A design-build team led by Brazilian engineering and construction conglomerate Norberto Odebrecht and the Spanish company Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC) last month completed the 14-kilometer, $1.8-billion Panama Metro light-rail line. The work featured two earth-pressure-balanced tunnel-boring machines, each 9.77 meters in diameter, dubbed "Marta” and "Carolina."
The Panama Metro route includes seven kilometers of tunnels and more than five kilometers of elevated guideway. The metro will connect the transportation and shopping hub of Allbrook on the city’s south side to residential areas northeast of the urban center.
ENR Transportation Editor Aileen Cho queried Victor Alberola, FCC director of Central American operations, about the four-year project.
ENR: Did the project come in on time and on budget? Do you receive any bonuses or incentives for early completion or meeting other milestones?
Alberola: The Panama Metro project was completed on time, on February 27, 2014, with the first test runs carried out in November 2013, as originally planned. The inauguration took place on April 5, 2014. The contract, which was awarded to FCC—as part of an Odebrecht-FCC consortium—on October 27, 2010, valued the project at $1.446 billion (USD), but three addendums to the original budget, covering a further three stations on a 2.2-kilometer extension line, brought the value up to $2.009 billion.
Along with the Panama metro, what are some other major projects occurring in the area?
FCC is involved in a number of other projects in Panama. We are building two hospitals: Ciudad Hospitalaria Ricardo Martinelli in Panama City, due for completion in 2015, and the Chicho Hospital in Santiago. In 2013, FCC completed the Electoral Court Headquarters, the first building completed in the Panama City proposed master plan, and the Vía Brasil I and II corridor, which are located on Panama City's main avenue. We are also involved in the Panama Canal expansion, on a project called PAC-4, and on a hydroelectric plant project for SN Power.
In addition to Panama, FCC works in other Central American countries, including Costa Rica, where we recently won a contract to build a hydroelectric plant for Enel Green Power and a sewer to improve the environmental situation in the capital, San José. We are also building the Necaxa-Avila Camacho Highway, in Mexico, which is part of the 30-year Nuevo Necaxa-Tihuatlán Highway concession that FCC won in 2007.
What are some of the major project challenges specific to Panama? How about labor and materials availability, competition with other projects and localities' skill sets?
The availability of equipment and materials presents a significant challenge. The metro was the first project of this scale in Panama, and some of the materials for the project had to be shipped in, including two large-diameter tunnel-boring machines and four hydromill trench cutters to build the underground stations. The same is happening on the rest of the large projects taking place in Panama.
What were some major technical feats accomplished on the metro project that could be useful for ENR's audience?
The internal diameter of the tunnel is 8.70 meters, with a thickness of 35 centimeters in the concrete stone and a total excavation diameter of 9.77 meters. The stone is a universal type, 1.6 meters in length, and the ring is formed by six stones plus the keystone. To complete the total excavation we had to use 4,190 rings. Unlike with other tunnels, we used mortar bi-component to fill the gap.
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