Florence, the HS2 tunnel boring machine starts in Hertfordshire.

15 May 2021

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A giant tunnel boring machine (TBM), measuring 558ft (170m) in length and named Florence, after Florence Nightingale, began digging a ten-mile stretch under the Chilterns near the M25 on the 13th of May.

The boss of HS2 has said he hopes the UK “gets behind” the controversial high-speed rail project, as tunnelling work gets underway.

Chief executive Mark Thurston described the start of a three-year dig in the Chilterns as “a major step forward” for phase 1 of the project.

The TBM can tunnel under a town or city without disturbing anyone above ground, and in rural areas, this tunnelling helps to reduce the impact on the countryside.

There are major concerns about the cost and environmental impact of building the high-speed railway. The government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned in 2018 that the final bill could reach £106bn, due to it running over budget by tens of billions of pounds.

Mr Thurston said:

‘’ HS2 is a way of getting investment into the economy when we know the economy is struggling on the back of the pandemic.  I would hope the country gets behind what is a national endeavour and takes pride in the fact that this is creating jobs for British people.’’

HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson claimed it was “odd” for environmentalists to oppose the railway.

“You’ve got the Green Party in France and other countries that have championed high-speed rail. It seems odd that in the UK we have environmental campaigners who still do not see the benefit in a low-carbon mass infrastructure project.’’

He added ‘cutting-edge techniques’ are being used to reduce carbon emissions during construction, and claimed an electric railway is ‘far better than having people in cars’.

In total 10 giant TBMs will excavate 64 miles tunnels on the first phase of the high-speed railway between London and the West Midlands.

Each machine operates as a self-contained underground factory, which as well as digging the tunnel, will also line it with concrete wall segments and grout them into place as it moves forward at a speed of around 15 metres a day. A crew of 17 people will operate each TBM, working in shifts to keep the machines running 24/7. They will be supported by people on the surface, managing the logistics and maintaining the smooth progress of the tunnelling operation.

The line 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.

Fears were raised that the eastern leg could be scrapped due to the cost of the project.

However, speaking at an online event run by the Policy Exchange think tank this week Mr Shapps said HS2 would be built in full and might be delivered earlier than previously planned.

‘’ We are going to complete HS2 and include HS2 on the eastern leg to Leeds,’’ he said.

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