HS2 launch the first of six giant London tunnelling machines

HS2 has celebrated the launch of the first 2,000 tonne TBM that will dig over 26 miles of tunnels under London.

TMB launch

Credit: HS2

 HS2 Ltd has celebrated the start of the next phase of tunnelling on the enormous infrastructure project, launching the first of six tunnel boring machines (TBMs) that will dig over 26 miles of tunnels under the capital. “Sushila” is the fourth of 10 HS2 TBMs to be launched. The milestone highlights the progress being made on building Britain’s new high-speed rail network, creating jobs, and providing contracts for businesses now. Later this year a second TBM, named after 18th century astronomer Caroline Herschel, will also be launched from the West London site to build the second of HS2’s twin-bore tunnels towards central London. 

“This launch is a landmark moment in the delivery of HS2, helping link London to Birmingham and unlock better connections, quicker journeys and create thousands of skilled jobs across the North and Midlands,” Kevin Foster, HS2 Minister, said. “Already well underway, HS2 is set to revolutionise journeys for communities throughout the country, boost local economies and, at its peak, support more than 34,000 jobs across the UK.”

Birdseye shot of the launch

Birdseye shot of the launch – Credit: HS2

Each weighing over 2,000 tonnes and measuring 140 metres in length, both TBMs will bore five miles non-stop for 22 months, except Christmas Day and bank holidays, to Greenpark Way in Greenford, where they will be dismantled and lifted from the ground. 

Separately, two other equally massive TBMs will set off towards Greenpark Way from HS2’s Victoria Road site in 2023 to build a further 3.4-mile twin-bore tunnel. Together, the quartet of TBMs will build 8.4 miles of twin-bored tunnels between West Ruislip and the new high-speed rail super hub station at Old Oak Common. Another 4.5-mile twin-bore tunnel extending from Old Oak Common to Euston will complete HS2’s journey to its London terminus. 

Each TBM is operated by 15 people, working in shifts. A team of around 40 people assembled the TBMs, with 56 companies involved in getting the site ready and machines launched. In total the 10 TBMs will create 64 miles of tunnels on HS2 between London and the West Midlands. 

“The launch of the TBMs on the longest section of tunnels through London is a significant moment for HS2, and one that demonstrates the momentum that has built behind Britain’s flagship levelling-up project,” Mark Thurston, CEO for HS2, said. “The construction of 170 miles of new high-speed railway between London and Crewe is now in full swing, supporting 27,000 jobs, nearly 1,000 apprenticeships and contracts for over 2,500 businesses.” 

Launch celebration

Launch celebration – Credit: HS2

Further facts about the TBMS: 

  • Each machine is 140 metres in length, one and a quarter times the length of a football pitch 
  • Each has a cutter head that is 9.84m in diameter, slightly smaller than the machines boring through the Chilterns  
  • They each weigh approximately 2,050 tonnes, roughly the weight of 20 blue whales 
  • 1.2 million cubic metres of excavated material will be removed, weighing 2.46 million tonnes.

“Today we start one of the most complex parts of HS2, tunnelling from here at West Ruislip towards Euston beneath one of the busiest cities in the world,” James Richardson, Managing Director of Skanska Costain STRABAG JV, said. “The huge team effort has enabled some of the most advanced TBMs ever built to be launched. Our team has brought together world class skills along with developing many new people to the industry working on this crucial national infrastructure project.”

A video featuring of the launch is below.