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World Tunnel Congress 2013 Geneva

Underground the way to the future!

G. Anagnostou & H. Ehrbar (eds)

Underground Excavation in Argentina: Past, Present and Future

M. Giambastiani
Dept. de Ciencias Aplicadas , Universidad Nacional de La Rioja (UNLAR), La Rioja, Argentina
MPa Geologa Aplicada Consultora, Crdoba, Argentina (email:

Tunneling in Argentina, in its modern concept, had its beginning with the development of the national
railway network and had its maximum expression between the late XIX century and the early XX
century, when 16,8 km of tunnels were built.
Another important moment in tunnel engineering, was the development of the subway in Buenos Aires
city, the first in Latin America, whose building started in 1911 with the A line. At the present time,
3,9km of tunnels were built.
The roadway tunnels began in the 40s and they reached their maximum development in the 80s. In
1969, the first and unique immersed tunnel in South America (Uranga - Begnis Tunnel), was
inaugurated under the Paran river. 9,8 km of road tunnels were built altogether.
The different hydroelectric project, developed in the second half of the XX century, gave a great
impulse to the construction of tunnels and galleries( aprox. 86,9 km)
Among the future projects, it must be highlighted the Agua Negra international roadway tunnel, the
railway tunnels of Corredor Biocenico, the enlargement of the subway in Buenos Aires and the
subway project in Crdoba.

1 Introduction
Excavations of underground works in Argentina has a long and innovating history worldwide, as for
example, the first subway in Latin America (1913), the first and unique immersed tunnel in the
continent (Uranga-Begnis tunnel,1969), the first high tunnel in the Andes region (1910) and the 21
tunnels of the Tren de las Nubes, some of which were built over 4,000 meters above sea level.
A new research project was launched by the National University of La Rioja (UNLAR), in order to
recover the history of Argentine tunneling, its challenges, its actors and its achievements. In the first
stage of this investigation, it was sought to develop an thorough inventory of all the underground
works done with modern techniques (manual excavation, drill and blast and TBM)., to identify them
and to obtain enough data for its catalogue. Old excavation in urban areas during the Spanish colonial
era and mine underground works were out of the project.

2 Methodology
First task done was the preparation of a survey template, whose main topics were taken from the
general guidelines of ITA WG Catalogue of Tunnels (1990) In the survey template of each work one
can find the following information:
a) Name or identification of the work.

b) Placement: Province and coordinates
c) Situation: Built, under construction, in project.
d) Type of tunnel:
Rail tunnel.
Road tunnel.
Water and sewage tunnel.
Metro (Urban Tunnel)
Hydroelectric tunnel (headrace tunnel, diversion tunnel. pressure tunnel, powerhouse
cavern, Bottom outlet tunnel, gates cavern, surge tanks, inspection galleries, access
tunnels, chimneys, wells, etc.)
e) Length, cross section and lining.
f) Excavation method ( manual, drill and blast, TBM)
g) Construction time.
h) Construction company.
i) Design company.
j) Client.
k) Reference source.
Literature research was done from different sites in the Net WWW. Through them, it was possible to
trace valuable sources from journals, papers, books and manuals. The research was supplemented
with direct information from the web sites of government agency and construction companies.
Personal contact was also made with professionals from different companies, consultants and
academics who provide valuable information.
The information was summarized in Tables which are presented in this article.

3 Underground excavation in Argentina

The information collected in this first stage of investigation was summarized in Tables 1 to 6 grouped
according to the type of tunnels and each table has been organized from the oldest tunnel to the most
modern ones.

3.1 Built Tunnels

Tunneling, according to the most modern concepts of this technique, started in Argentina at the last
quarted of the XIX century with the expansion of the railways. As the rail expanded towards the
mountainous west, the need to built tunnels to overcome the orographic barriers. The biggest
constructions from 1880 and 1930 were related with the communication between Chile and Argentina
with the building of the Central Trans-Andean railway line in the province of Mendoza and the North
Trans-Andean railway (at present, Tren de las Nubes). From these two big engineering works,
pioneers at that time, 4,392m divided in 15 tunnels were built together with the Las Cuevas tunnel in
the Central Trans-Andean railway and 3,256.5m in 21 tunnels in the North Trans- Andean railway
(1,800 to 4,300 meters above sea level). The last railways tunnels built date from the 40s and the
50s, but they were unfinished as the branch works of Catamarca-Tucumn, of General Belgrano
railway were suspended. All in all, at least 16,840m of railway tunnels were excavated, 10% of the
total built (Table 1)
The road tunnels had their maximum development between the 40s and the 80s of the XX century
with the decline of the railway activity. From all the works, two of them must be highlighted, the Cristo
Redentor tunnel with 3,080m long and 3,200m above sea level and the immersed tunnel Uranga
Begnis with 2,397m which goes across the Paran river and it is unique in Latin America. The tunnel
Cristo Redentor was built between 1977 and 1980 on the Andes range and today it is the principal
way for commercial interchange between Argentina and Chile. The immersed tunnel Uranga- Begnis

was built in the 60s with the most modern existing methods of that time. It is the most emblematic
work in Argentine tunneling because of the challenges that had to be faced during its building.
Between the decade of the 80s and the present time, it can be highlighted the six tunnels built on the
RN 150 in the section Ischigualasto Huaco with 1,862,7m long. At the present time 9,786m (6%) of
road tunnels have been counted (Table 2)
Another area that deserves consideration in the history of Argentine tunneling, is the building of
underground tunnels in the city of Buenos Aires. In 1913, the first line of underground (Line A) which
was built through the method of cut and cover, was inaugurated. Thus, the first urban subway in Latin
America and the seventh in the world started functioning. It held this position until the end of the 60s
when the first line of subways in Mxico city was inaugurated. At present the subway rail has an
extension of 53,888m (32%) (Table 3) and it is still being expanded.
The building of underground works (tunnel, galleries, caverns, etc.) related to the hydroelectric
projects, has been of great importance especially during 1940 and 1990. The first hydraulic tunnel
known is the headrace tunnel of C:H Potrero de las Tablas with an approximate length of 4,000m.
Among the most important works, it must be highlighted the headrace tunnels: San Roque hydropower
(4,227m), Los Molinos I y II hydropower (6,880m), C.H Pueblo Viejo (5,533m), Nihuil hydropower
system (20,586m), Agua del Toro dam (4,246m) and the Cacheuta & Alvarez Condarco hydropower
(4,274m) (Table 4). The only rock cavern is the one where the powerhouse of the Rio Grande
hydropower are found (105m long, 27m wide and 50m height). 56,925 mts (34%) of hydraulic tunnels
have been counted (Table 4).
As regards the water tunnels used to take running clean water and sewage water, special mention for
the so called underground rivers in the city of Buenos Aires which have a length of 91km
( The underground river Saavedra-Morn, with 15,500m long and the river
Constitucin-Lans, stand out. Recent works done with TBMs are the hydraulic system to control
floods in the Maldonado basin with 14,443m long (Table 5)

3.2 Tunnels under construction

At present tunneling in Argentina is focused on three major works in the province of Buenos Aires :
tunneling of Sarmiento Rail, west collector sewage and the tunnels for the water treatment plant J.M.
de Rosas. (Table 6)

3.3 Future
Future projects involve the improvement in communication and commerce through the Andean range
(Agua Negra tunnel (14,800m), Bioceanic corridor (52,000m) and Las Leas tunnel (14,000m)) and
the improvement of city transport (expansion of the subway in Buenos Aires (35,500m) and the
subway in Crdoba (20,958m).

4 Conclusion
The objectives stated for the first stage of the project were successfully reached. The second stage
will deepen into the accuracy of the information obtained from informal sources and thus publish a
book for general distribution.

5 Acknowledgements
We want to thank the priceless contribution of engineers Diego Aguiar, Carlos Sedeo, Oscar Vard,
Javier Buraschi, Marcelo Baylac, Oscar Navarro and Hernn Acua for the information they provided
about Argentine tunneling, and to Prof. Alicia Leiva and Prof. A.M. Combina, directors and
coordinators of the Geology course in the Universidad Nacional de La Rioja (UNLAR), Argentina, for
their support to the project.

Table 1. Railways Tunnels
Quantity Lenght Construction
Shape - Dimension cross section -
Name of Province Reference
m lining Period
El Saladillo Tunnel 1 Tucumn 200 Horseshoe-L=3.9m,H=5m-masonry 8/6/1882 Magarios, O. et al. (2006)
Mojotoro Tunnel 1 Salta 317 Horseshoe-L=3m,H=4m-masonry 9/7/1891
Trasandino Central Railway 15 Mendoza 1262 Horseshoe-not lining 1889 - 1893 Seisdedos (2009)
De las Sierras Railway 2 Crdoba 498 Horseshoe-Concrete 1889 - 1892
Las Cuevas Tunnel 1 Mendoza 3030.44 Horseshoe-L=4.5m,H=5.5m-not lining 1907 - 1910 Annimo. (1892)
Buenos Horseshoe-L=4.9m,H=5.55m-masonry
Central Oeste Railways 1 5,095 1912 - 1916 Ramos, H.S. (1999)
Aires and concrete
Gaiman Tunnel
1 Chubut 242 Horseshoe-concrete 1914
Central del Chubut Railway
Benedetti, A. (2005)
Trasandino del Norte Railway 21 Salta 3256.5 Horseshoe-concrete 1921 - 1929
Expreso Patagnico Railway 1 Rio Negro 108 Horseshoe-concrete 1922 - 1935
El Totoral o La Merced Tunnels 6 Catamarca >2430 Horseshoe-L=4.3m,H=8m-concrete 1944 - 1952 http://ferrocarrilestrenesyestaciones
Rumi Punco Tunnels 3 Tucumn >265 Horseshoe-L=4.3m,H=8m-concrete 1952 http://ferrocarrilestrenesyestaciones

Table 2. Road Tunnels

Quantity Lenght Construction
Name Province Shape - Cross section - lining Reference
of Tunnel m Period
Pocho Tunnels - RN 20 5 Crdoba 248 Horseshoe-L=7m,H=6m-not lining 1946-1948
Tnel Cuesta del Viento - RN 150 1 San Juan 70 Horseshoe-not lining 1947 - 1965
RN 7 Tunnels 14 Mendoza 1,460 Horseshoe-not lining 1950 - 1980
Immersed Tunnel Uranga - Begnis 1 Santa Fe - Entre Rios 2,397 Circular-10.8m ext. diam. 1962 - 1969
Cristo Redentor Tunnel 1 Mendoza 3,080 Horseshoe-4.45m radius-concrete 1977? - 1980
Rio De Los Sauces Tunnel - RN 75 1 La Rioja 668.44 Horseshoe-7.4m diam.-concrete 1995 -1997 Annimo. (1999)
RN 150 Tunnels 6 San Juan 1,862.7 Horseshoe-L=8.64m,H=5.92m 2009 - 2011
Huaco tunnel - RN 20 1 San Juan 100 Horseshoe-not lining s/d
Caon del Atuel Tunnel 1 Mendoza 115 Horseshoe-not lining s/d .

Table 3. Subway Tunnels

Lenght Construction
Name Province Shape - Cross section - lining Reference
m Period
Line A 9,000 Rectangular-concrete 1911-13, 1914, 2008, 2011
Line B 12,100 1930, 1931, 2003, 2011
Line C 4,288 1934 to 1936
Buenos Aires
Line D 11,000 Horseshoe-concrete 1937, 1940,1987, 1997, 1999, 2000
Line E 9,620 1944, 1966, 1973, 1985, 1986
Line H 5,500 2007 to 2011

Table 4. Hydroelectrical Tunnels
Type Length Construction
Hydroelectric Project Province Shape - Cross section - lining Reference
of Tunnel m Period
C.H Potrero de las
Headrace Tunnel Tucuman ~4,000m Circular 1910
1 Usina dam Pressure Tunnel 166 Horseshoe-4mx4m-Concrete Biol, F. G., et al (2005)
Crdoba 1927 - 1934
Fitz Simon Headrace Tunnel 365 s/d EPEC (2007)
422 Concrete 1939 - 1944
San Roque Dam Headrace Tunnel Crdoba EPEC (2009)
4227 Circular-3.5m diam.-Concrete 1953 - 1959
Medina Allende Dam Headrace Tunnel 60 Concrete
Crdoba 1939 - 1944
La Via Pressure Tunnel 200 Concrete
Headrace Tunnel 3,202 Circular?-2,9m diam.-Concrete
Subs. de Rec. Hdr.Nacin (2010),
Escaba Dam Tucuman Circular-10.2m Sup. 2.6m inf.- 1943 - 1948
Surge tank 72.7
C. H Florentino Headrace Tunnel 233,44 Circular-7.5m diam.
Chubut 1943-1963 Subs. de Rec. Hdr.Nacin (2010)
Ameghino Discharge tunnel 72,5 Circular-4.25m diam.
Headrace Tunnel 870 Concrete
1948 - 1955
Rio Tercero dam Bottom outlet tunnel Crdoba 170 3.4m diam.-Concrete Biol, F. G., et al (2005),
Diversion Tunnel s/d s/d s/d
Headrace Tunnel 5,380 3m diam.-Concrete
Los Molinos I Dam Crdoba 1948 - 1953,
Surge tank 73 5 a 12m diam.-Concrete
Headrace Tunnel 1,500 3m diam.-Concrete
Los Molinos II Dam Crdoba 1948 -1953,
Surge tank 55 2.5m & 10m diam-Concrete
Headrace Tunnel 5,892 4m diam
Nihuil I Dam Mendoza 1949 - 1952 Inst. Reg. de Est. Energa (2007)
Surge tank s/d
C.H de pasada Ullm I y
Headrace Tunnel San Juan 600 5.5m diam. 1958 - 1969
Headrace Tunnel 589.5 Circular-3.2m diam.-Concrete
Subs. de Rec. Hdr.Nacin (2010),
El Cadillal Dam Tucuman Circular-9.5m Sup. 3m Inf.- 1962 - 1965
Surge tank 70.71
Bottom outlet tunnel 607.95 6m diam.-Concrete
Headrace Tunnel 451.77 Circular-6m diam.-Concrete
Cabra Corral Dam Salta 1966 - 1972 Subs. de Rec. Hdr.Nacin (2010),
Circular-10.8m Sup. 5.3m inf-
Surge tank
103.56 Concrete
Diversion Tunnel 242 5.4m diam.-Concrete
Headrace Tunnel 4,246.35 7.2m diam.-Concrete
Agua del Toro Dam Mendoza 1966 -1973 Amos, A. (1993b)
Surge tank 68 36m diam.-Concrete
Pressure Tunnel 327 6.2m diam.-Steel lining
La Horqueta-los Reales Headrace
1,867.57 Horseshoe-1.9m diam.
C.H Pueblo Viejo Tucuman
3,016.19 Horseshoe-2.9m diam. Start
Los Reales Headrace Tunnel
648.86 Circular-3m diam.-Concrete Unit 1

Surge tank 38,65 Circular-5m diam.-Concrete 1967
Circular-2.25m diam.-Steel
Pressure Tunnel 498
Headrace Tunnel 9,994 4.8m diam.
Nihuil II Dam Mendoza 1968? Inst. Reg. de Est. Energa (2007)
Surge tank s/d
Headrace Tunnel 6 x 225m 10m diam.
C.H El Chocn Inspection Tunnel Neuqun 1968 - 1977
s/d s/d
Pressure Tunnel
Planicie Banderita Dam Pressure Tunnel Neuqun s/d s/d 1969-1980?
Headrace Tunnel 4,770 s/d
Nihuil III Dam Mendoza 1971? Inst. Reg. de Est. Energa (2007)
Surge tank s/d
Irrigation tunnel 440 6m diam.,
Quebrada de Ullum Dam San Juan 1971 - 1980
Diversion and bottom outlet tunnel 420 5m diam.
Cavern L=105m, l=27m,
Power House Cavern
Access Tunnel 1,772 Horseshoe?-7m x 7m Amos, A. 1993a
Pressure Tunnel 330 Circular-7.5m diam. Subs. de Rec. Hdr.Nacin (2010)
C. H Rio Grande Tailrace tunnel Crdoba 5,314 Horseshoe-L=12m, H=18m 1974 - 1986
Horseshoe-7.6m diam.-not
Diversion tunnel 472.2
Cables shaft 178 Circular-12m diam.
Surge tank 62 Rectangular
Diversion Tunnel 600 s/d
Headrace Tunnel 1,229.06 Circular-8.5m diam.
Circular-28.0m Sup, 3.57m Inf.-
C.H Futaleuf Surge tank Chubut 64..21 1975 - 1982 Subs. de Rec. Hdr.Nacin (2010)
Pressure Tunnel 246.3 7.7m de diam.
Bottom outlet tunnel 601,2 l=10m x H=15m
Diversion and bottom outlet tunnel 882 9m diam.-Concrete
Diversion tunnel 626 9m diam.-Concrete
AES Alicura S.A
C.H Alicur Neuqun Cavern 1979 - 1985
Gate chamber outlet bottom Anderson et al (1985)
l=11.1m, L=11.6m, H=11.5m
Grouting and drainage galleries 6,500 s/d
Grouting tunnel in rock
Piedra del guila Dam Neuqun s/d s/d 1985 - 1993
Grouting Tunnel in soil
Bottom outlet tunnel 450 Circular-3m diam.
Cuesta del Viento Dam Headrace Tunnel San Juan 433 Circular-3m diam. 1986 - 2000
Gate chamber 110 Circular-7.8m diam.
Irrigation Tunnel
Los Reyunos Dam Mendoza s/d s/d s/d AES Alicura S.A
Headrace Tunnel
Pichi Picun Leufu Dam Inspection Tunnel Neuqun s/d s/d Start 1999 s/d
Potrerillos Dam Tunnel for morning glory spillway Mendoza 337 11.8m diam. 1999 - 2003 Inst. Reg. de Est. Energa (2007)

Diversion and bottom outlet tunnel 463 10.7m diam.-Concrete
Cavern L=32m x l=17m x
Gate chamber
Semi circular-5m diam.-
Power Tunnel 4,274
Horseshoe-8.1mx7.95m diam. -
Diversion Tunnel 673.5 1998 - 2002
Circular-15.15m diam.-
Surge tank 68.5m 2004 - 2009
Los Caracoles Dam San Juan Arvalo, D. et al (2006)
Bottom outlet tunnel 425.45 s/d
Spillway tunnels 2 x 360 Horseshoe-9.5x9.5m-Concrete
Gate chamber 43.86m Circular-6.30m diam.
Conduction gallery 1,426.7 Circular-5.5m diam.-Concrete 2004 - 2009
Saladillo dam Diversion Tunnel San Luis 260 Horseshoe-H=3.60m, L=6.4m 2009-2010 Bonifazi, J.A, et al. (2008)
Punta Negra Dam Headrace Tunnel San Juan 450m?? 5.1m diam.? 2011 - 2014?,

Table 5. Water and Sewage Tunnels

Type Length Method of Construction
Hydraulic Project Province Shape - Cross section - lining Reference
of Tunnel m Excavation Period
Circular-6.9m Int. Diam, 7.9m Ext. TBM Lovat
4,579 Ended 09/2010 Varde O.A et al (2011)
Arroyo Maldonado Flood Mitigation Diam. ME310SE
9,864 Precast concrete lining, e=0.35m Single shield - EPB 2009 - 2011
Ro Subt. Saavedra- Circular-3.5m diam., Precast
15,500 TBM HK EPB 1996 - 2001
Morn Buenos concrete lining
Rio Subt. Constitucin - Aires
Water tunnel s/d 1970
Rio Subt. Floresta -
s/d 1983
Rios subterraneos Water tunnel 91,000 Diam. between 2.6m and 4.6m s/d 1940 - 2012

Table 6. Tunnel in construction

Type Length Method of Construction
Hydraulic Project Province Shape - Cross section - lining Reference
of Tunnel M Excavation Period
Circular-12m Ext. diam-Precast
FFCC Sarmiento Railway 34,640 EPB Shield 9/2012 a 12/2013?
Buenos Circular-1,8m diam.-Concrete
Colector Cloacal Oeste Sewage 4,600 TBM 2012 - 2013?
Aires and steel lining
J.M. de Rosas Water Water Circular-4.27m Ext. Diam.-,
14,800 2 EPB Shield 2009
Plant tunnel Precast reinf. concrete

6 References
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Amos, A. 1993a. The Rio Grande pumped storage complex Crdoba Province. A case study of excavation in
contrasting rock anisotropy - Comprehensive Rock Engineering. Hudson Ed, V, 147 a 158.
Amos,A. 1993b. The Agua del Toro Dam, Mendoza, Argentina: A case of insufficient surface geology studies
affecting underground excavation. Comprehensive Rock Engineering Hudson ed. Tomo V, 133.
Anderson, C.A, Jansson,S., Vard,O. 1985. Grouting and drainage system at the Alicura hydroelectric project,
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