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Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Company: Beneath the dream

Shanghai boasts one of the most iconic cityscapes in the world. Its skyline is recognisable at a glance, the Yangtze River reflecting its towers of glass and steel for double the impact. Yet, for a city to have impressive heights, it must also have impressive depths; we took a look at the Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Company, masterful subterranean co-ordinators of infrastructure, to see what hidden magic works beneath the veil of the stunning city views we see.

Amongst China’s many staggering industrial achievements is its position amongst the world’s construction crème-de-la-crème. Kept company by areas of Europe and the Middle East, when it comes to technologically advanced towers and mega-projects, China is one of the first countries that spring to mind. From the introduction of super-skyscrapers, challenging what was previously thought possible in high-reaching architecture, to sci-fi-esque mountain villages blending futuristic living into the limestone cliffs and green hills around them, China has impressed the world with its designs time and again, much as it has throughout the country’s history.

The city-state of Shanghai is the glittering jewel on China’s crown. Widely considered the birthplace of modern Chinese architecture, Shanghai has ambitiously stayed ahead of Chinese infrastructure for the past 150 years, a trend-setting hub of developing technology, thanks to the Shanghai Municipal Engineering Administration and the Public Utilities Board. The city’s sky-scraping art pieces would have any visitor’s necks craning upwards, yet ‘up’ is not the only direction Shanghai moves in. What goes up must come down; the towering beauty of the city is supported by a labyrinth of subterranean engineering. As a city ever growing and evolving, these works are complex and must always be of the highest possible quality – it is demanding work that requires expertise. This is where the Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Company (STEC) Singapore steps up to the plate.

So who are STEC Singapore? They describe themselves as service providers for urban management upgrading and infrastructure operation. To break it down, they engage in metro and cross-river tunnel construction, sewerage, drainage, water-intake and discharge for power plants, pipe-laying for public works, foundation pit bracing and support, and ground engineering activities. They are also involved in the construction of carriageways, airports, superhighways, viaducts, interchange, and high-rise buildings, as well as E&M installation activities. That’s quite a list! What links these operations together is that they are subterranean – they take place under the city, and all told, it’s impossible to construct and maintain a city without these services.

In their own words, STEC describe their mission as “striving to build a new city model for modern living, providing intelligent infrastructure and operation services that can meet the demand of modern urban management, establishing a more advanced, secure and intelligent city.” Based in Shanghai, the effects of their work lie under and within most essential parts of the city’s infrastructure. The niche nature of their operations has given STEC an enviable foothold in the market; they perform an essential, highly specific service, and they do it extremely well.

From this secure position, the company is now looking to move beyond its staple transit projects and other public infrastructure works, and to expand into new areas of operations – namely by expanding into news international ventures. This is not the first time they have expanded: the company already covers 15 overseas markets, including Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Macau, Poland, and Angola. They are focusing their latest push on the Southeast Asian market, specifically Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. The company hopes that this expansion will raise the stature of the company, as well as lead to job creation for Shanghai locals in the wider Southeast Asian area. Already a team 10,000 strong, the ambitious STEC hope to take on a larger team to support their wide-reaching goals.

Around the world, STEC have been involved in over 500 infrastructure contracts, yet some of their most involving projects are the ones happening right under their feet. Their current projects in Shanghai and Singapore include the construction of Shenton Way station (T225) and its associated tunnels – an undertaking that began in 2014, costed at approximately S$368 million. When complete, Shenton Way will be an underground Mass Rapid Transit station located on the Thomson-East Coast Line in Singapore, making the station and associated tunnels just one of many segments that put together the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT). The MRT was first opened in 1987, at the time running between Yio Chu Kang and Toa Payoh, making it the second-oldest metro system in Southeast Asia after the Light Rail Transit System in Manila. Now, Shanghai’s network spans the entire city-state, with over 100 stations in operation and carrying over 3 million riders a day!

Adding to this sprawling network, the Thomson-East Coast Line will be the fourth fully automated and driverless system line in Singapore. The work was announced in 2014, and the line is set to open in five stages from 2019 onwards. total, the line will be 43 km (27 mi) long and will include 31 stations. Running through the north-south corridor, starting in the northern Woodlands area, it will pass through the estate of Sin Ming Avenue, down to the residential Thomson area and the shopping districts of Orchard and Marina Bay, then head eastwards along the coast through Siglap, Marine Parade and Bedok Sout before ending at Sungei Bedok. The system will make a life-changing difference to the residents of areas such as Sembawang, Yishun and Ang Mo Kio, who will gain far faster and more direct connections to the city – once the first three stages are active, the line is predicated to carry around 500,000 daily commuters.

The laying of these lines would not be possible without STEC’s underground expertise, and the company’s Project Director for these wider tunnels has been granted a practically free reign over the management of this ambitious undertaking, including cost control, manpower recruitment, procurement and administrative matters. After all, it feels directly under their realm of knowledge – in working underground, the contracts are working on STEC’s soil. With over 50 years of experience and technical expertise, they are constantly researching and evolving how to operate to make sure that they are delivering the very best. As they claim:

“We approach and execute our operations in an organized and safe manner, from investment to design, construction and finalization. We are an all-in-one provider of consulting, planning, investment, construction, operations, maintenance, and upgrade services, providing a fully comprehensive industrial service to clients. Our success is attributed to careful planning and the understanding of the needs of the modern urban centres. We consider the urban space for living and function, and design, develop, upgrade and recreate the city space with creativity and understanding of the urban environment.”

Bold claims indeed! Whilst tunnelling systems and subterranean project management don’t spring to mind when we think about beautiful city design, a bustling hub such as Shanghai couldn’t function without the careful structures put in place to support and facilitate its beauty. Behind the glittering towers and smooth, stress-free experience of its transport lies a carefully executed plan – the scaffolding and chasses on which to build dream. Moving forwards, STEC plan to keep achieving and impressing as they have so far. With increasing R&D looking into greener ways to do what they do best, they are ready to create the cities of future generations. As they assure us, “STEC will keep alive the concept of ‘Upholding a City Dream, Creating an Ideal Life’ and strive for building scientific and sustainable urban life for the world of tomorrow.”