Gozo tunnel proposals ‘cut straight into rock fault’

Geologist raises alarm over tunnel plans which overlook ‘fatal’ underwater rock formation between Malta and Gozo

Somebody tell them about the geological fault, quick. Ministers Chris Said, Austin Gatt, and Giovanna Debono announce the pre-feasibility study for the Gozo tunnel.
Somebody tell them about the geological fault, quick. Ministers Chris Said, Austin Gatt, and Giovanna Debono announce the pre-feasibility study for the Gozo tunnel.

Never mind how many hundreds of millions of euros the proposed Gozo-Malta tunnel link may end up costing the taxpayer (€500 million, according to one estimate; over €1 billion according to another). Geologists are more concerned with costs of an altogether different kind: the kind that is usually measured in human life and limb.

According to Dr Peter Gatt - a former member of the European Commission's DG Environment, who has recently completed his doctoral research thesis in geology at the University of Durham - the preliminary report submitted by engineering and development consultants Mott MacDonald late last month had been drawn up with scant regard for the geological properties of the Gozo-Malta Channel.

Even at a glance, he argues, the proposed routes were envisaged without taking into consideration the existence of a number of geological characteristics of the area: including a fault running through the rock towards the east of the island, which would (if tunnelled into) entail consequences that Dr Gatt describes as 'fatal'.

"The four tunnel routes proposed by Mott MacDonald will cut into a strike-slip fault complex found along eastern Gozo," he told MaltaToday. "Evidence for this fault is ample along the coast of Gozo, if Mott MacDonald and Transport Malta had bothered to visit the site in the first instance. It is surprising that Transport Malta is unaware of the dangers of planning tunnels through such structures, and probably shows that they know very little about the geology of Gozo Channel."

Peter Gatt

Geologist Peter Gatt

Dr Gatt, whose area of expertise is precisely the geology of the Maltese islands, explains that the west-east fault is the result of "recent changes in the regional stress field"; and it is therefore possible that this fault is still active.

"Constructing a tunnel through an active fault can produce fatal results," he warns. "Tunnelling though faults increases the possibility of collapse; and if the tunnel is below sea level, that would also entail the risk of flooding."

Nor is the west-east strike-slip fault the only geological feature to have been overlooked in what seems to have been a hasty approach to planning for a possible subterranean Malta-Gozo link. "There are other fault structures between Comino and Malta that need to be considered," Gatt adds, pointing towards the central route that would tunnel through Blue Clay below Comino.

"Any tunnelling here will have to be based on clear understanding of this rock. Even well-known clay formations such as the London Clay can be highly problematic, and can lead to disaster as happened when the Heathrow Express Underground collapsed in 1994..."

Ironically, few are better positioned to appreciate such risks than Mott MacDonald, which was also involved in the same London tunnel project that had led to the expensive 1994 disaster. On that occasion, one of the partially constructed tunnels carrying the Heathrow Express line into the Terminal 1, 2, 3 complex collapsed with almost no advance warning. As a result, an entire office building and a car park disappeared into a huge crater which opened up between Heathrow's two parallel runways. The principal contractor was found guilty of negligence in February 1999, and fined £1.2 million.

"Mott MacDonald was responsible for the works design in that case, and the project was plagued by bad practice and poor understanding of the geotechnical properties of the clay," Gatt explains, adding that failure to consider the local geology is a shortcoming by no means limited to Mott MacDonald... being evidenced in other infrastructural projects, too.

"With hindsight, the history of infrastructure in Malta - especially road-building - is characterised by a total disregard for local geology," he points out. "Transport Malta did not bring a change in mentality in this respect. Not surprisingly, overlooking geological conditions results in unacceptable deformation of road surface, extensional cracking and pothole formation, which have made Maltese roads some of the worst in Europe. The state of local roads is hardly a badge of competence for Transport Malta. If this disregard to geology persists in our tunnelling projects, then the results would be disastrous and even more serious."

Report admits lack of geological study

In July 2011, Transport Malta appointed Mott Macdonald to carry out a preliminary analysis of road tunnel link options between Malta and Gozo.

The five-month study provided a list of technical, engineering, environmental and economic issues relating to potential sub-sea tunnel fixed-link options connecting Malta and Gozo.

The final report, which identified four potential tunnel alignments for further investigation, was presented to the public at a press conference addressed by Transport Minister Austin Gatt and Gozitan ministers Giovanna Debono and Chris Said.

Presenting these findings, Gatt quoted Mott MacDonald to the effect that that an undersea tunnel link between Malta and Gozo would be "doable" and "technically feasible".

And yet the same report also admitted that "a detailed geological and geotechnical investigation is still required to determine more precisely the tunnel alignment, tunnel form, cost and construction methodology".

Despite the lack of detailed geological data (which in turn will have a direct bearing on the choice of technology used to excavate the tunnel in question), the minister publicly declared the project to be not only technical feasible, but also "economically viable".

The consultants estimated a range of costs for each tunnel alignment option: between €156-€492 million for a single-bore, three-lane bi-directional tunnel, up to €1,080 million for a twin-bore two-lane uni-directional tunnel.

The road tunnel link between Malta and Gozo could potentially be co-financed by the European Union under the Cohesion Fund.

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@rajah. Kull ma aghmilt siehbi minghalik li waqqat ghac-cajt dak li qal haddiehor fuq dan lartiklu. Ghidilna int x'tahseb fuq dan is-suggett imbaghad naraw l-gherf li ghandek.
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But did anyone really believe that this could really happen? Come on guys, I thought we Maltese were more intelligent then that!!! I really had the impression that very few would have taken a bite at this carrot, but maybe I was mistaken. WAKE UP!!!!!
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A tunnel will cost more than Gozo is worth,PN most of the Gozotans are happy the way they are.
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The report drawn up by the five Japanese experts in bridge and expressway building stated that "as construction works in the sea are attended with much more difficulty in relation to those on land, detailed surveys are required on the topography and geology across the channels, tidal current, wave and climatic conditions in order to determine the construction method". After 25 years in power, the PN should have completed these preliminary preparations if they ever were serious on this project.
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X'se jghidu Austin Gatt, Giovanna Debono u Chris Said ? Jew huma jifhmu aktar minn dan il-geologista Malti li jispecjalizza fuq il-Gzira taghna u l-madwar ?!
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Dizastru ihor jonqosna, mhux biz-zejjed faqqarna Gonzipn!!! Mela dawn qabel jinzlu min em fuq halfu li igijbu lil Malta taghna ghar mil-Grecja?
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"Mott MacDonald" seems to be the preferred engineering consultants' firm made use of by Malta's water/energy generators and regulators as well as land use planners and regulators. It must have earned millions these past ten/fifteen years. Could this be because it is the only one trusted by these guys and its brilliance blinds them?
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Erbat ijiem ohra anqas tissemma izjed din. Bhalma ma ssemmiex izjed il-pont li xi hadd kien holom bih xi 60 sena ilu.
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Trust a geologist to find a fault! Dear Peter this tunnel will siphon millions of euros in commissions straight into a numbered Swiss account. Give your super minister some credit. This project will be as well run as the glorious bus service. Yours Truly Swiss Bank Manager
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And why is it surprising that Transport Malta is unaware of the danger?!! TM isn't even aware of what's above ground let alone hundreds of feet below sea level!!
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And why is it surprising that Transport Malta is unaware of the danger?!! TM isn't even aware of what's above ground let alone hundreds of feet below sea level!!
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Tassew jiddispjacini meta nara li l-kbir, il-brillanti, l-energetiku, id-dinamiku AUSTIN GATT jittratta u jinsulta lil Ghawdxin b'dan il-mod li jrid jibni mina taht il-bahar fic-channel bejn malta u ghawdex. Kif jaf kulhadd il-mijiet kbar ta' kumpaniji tal-IT li ga fethu fi SMART CITY ta' kuljum jokorbu fil-gazzetti ghax ghandhom vacancies ghal eluf u eluf kbar ta' impiegi fl-IT li ma jistghux jimlewhom waqt li f'ghawdex hemm hafna u hafna zghazagh bil-kwalifiki fl-IT li akkwistax bis-sahha tal-imperatrici Giovanna Debono fil-korsijiet li organizzatilhom gewwa Villa Rundle .... allura nghid jien kienu jaghmel tunnel bejn ghawdex u smart city ma jkunx qed jolqot zewg ghasafar b'gebla wahda biex anki l-ghawdxin jibbenefikaw minn din il-manna ta' impiegi fi smart city? AUSTIN, MAN, QUM MIR-RAQDA U KUN INNOVATTIV jew ga rhejt ir-riedni u hallejt kollox f'idejn GEGE u PAWLU?
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imma kemm nifilhu ingergru ahna il maltin,halluwhom ihaffru tunnel forsi isib iz zejt austin.hehehehe.
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An other pie in the sky before the elections! Jekk GonziPN u l-Ministri tieghu l-anqas kapaci jaghmlu dak li hu semplici: toroq jitlestew minghajr dizastri; Bus transport reform fiasco,no safety compliance fro Gozo Channel ships: kif se jaghmlu din it-tunnel u min fejn il-flus? Eh bil-haqq hemm 'is-sappi tutto' involut!
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Has anybody realised that all this tunnel business started when the tender for the ferry srvice was about to expire ? And who were the only ones to tender ????????
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Carras1 ghanna biex NIFTAHRU BIH lil Ministru li qed tghid Int Dr Austin Gatt ghax kull ministeru li KELLU KOLLHA FALLIJOM (ENEMALTA, Sea MALTA AIR MALTA ) u nistaw nibqaw sejrin Ghandek biex tiftahar bdan il ministru carras 1 l-izjed bil FROGA li ghamel fir RIFORMA ta TRASPORT mhux TALLI it TRAFFIKU NAQSU MIT TOROQ kif kien qal li ser jaghmel TALLI SPLODIH ghax min kien qabel JUZA it Trasport Publiku illum il gurnata qied IMUR bil Karozza TIEGHU HALLINA Carras 1 u IDDAHHAQX nies BIK lil dan L-ARROGANTI ta ministru ghanna biex NIFTAHRU BIH Hlief Frejjeg ma ghamilx
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Mark Fenech
Tkunux boloħ, anke l-Enemalta kellha ħafna diffikultajiet meta għamlet mini taħt l-art ġo Malta, għax ħafna mill-blat hu tafli. U dan kien fuq l-art immaġina ġol-baħar.
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l-iktar kumment li jider intelligenti u vera ghogbni huwa ta fufa......quote - Il-bridges issebhu u mhux ikkerhu l-ambjent. Dnub tarmi dawk il-mijiet ta' miljuni biex thaffer tunnel u tahbih? - unquote. Mhux ta bxejn bqajtu fl oppozzijoni dawn is snin kollha ghax nies bil mentalita taghkom pajjizna zgur maghandux x'jambihom. Kumment iehor li ghogobni huwa ta Gozitan fejn irrefera ghal 3 ministri bhala pulcinelli. Sihbi nahseb il gvern nazzjoanlista ghamel iktar ghal Malta minn just a tunnel........ dur dawra madwarek u ara minn kemm difficultajiet li sab ma wiccu l-gvern. Meta jkollha oppozzijoni li tghid kollox LE u LE hija liktar propblema iebsa u difficultuza li jista jkollu il gvern tal gurnata.
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And the brand new, multi million euro terminals at Cirkewwa and Mgarr?? Just convert them to Fish Markets!!!!
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What do we do with the Cirkewwa and Mgarr terminals?? Easy, just convert them into FISH MARKETS!!!!
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Thousands of euros spent for s study report which turns out incomplete, so now we have to make another report and spend more money, of course we select specific companies to do these reports. Companies who are generous of course.
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Dear FUFA, this Gozo Tunnel fable is just that. A FABE!!! It will never, ever happen. We don't need it anyway. Those 3 clowns, stooges in the photo are just taking gullable people for a ride!!! Shame on them!!! What we need are on land tunnels to alleviate the disgusting traffic all over both islands. About what the english say?? Actually they say 'If you're got it, Flaunt it'. And believe me we have really nothing to FLAUNT!!!
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Rita Pizzuto
Firstly I feel I should congratulate Dr GATT for his knowledge in the matter. I feel proud that us Maltese have people like him on this tiny island. Re the proposed tunnel, I for one never took it seriously, and with me 80 per cent of Malta. We all thought this was another gimmick that could never be achieved. If ever the three stooges were serious about, it would never happen in my lifetime, but even were it to happe, I for one would never use it for fear of some disaster. It looks highly certain that gonzipn did not make a serious study. It could not happen as Dr GATT HAS RIGHTLY SAID. I don't think that anybody believed it wasn't a gimmick and was launched to try and gt some support. As the govt slides deeper into the mire. They just cannot keep taking the Maltese people for an Arriva ride. Truth will out, always.
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Din tal mina mhi xejn hlief ' wishful thinking ' ta qabel l-elezzjoni. Mela biex bnejna Terminal ( fuq l-art ) ic-cirkewwa u l-imgarr ilna inkarkru ma l-erbatax il sena, jista xi hadd jghidilna kemm ser iddum biex titlesta din il mina?
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Can't the Gonz get anything right?
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What seems to have been a priority in this Malta-Gozo tunnel idea, is the dangling of a big, big carrot which,primarily the Gozitans, would swallow without any hesitation . Once the election is over, it can then be conveniently forgotten !
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Luke Camilleri
With all this GonziPN SMART and State-of-the-art projects they want to push down our throats as election boosters, they could not even stop the dripping water in the Santa Venera Tunnel and solved it by covering the tunnel internally with perspex..... ------------------------------------ Could they be trusted with building and the maintenance of an underground tunnel ? ------------------------------------ Who is kidding who?
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An under sea surface tunnel is not the only option there are new technologies which where offered and by the looks of things not considered. instead of tunneling under sea level which is very deep and the geological aspect my not be safe. a more modern solution would be an Archimedes bridge (Floating Tunnel) which will be at a reasonable depth and anchored to the seabed. such a tunnel is being built in china and is developed in Europe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmD-cFfEi_w
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Joseph Sant
Oh well - the idea was always anal - as your photo aptly points out.
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Joseph MELI
Same result as if they drilled in Austin Gatt's head and now they are caught between a rock and a hard place and merely highlights the ineptitude of the governments planning or research programmes-or rather he total lack of such.
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Jekk ghandha ssir permanent link bejn Malta u Ghawdex jien nahseb li ghandu jkun bridge. Il-bridges issebhu u mhux ikkerhu l-ambjent. Dnub tarmi dawk il-mijiet ta' miljuni biex thaffer tunnel u tahbih? Hemm min ghandu phobia fit-tunnels u zgur ma juzahx. Bridge jista' jintuza ukoll ghal-attivitajiet sportivi bhal xi maratona jew xi tigrija bir-roti fost l-ohrajn. Insomma, f'kelma wahda bhal ma jghidu l-Inglizi "If you've got it, why not show it".
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Ma tahsbux li dawn il-gimmicks elettorali tat-troika minn ghawdex (gatt/debono/said) mhux ta' min jaghti kashom u li anqas ma naghtu kashom ikun ahjar biex nuruhom li il-poplu ghawdxi u malti mhux taz-zuffjett??? Issa halliaha li jista' jigri li kif sar fil-bini tal-parlament, gonzipn jista' jibda jhaffer il-hofra x-xahar li gej u johloq xi special purpose vehicle xi hames snin ohra !!!!