Support design for tunnels with large overburden in weak rock

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Often damages of the lining and failure of bolts is a result of tunnelling in weak rock under high stresses. Large displacements can lead to violation of the clearance profile, requiring costly, dangerous, and time-consuming repairs. The main problem is that conventional supports have a rather limited strain tolerance. Shotcrete for example can tolerate maximum 0.6% to 0.8% strain without failure. Any imposed strains beyond this level will lead to destruction of the lining and consequently a more or less complete loss of support resistance, causing additional displacements and disintegration of the rock mass. Over the last two decades, ductile elements have been developed and successfully used on a considerable number of tunnels. The aim of those elements is optimally utilizing the capacity of the lining, while preventing damage of the lining by limiting the resistance. Although this sounds simple, the task of designing such a ductile lining system is not at all trivial. Many factors need to be considered, like development of the displacements in relation to face advance and time. The ground structure and the relative orientation between the tunnel axis and dominating geological features, like foliation or bedding strongly influence the longitudinal displacement profile. The development of the displacements over time also depends on the advance rate, influencing the degree of utilization of the shotcrete, which changes its properties over time. Currently used ductile element systems are presented and their characteristics as well as pros and cons discussed. More or less sophisticated tools for a preliminary design of ductile linings exist. Examples of application are presented. Another issue is the performance of grouted rock bolts under large strains. Installation of bolts at the time of the largest strain rates in the rock mass close to the face results in considerable shear strains in the grout, while it is setting. This may lead to a loss of bond between bolt and ground, making the bolts more or less ineffective. Special rib designs of the bolts can reduce this effect.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventAfrirock - Cape Town, South Africa
Duration: 1 Oct 20176 Oct 2017


Country/TerritorySouth Africa
CityCape Town

Fields of Expertise

  • Sustainable Systems

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