HS2 tunnelling machines arrive in UK

By Leila Steed10 December 2020

Tunnel Boring Machine Florence, at the Herrenknect factory in Germany

Tunnel boring machine Florence, at the Herrenknect factory in Germany

Two giant tunnel boring machines (TBMs) have arrived in the UK in order to start work on the HS2 railway project.

The TBMs, which measure 170m in length and weigh 2,000 tonnes each, were transported from Germany in more than 300 separate shipments over a period of about two months.

Said to be the biggest TBMs ever to be used on a railway project in the UK, the machines were delivered to the Align Chiltern tunnel site, located to the west of London.

Manufactured by German company Herrenknecht, the giant machines will be operated by main works contractor, Align – a joint venture formed by Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine, and VolkerFitzpatrick.

Named Florence and Cecilia, the machines will be put to work on the project’s Chiltern site next year. They will dig the 10-mile-long ‘twin-bore’ Chiltern tunnel and will be in continuous 24-hour operation for over three years.

HS2 CEO Mark Thurston said, “The launch of our first tunnelling machines will be a defining moment in the history of HS2 – and our work to deliver a high speed railway that will offer a low-carbon alternative for journeys across the UK.

“Construction is now well underway, with more than 13,000 jobs supported by the project, both directly and in our UK-wide supply chain. The arrival of Florence and Cecilia is a major step forward and our expert team will now work to assemble, test and commission them before their launch next year.”

Florence and Cecilia, which have been designed to work with the area’s chalk and flint ground composition, will be launched separately a few weeks apart and will bore one train tunnel each – a northbound and a southbound.

As well as eating through 15m of earth a day to create the tunnels, the TBMs will also line and grout them with concrete wall segments. 

Florence and Cecilia, whose names were suggested by students from schools local to the launch site, will each be manned a crew of 17 people and further supported by an aboveground team of 100 people who will oversee the logistics of the tunnelling operation. 

The first machine is named after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing who spent many years living in Claydon, Buckinghamshire, and the second is named after astronomer and astrophysicist, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who was born in Buckinghamshire.


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