Drill and Blast Tunneling - A Case Study Review of Encardio Rite's Projects

Drill and Blast (D&B) tunneling is a construction technique critical for excavating through solid rock and other resilient materials. This method is especially pertinent in geologically challenging conditions, such as hard rock formations and areas with complex geological structures.   
Drill and Blast tunneling involves a systematic process of boring and explosive demolition that enables the efficient creation of tunnels through otherwise impenetrable geologies. The methodology includes two primary phases: drilling, where holes are meticulously drilled into the rock using advanced machinery tailored to the specific rock's hardness and composition; followed by blasting, where these holes are filled with explosives and detonated in a controlled manner. The blast fractures the rock, facilitating its removal and allowing for the tunnel to progress. 

The effectiveness of the D&B technique lies in its adaptability to diverse rock types and geological conditions. It is particularly advantageous in hard rock contexts where mechanical excavation methods such as Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) prove inefficient. D&B can be adjusted to address variations in rock type—ranging from granite to quartzite—and is effective under conditions involving high tectonic activity, where fault lines and thrust zones predominate. 


Read more: Tunneling Methods and Encardio Rite’s Contributions to Global Projects

Geological Suitability and Adaptation 

1. Rock Fragmentation Mechanics: The process begins with an in-depth geo-mechanical analysis of the rock formation, where factors such as rock strength, fracture toughness, and existing stress fields are evaluated. This informs the drilling pattern, charge distribution, and blasting sequence, which are critical for controlling the fragmentation of the rock. 

2. Blast Design Parameters: Simulation software is used to model blast outcomes using various explosive types and charge arrangements. This includes calculating the optimal burden (distance from the blast hole to the nearest free face), spacing (distance between adjacent blast holes), and stemming length (material used to retain the explosive gases in the blast holes), which are pivotal for achieving desired rock breakage without causing undue damage to the tunnel integrity. 


Instrumentation and Monitoring Techniques 

Encardio Rite's deployment of specialized instrumentation provides a continuous feedback loop that informs the ongoing tunneling operations: 

  • Automated Total Stations and Laser Scanning: These are used for high-precision deformation monitoring. Automated Total Stations (ATS) provide real-time data on the alignment and convergence within the tunnel post-blast, which is crucial for immediate corrective actions if deviations occur. 
  • Seismic Monitoring Systems: These detect and analyze the vibrations induced by blasts, allowing for the adjustment of explosive charges to minimize disruptive tremors and assess the stability of the surrounding rock mass in real time. Seismic arrays and sophisticated data logging tools predict geological changes ahead of the excavation face. This predictive capability allows for adjustments in real time, reducing the risk of structural failures and optimizing blast designs. 
  • Embedded Sensor Technology: Sensors such as strain gauges, load cells, and piezometers are embedded into the tunnel lining and surrounding rock. These sensors provide vital data on the stress changes, deformation patterns, and pore water pressures that occur during and after blasting operations. This data is crucial for assessing the effectiveness of the blast and ensuring that the tunnel’s structural integrity is maintained. 
    Tools such as piezometers, extensometers, and inclinometers are deployed to track changes in water pressure, rock displacement, and soil deformation, respectively. These instruments are crucial for assessing the stability of the tunnel during and after the excavation process. 

Read more: Tunneling Methods and Encardio Rite’s Contributions to Global Projects


Case Studies with Encardio Rite’s Innovations 


Case Study 1: Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel 

The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, situated in the Pir Panjal Mountains of Jammu & Kashmir, India, is a major component of the 202 km Udhampur – Srinagar – Baramulla rail link project driven by Northern Railways. This tunnel, operational since October 2009, traverses challenging geological formations, mainly consisting of hard mountainous rock, necessitating sophisticated engineering techniques such as drilling and blasting, monitored under Encardio Rite’s extensive program covering nearly 20 large tunnels within the project.  
Encardio Rite was pivotal in ensuring structural safety through its comprehensive installation of geotechnical instruments like rock bolt load cells, piezometers, concrete pressure cells, shotcrete/concrete stress cells, NATM-style shotcrete strain gauges, embedment strain gauges, multipoint borehole extensometers, measuring anchors, inclinometer systems, tape extensometers, and bi-reflex targets, all of which provided critical real-time data essential for the informed decision-making and successful execution of this project, thereby significantly enhancing regional connectivity. 


Case Study 2: Northeast Frontier Railway Projects 

The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zone spans across the rugged terrains of northeastern India and parts of eastern Bihar and northern West Bengal, where Encardio Rite has played a crucial role in several tunneling projects by providing tailored instrumentation solutions to meet the demanding and unpredictable geological conditions. Specific projects like the Jiribam-Tupul and Imphal tunnels benefited from Encardio Rite’s safety monitoring solutions, including the installation of strain gauges, inclinometers, and other geotechnical sensors that ensured the tunnels' safety and stability.  
This proactive monitoring was crucial in mitigating risks associated with the frequent geological surprises typical of the region, thereby contributing significantly to the successful execution of these vital infrastructure projects, ensuring safety and enhancing the operational capabilities of the railway network in this challenging terrain. 


Case Study 3: Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) 

The Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL), one of the largest and most challenging railway projects globally, stretches 312 km to connect Udhampur with Baramulla, passing through the notably difficult 90 km Katra to Laole section where approximately 80% of the line consists of tunnels and bridges. Encardio Rite was awarded the instrumentation and monitoring contract for nearly 20 large tunnels within this project, where they installed an extensive array of sensors including rock bolt load cells, piezometers, concrete pressure cells, shotcrete strain gauges, embedment strain gauges, multipoint borehole extensometers, measuring anchors, inclinometer systems, tape extensometers, and bi-reflex targets.  
These instruments played a critical role in monitoring the structural integrity and stability throughout the construction process, enabling the project's completion and significantly enhancing connectivity between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of India, thus marking a major advancement in the nation's infrastructure development efforts.  

Read more: Cut-and-Cover Tunneling: Methodology and Case Studies from Encardio Rite’s Global Projects

Comparison of Drill and Blast with the New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM)  

The New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM), also known as the Sequential Excavation Method (SEM) or Sprayed Concrete Lining Method (SCL), developed during the 1960s in Austria. It operates not just as a construction technique but as a design philosophy that exploits the inherent strength of the rock mass to stabilize tunnels. This approach emphasizes the adaptability of the support system to the geology encountered, utilizing immediate application of shotcrete, systematic monitoring, and flexible support systems to respond dynamically to changing ground conditions. 


When and Why NATM Might Be Chosen Over Drill and Blast 


NATM is particularly effective in geologically complex or varied conditions. It can dynamically adjust to changes in rock stability, soil types, and other unpredictable geological formations. This method uses the rock's inherent strength, applying shotcrete and other supports only as needed, which can be more economical and responsive than the fixed sequences of Drill and Blast. 

NATM's involves continuous monitoring, which allows for real-time adjustments in tunneling support and methodologies. This flexibility is crucial in maintaining tunnel stability and integrity, especially in ground conditions prone to sudden changes. This contrasts with Drill and Blast, which, while adaptable, typically follows a more predetermined blasting pattern and requires extensive pre-planning and design. 

For projects where the geological conditions are highly variable or where the length of the tunnel is relatively short, NATM can often be more cost-effective. The ability to tailor the support to the specific conditions encountered can reduce material costs and adapt to the ground’s bearing capacity, potentially lowering overall project expenses. 

Read more: The TBM Method of Tunneling: An Overview and Case Studies from Encardio Rite’s Global Projects


Why Drill and Blast Might Be Chosen Over NATM 


Drill and Blast is particularly advantageous in stable, hard rock environments where the predictable nature of the rock allows for efficient drilling and controlled blasting. This method excels in creating tunnels through tough geological settings where mechanical methods might struggle without significant reinforcement. 

In projects requiring the excavation of long, straight tunnels through consistent geological formations, Drill and Blast can be more efficient. This method allows for rapid advancement assuming the rock conditions are uniform, which can be more challenging to achieve with the flexible and adaptive approach of NATM. 

Drill and Blast is also preferable in scenarios with high overburden where the depth of the tunnel mitigates the impact of blasting on surface structures and environments. The controlled use of explosives in such conditions can be more effective than the incremental excavation and support adjustments used in NATM. 


By leveraging detailed geological assessments, predictive modeling, and real-time data acquisition—as demonstrated by Encardio Rite’s comprehensive solutions—project engineers and managers can optimize their construction strategies to overcome the inherent challenges of tunneling, thereby paving the way for safer and more efficient infrastructural developments. This nuanced approach to selecting and implementing tunneling methods underscores the sophistication and precision required in modern civil engineering projects, highlighting the ever-growing importance of specialized knowledge and technological innovation in the field. 



Q1. What is Drill and Blast tunneling? 

Ans: Drill and Blast (D&B) tunneling is a traditional construction technique used to excavate tunnels through solid rock and other resilient materials using systematic drilling and controlled blasting.

Q2. How does Drill and Blast tunneling work? 

Ans: The process involves two main phases: drilling precise holes into the rock and then filling these holes with explosives. The subsequent controlled explosions fracture the rock, making it easier to remove and allowing the tunnel to progress.

Q3. What are the advantages of using the Drill and Blast method? 

Ans: D&B tunneling is highly adaptable to different rock types and geological conditions, particularly effective in hard rock contexts where other mechanical methods might be inefficient. It allows for customization in blast design to accommodate various rock formations.

Q4. What are the key factors in blast design for effective rock fragmentation? 

Ans: Key factors include geo-mechanical analysis of the rock, optimal arrangement of blast holes, and the use of simulation software to predict blast outcomes and ensure the integrity of the tunnel structure.

Q5. How does Encardio Rite contribute to Drill and Blast projects? 

Ans: Encardio Rite enhances D&B projects through advanced instrumentation and monitoring, providing critical real-time data for deformation monitoring, seismic activity analysis, and stress changes within the rock, aiding in precise and safe tunnel construction.

Q6. Why might Drill and Blast be preferred over other tunneling methods like NATM? 

Ans: Drill and Blast is particularly effective in stable, hard rock environments where the predictable nature of the rock allows for efficient, rapid tunnel advancement, making it ideal for long, straight tunnels through consistent geological formations.

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