The first large scale redundancy on the Crossrail project has taken place — as the first of their mighty tunnel boring machines has completed its work.

The TBM — called Phyllis after Phyllis Pearsall who created the original London A-Z Maps — set off from Royal Oak last May has been burrowing under Central London. It has just arrived at Farringdon Station having completed 4.2 miles of tunnel.

Having arrived, its fate is less glamourous as over the coming weeks, Phyllis will be dismantled and her 130 metre long trailer system will be removed from the tunnel via the recently completed Fisher Street shaft further down the tunnel in Holborn.

Phyllis and six other tunnelling machines have collectively passed the 13 mile mark (21.4 km) of their 26 mile tunnelling marathon.

The TBM has naturally, dug just one tunnel — and the other tunnel next to if for trains heading in the other direction should be completed later this year.

You can see the location of all the current TBMs digging under London on this map. Guess which one is finished.

John Zammit

Crossrail’s eight tunnelling machines are building ten different tunnels to collectively deliver 26 miles of new tunnels under London. Tunnelling machine, Phyllis, has completed her tunnel drive and will be dismantled leaving just the front “can” in situ. A further six tunnel boring machines (TBM) are still working under London and the final TBM, Ellie, will launch this winter.

If you were interested, the TBMs are converging on Farringdon rather than running right through as during survey work they found a fault line in the area, which not impossible for a TBM to drive through, adds complications to the work.

So, we now have four TBMs drilling the central tunnels heading into the centre of London — two from just outside Paddington, and two from near Canning Town in Docklands.

Crossrail is asking Londoners to submit ideas for items to be included in a time capsule at the Farringdon site to mark the first completed tunnel. Those with the winning suggestions will have the opportunity to be among the first to visit the completed tunnel later this year.

 Photo supplied by Crossrail


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  1. Josh says:

    “If you were interested, the TBMs are converging on Farringdon rather than running right through as during survey work they found a fault line in the area, which not impossible for a TBM to drive through, adds complications to the work.”

    So this means that they have to hand dig a gap?

    What is happening to the cutter head then?

    • IanVisits says:

      The station is the gap.

      The cutter head is being buried if I recall correctly for this one.

    • William says:

      I’m not entirely sure how true your claim is that the TBMs are not running through. Phyllis and Ada certainly run through the entire length of the station as the platform tunnels are built around the existing running tunnels. They will use a technique called pilot tunnel enlargement to build the platforms, where the running tunnel, in the picture above, is the pilot tunnel.

      The TBMs are being buried at the eastern end of the station, Phyllis just beyond Smithfield market, and Ada in Charterhouse Square.

  2. Josh says:

    Unexpected. You’d think if there was a place to not leave a big metal disc, it would be in Central London.

  3. Leytonstoner says:

    Is Phyllis (and co.) destined for the scrap heap or could they be retained for Crossrail 2. These gadgets don’t come cheap and it seems a bit of a waste ..

    • IanVisits says:

      As a percentage of the total project cost, they are a fairly minor aspect of the budget — less than £100 million out of a £16 billion budget.

      I understand that components in decent nick can be resold back to the manufacturer.

      However, it is probably better to buy new kit each time as you can personalise it for the job, and take advantages of any technology improvements since you last dug a tunnel.

  4. Roger Rowley says:

    Why not bury the tunneling machines in such a way that if needed at a future date they can be bug out and be reused that will stop the big bosses getting more of our money to line their pockets and pay for new machines meaning even more and more pockets being lined

  5. Declan Hayes says:

    Why is crossrail not running under all existing tunnels, foundations, infrastructure etc?

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