on control and monitoring of tunnels and underground space organised by Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association – Committee on Education and Training (ITA-CET), a foundation based in Switzerland.

Lyonchhen said that Bhutan has the most challenging topography, making it difficult to build big buildings and structures. Despite this, he said, ancestors built huge structures such as the Trongsa Dzong.

“The cavern of Punatshangchhu-I powerhouse can easily fit two Trongsa Dzongs and this cavern is the biggest structure in the country,” he said. “So, our biggest building, equivalent to 17-storey building, is built in hollow cavern underground.”

However, he said that road tunnel just constitute 1.5km compared with 150km tunnel built for hydropower projects.

Lyonchhen presented a scenario where Thimphu is connected to Paro and Punatshangchhu valley via road tunnels and Paro being connected to Haa through another tunnel. “This would reduce congestion in Thimphu and living would be more comfortable,” he said, adding all these four valleys would form a “greater Thimphu-Bhutan’s metropolis.”

“To do that, we need expertise and ability to do it on our own,” he said. He added that the country’s biggest underground structures are being built and designed by foreigners.

While hydropower partnership with India is given due importance, the Prime Minister said that local engineers and architects should take the opportunity to design other infrastructures in preparing for a metropolis.

The training on tunnel and underground space, he said, is a major turning point.

“We are learning to build our own tunnels,” he said.

Combined with economic growth, he said the community of engineers is also growing. This is expected to supplement both financing need and capacity, domestically.

The Prime Minister urged the vice president of International Tunnel Association, Alexandra Gomes, to select at least one among the 91 participants as a trainer to train others across the globe.

“This is important for our own psyche,” he said.  “We should be able to develop world’s best tunnel in such geography and the world will look to Bhutan for expertise,” he said.

Alexandra Gomes said that the country is in the right direction and that there is a political will. “Bhutan can count on International Tunnel Association for support in overcoming the challenges pertaining to tunnel and underground space,” he said, adding that there are lot of potential participants to train others.

Bhutan became a member of ITA in 2015. This is the third training on tunnel and underground space conducted for the engineers in the country.

Tshering Dorji

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