The first massive 2,000-tonne tunnel boring machine broke the mile mark last week on the HS2, Britain’s new high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and the north. The 170m long tunnel boring machine (TBM) was launched in May and covered the first mile of cut in a mixture of flint and chalk under the Chiltern Hills on the outskirts of London. The TBM was named ‘Florence’ by local schoolchildren, in honor of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, who lived for a long time in Claydon, Buckinghamshire. It is one of two identical machines digging the two ten-mile-long tunnels. The other machine is called ‘Cecilia’ and is just behind it. The tunnel boring machines are expected to break through the British high-speed rail tunnel in three years.
Designed specifically for Chiltern’s geology, the machines feature a self-contained underground plant, excavation, coating concrete wall segments over the tunnel and grouting them in place as they move forward. The first two tunnel boring machines are operated by HS2’s prime contractor, Align. Align is a joint venture between Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick. Seventeen teams working in shifts ensure the operation of the machines and are supported by more than 100 surface workers, who manage the logistics and the smooth running of the excavation.
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The separate tunnels north and south will each require 56,000 segments of precisely engineered fiber-reinforced concrete walls. The segments are made at the south portal of the tunnel, next to the M25. On the first mile, Florence and her crew installed over 5,500 separate segments, weighing approximately 8.5 tonnes each. The approximately 2.7 million cubic meters of material excavated during the construction of the tunnels will be used for the landscaping of the South Portal site. When completed, it will help create wildlife-rich limestone grassland habitats of around 90 hectares.
There will be ten tunnel boring machines in total on the UK high speed train HS2 which will create a 64 mile tunnel between London and the West Midlands with major tunnels on the approach to London and Birmingham. The program supports more than 20,000 jobs and more than 650 apprenticeships and is expected to change transport links between major UK cities, freeing up space on the rail network for additional freight and local services. HS2 will also support the transition to net zero carbon emissions in the country.
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