HS2 launches first giant tunnelling machine

The first 2,000-tonne tunnel boring machine (TBM) on the HS2 project was launched from HS2’s South Portal site next to the M25 in Hertfordshire on May 13.

Florence, the first of ten TBMs that will dig 64 miles of tunnel on Phase 1 of HS2, is 170 metres in length (the largest ever used on a UK rail project). It will bore the first of a pair of ten-mile-long tunnels under the Chilterns, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the next three years.

“The launch of the first giant tunnelling machine on HS2 is not only a landmark moment for the project, but the ground-breaking evidence that shows our commitment to levelling up transport links across the UK, supporting thousands of jobs and hundreds of apprenticeships in the process,” said Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps.

The TBM is named after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale - a suggestion made by local children owing to her residence at nearby Claydon House in Buckinghamshire.

A second TBM, named Cecilia, is set to launch this month to excavate the second tunnel at the South Portal site. 

The geological data which will be fed back from Florence is expected to enable Cecilia to run faster, meaning that both will break through the other side at the same time.

These two TBMs are to be operated by HS2’s main works contractor Align (a joint venture between Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick).


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