HS2 tunnelling work begins in 'landmark moment'

13 May 2021, 12:48 | Updated: 13 May 2021, 14:54

The tunnelling machines have been assembled
The tunnelling machines have been assembled. Picture: High Speed 2

By Daisy Stephens

The HS2 project has begun digging the first tunnel, using a tunnelling machine named after founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale.

The 558ft long contraption - named Florence - will take three years dig a 10-mile tunnel under the Chiltern Hills, beginning near the M25 motorway in Buckinghamshire, and is one of ten tunnel boring machines (TBMs) being deployed for phase one of the construction.

The TBM will build the tunnel at a rate of 15m per day.

“The work has truly begun on taking HS2 northwards,” said transport secretary Grant Shapps.

"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."

Read more: Boris Johnson insists HS2 is 'crucial for country' as construction starts

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The machine will be joined by a second, identical machine to dig the southbound tunnel.

At their deepest, the tunnels will be 80m below ground to reduce the impact of high-speed trains on surface communities and wildlife.

The machine has been named Florence
The machine has been named Florence. Picture: HS2

The machines will operate as self-contained factories with a crew of 17 people, who will work in shifts to keep the machines running continuously.

As well as digging, the machines will line the tunnels with concrete and convert the discarded material into slurry to be removed from the tunnel and used for landscaping.

Phase one of the construction covers the stretch of tunnel from London to Birmingham.

Phase two will stretch further north, with phase 2a extending from Birmingham to Crewe and phase 2b planned to run from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham to Leeds.

But Tuesday's Queen's Speech raised fears that 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.

Tim Wood, acting chief executive at Transport for the North, which advises the Government on the region's transport needs, said "backing the full HS2" is vital to "transform connectivity".

HS2 has been controversial right from the outset.

Whilst it aims to cut journey times from London to Birmingham by 32 minutes, many say it will destroy countryside and is a waste of public money.

However, Boris Johnson’s Government have defended the project, with transport secretary Grant Shapps saying it will "connect our country like never before".