In a hole, Amsterdam tunnellers just keep digging

Sun Oct 25, 2009 11:17pm EDT
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By Harro ten Wolde

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Early one evening Helena van Gelder heard bricks falling. Minutes later, she and her three young sons were standing outside their 17th-century home, watching it sink eight inches within hours.

It was a terrible shock, but the family living on Amsterdam's Vijzelgracht thoroughfare was merely the latest casualty of a tunnel that has been the city's 3 billion euro ($4.5 billion) headache for seven years.

Years behind schedule and so over-budget officials have abandoned hope it can recoup the cost of construction, the new metro project is wrecking historic buildings as it cuts through spongy sand and water more than 30 metres below sea-level.

"Seven years of nuisance and this is what we get," said the 47-year old communication adviser. "I truly find it terrible. I am not the sensitive type, but I don't want to be near that house any more."

Built to house a rapid transit system aimed at connecting business in the north and south of the city and relieving overcrowding, for now the subway is a gash through the city and risks joining history's great construction fiascos.

No-one has died in the project so far, unlike the 195 killed during construction of the Hoosac tunnel in Massachussetts before it finally opened in 1876 -- at a cost seven times original estimates, according to the North Adams Public Library.

The Dutch project's cost is still less than the estimated 10 billion pounds poured in the 1990s into the Channel Tunnel between Britain and the European continent -- that was double the original estimate.

But the scale of ambition -- driving an underground project beneath listed historic buildings through soggy marshland -- is comparable. And the nuisance is mounting.   Continued...

<p>A construction worker stands 20 metres underground in a metro shaft under the Ferdinand Bol straat in Amsterdam June 30, 2009. REUTERS/Michael Kooren</p>