Watch: Helicopter footage shows the first HS2 giant tunnelling machine
HS2 has launched its first giant tunnelling machine that will spend three years digging a 10-mile tunnel under the Chiltern Hills.
The 558-foot long contraption, which is one of 10 tunnel boring machines (TBMs) being deployed between London and the West Midlands for Phase 1 of the high-speed railway, will start its dig from a site in Buckinghamshire near the M25 motorway.
The TBM has been named Florence after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing who spent many years in Buckinghamshire.
It will be joined by a second, identical machine, enabling separate tunnels for north and southbound trains to be dug.
The tunnels will reach depths of up to 262-foot below ground to reduce the impact of high-speed trains on communities and countryside.
The 2,000-tonne machines will operate as self-contained factories with a crew of 17 people working 12-hour shifts to keep them running continuously.
In addition to digging, the TBMs will line the tunnel walls with concrete segments as they move forward at a speed of 49 feet per day.
They will also convert the material they dig out into slurry, which will be pumped out the tunnels and used for landscaping.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the launch of the first TBM is “a landmark moment for the project”.
He went on: “The work has truly begun on taking HS2 northwards.
“The tunnels these machines dig will ensure the benefits of our new high-capacity, high-speed railway run to the great cities of the North and Midlands, forging stronger connections in our country, boosting connectivity and skills opportunities, and transforming our transport links.”
Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2 Ltd, said more than 16,000 jobs and 500 apprenticeships are already being supported by the work.
Specialist firm Herrenknecht built the machines at its factory in south-west Germany at a cost of tens of millions of pounds each.
The TBMs were transported to the UK in more than 300 separate shipments last year before being reassembled.
They are designed specifically for the mixture of chalk and flints under the Chilterns.
HS2 will be extended from Birmingham to Crewe in Phase 2a, with Phase 2b planned to run from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham to Leeds.
HS2 has been beset by difficulties, including overspending and protests from environmental activists who say the project will destroy swathes of the countryside
Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech raised fears the eastern leg could be scrapped due to the cost of the project.
A bill providing the powers to extend the line to Manchester was announced alongside the speech which set out the government’s agenda, but no mention was made of the stretch to Leeds.
In 2018, the Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned that the final bill for HS2 could reach £106bn (at 2019 prices).
But despite it running tens of billions of pounds over its initial budget and several years behind schedule, Boris Johnson gave HS2 the green light in February 2020.
In January this year, a group of at least six people entered a network of tunnels beneath Euston Square Gardens as part of a protest over the impact of the planned high-speed railway.
A poll by YouGov in December revealed that 23% of Brits strongly oppose the project, while 7% strongly support it.
Watch: HS2 activists dig 100ft tunnel at Euston Station