Unearthing worldwide careers
As soon as he started studying civil and structural engineering at the University of Hong Kong, Raymond Koo knew he wanted to work underground.
"I enjoy a challenge and while any type of civil engineering work is challenging, working underground is even more challenging," says Koo, an MTR Corporation construction engineer who is currently working on the MTR West Island Line project.
Koo says that compared with surface construction work, tunnelling projects involve an element of the unknown. "We need to be aware of geological variations and balance progress with optimum safety measures," he says, adding that MTR has been a pioneer in implementing safety and best working practices.
He says technical and soft-skills training programmes, including a blasting competence supervisor course arranged by MTR, have helped him to further develop his career.
Koo, who had previous experience in design and consulting before joining MTR, says one of his greatest sources of job satisfaction is working on-site. "You are able to see and feel progress being made and know you are benefitting Hong Kong," he says.
He advises those interested in joining the tunnelling profession to have an interest in geology and learn all they can about different tunnelling techniques. "The work is demanding, but the job satisfaction is worth it," he says.
According to the Institution of Civil Engineers Hong Kong Association (ICE HKA), tunnelling experience gained in Hong Kong can equip people with skills that can be used throughout the world.
"On completion of the construction of the MTR Island Line in 1986, many tunnel engineers who were involved with the project, who had experience both in design and construction, moved to Singapore and Taiwan to assist in the construction of their underground systems," says Neil Smith, head of ICE HKA's Public Voice Subcommittee and a construction manager with MTR.
"Many of those same people have returned to Hong Kong to work on the large number of tunnel projects under construction," he says.
Like many industry professionals, Smith believes the problem-solving skills tunnel-builders develop in Hong Kong provide them with a unique talent.
"The continual increase in the presence of water, drainage, road, rail and cable tunnels, combined with the many deep foundations of our major buildings, makes it very difficult to design tunnel alignments," he says.
"As a result, our new tunnels are required to be constructed deeper, which increases the challenges placed on Hong Kong civil engineers."