Last week we went to visit a really big Boring Machine. No I’m not being sarcastic. This was one hell of a huge Boring Machine (or TBM as they are known, perhaps to avoid the inevitable sniggers) which is soon to start drilling the 6.4km long tunnel for Crossrail. There are two of these 148m long mechanical sandworms currently being assembled in Westbourne Park before they head underground at the end of March to start the dig. TBM isn’t the most exciting name for what is actually a pretty amazing machine so to win over the public, Crossrail has even had a naming competition for the drilling duo (feel free to tweet us any they missed!).I was expecting a pointy drill but these are more like a large pressurised coffee grinder that eats away at the earth with strong steel coated teeth, pushing it back down the long shaft and onto a conveyor belt. The soil is treated and loaded on to lorries to be taken to the Thames Estuary to make artificial islands for birds. Nice bit of recycling there. The TBM is quite an epic machine, complete with canteen, safety refuge and toilets in case it should get stuck underground. Kinda halfway between a mining shaft, train and a submarine.
Much to my disappointment there isn’t one person who drives the TBM (I had visions of myself at the helm of the unwieldy mechanical beast), instead there are 20 people onboard keeping the machines running and someone driving it from a cabinet at the back – although they can even be controlled remotely from another location. There are 2500 drawings to show how the machine comes together (that is one hefty instruction manual) and it took just eight weeks to assemble. In a few weeks it will be put on wheels and rolled down the hill to the start of the tunnel. We wanted to catch it before it went underground…
Armed in my finest PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), I realise that I won’t be able to drive the drill so settle for a nice photo op instead by the 7m high grinder.
If you are looking for the ‘drill’ part, this is it. Once the teeth have chiseled away at the ground, this angry drill moves it back through the TBM
This is the other side of where the drill is and where the clay and soil will pass through. Although you could be mistaken for thinking it was part of a NASA spaceship.
A few of the crew make the finishing touches to the highly technical and pipe filled TBM.
They are going to need a lot of rubber bands to make this happen.
The tunnel entrances are being primed and ready…
Let’s hope this guy makes it out of that concrete in time.
If you want a clearer idea of how the TBM actually works, check out this post on londonreconnections.com.