Two of HS2’s large tunnel boring machines are to be buried into the site at Old Oak Common next year so they can wait there until a decision is taken about how to build Euston station.

Two HS2 TBMS – at Rusilip earlier this year

The two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) are needed to dig the two railway tunnels linking Old Oak Common to Euston, but when construction of Euston station was paused earlier this year, there was also the decision taken to delay the two connecting tunnels as well.

Although there’s no practical reason that delaying the Euston station build would require the two connecting tunnels to be delayed, with Euston station effectively on lockdown at the moment it would require the station site to be partially reopened to allow the tunnel portals to be constructed for the TBMs to arrive.

HS2 has also said that delaying work on the Old Oak Common to Euston station tunnels allows them to focus on the section up to Birmingham. There’s also a vanishingly tiny chance that the tunnel’s alignment could be changed to meet up with a redesigned Euston station.

The London tunnels (c) HS2

So the two tunnels are also on hold, but to reduce disruption when the two tunnels do start being built, HS2 will drop the two tunnel boring machines into position at the eastern end of Old Oak Common station in readiness for when they are needed.

The two tunnels were expected to start being constructed next year, and as there’s a long lead time on ordering the TBMs, they will be arriving anyway, and installing them into the underground chamber where they will be needed also reduces the headache of storing them somewhere else and then assembling them later.

Placing the TBMs in situ also avoids disrupting Great Western mainline railway in the future, as it will widened as part of the station build, and happens to be running over the top of where the underground chamber needs to be built.

Although it sounds like a major intervention in the plans, and while it is unusual to put a TBM in the ground and leave it there, it’s not unusual to build empty concrete boxes in the ground years, or even decades before they’re needed.

When the Elizabeth line was being built, it made use of the Moor House shaft which was built in 2004 specifically for Crossrail, even before Crossrail was given approval in 2008. There’s also a space under an office block in Victoria ready for when Crossrail 2 opens, and plenty of other examples of holes in the ground being built long before they are needed. All because it’s considerably easier and cheaper to build them early and leave them empty than build them later*, and if they aren’t needed, then there’s a large empty space that will find a commercial use anyway.

The government has committed to opening the extension to Euston, so the TBMs will be switched on. Eventually.

Meanwhile, work carries on to complete Old Oak Common station, with six platforms for HS2 trains and eight at the surface for mainline and Elizabeth line services. Also, an ex-Crossrail tunnel boring machine is about to start digging a tunnel next to the station so that spoil removal and deliveries can arrive without using the roads. Although always required, the logistics tunnel will have added value when the Euston tunnel works start as they will be able to minimise the disturbance to the fit out of the Old Oak Common station.

Schematic (c) HS2

When Old Oak Common station opens in 2029-33, as it will be the terminus, it’s expected a large percentage of HS2 customers will switch to the Elizabeth line, and TfL is in discussions with the government to secure orders for additional Elizabeth line trains to cope with the large influx of extra passengers.

The date that a modified Euston station will eventually open is not known, but it’s now not expected to be until 2040 at the earliest.


*I could add that building the structure for an 11-platform station at Euston and leaving a third of it empty would be a lot cheaper than building a 7-platform station in full and then trying to bolt on a few extra platforms later.


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  1. Keith says:

    The Euston delay feels like all about short-term savings on paper which will cost far more in the long-term. If governments were willing to take a long-term view on costs the logical thing would be to invest more now to get Euston open with the rest of the line. Or at the very least get the construction part completed now, even if the fit out came later. That way the area around Euston at surface level upwards could be completed. Maybe things will change after the next election, depending on its outcome.

  2. James Booth says:

    Do you know whether they are planning to open Old Oak Common (Elizabeth Line) before HS2 is operational?

  3. Stuart says:

    Anyone who lives or has business to do in west London or south London and is coming on the the hs2 from up north, will likely save time changing at Old Oak Common, rather than into Euston and then travelling onwards to east or west London.

    • ianVisits says:

      There will always be a percentage of people who will prefer to use Option A instead of oOption B, but that’s no reason to reduce the provision of Option B.

  4. Peter CS says:

    At least one of the Channel Tunnel boring machines was diverted off to the side and left buried when it met the one coming from the other end. Apparently they don’t have a reverse gear, and even if they did, they wouldn’t fit in the tunnel behind them as it now has a lining.

    • Peter Proniewicz-Brooks says:

      I believe most TBMs on big jobs are left buried, as recovering them is often far too costly and likely detrimental geologically.

      Burying them in advance of a suspended job is rarer, though as they are highly bespoke once you’ve ordered them you might as well if the job is suspended.

  5. Alex Mckenna says:

    Our current Rulers never disappoint us with their hilarious incompetence. As individuals, their ignorance, greed and selfishness only add further giggles to the general Mirth. Regarding their reign as a dark comedy is the only way to bear it.

  6. bob london says:

    What a shambles.

  7. Nigel Headley says:

    Thank you. A detailed analysis of an almost impenetrable mess.
    Bury the brand new machines? Perhaps they’ll be unearthed in 3000 years by another Howard Carter and rebuilt in the British museum!

  8. JB says:

    Why not rerout the unbuilt tummels to join HS1 at Stratford International’?
    Birmingham to Paris without changing trains!

  9. John Bradshaw says:

    Why not reroute the unbuilt tunnels to join HS1 at ‘Stratford International’?
    Birmingham to Paris without changing trains!

    • PMD says:

      There is provision to link the routes but there’s a whole host of other issues that would need to be solved before trains can run, just one of which is to address immigration/customs.

  10. ChrisW says:

    If the Old Oak Common Station and Elizabeth Line operate to their full potential then I’m not sure why there is even the need to add Euston to HS2. It just seems an unneccesary expense to cram yet more mainlines into central London when there doesn ‘t appear to be any justifiable reason to do so.

  11. Paul P says:

    Spending many billions and leaving HS1 and 2 unconnected, despite running within a few hundred metres of each other, is one of the most short sighted transport planning decisions in recent times. Am still praying the delay to the Euston rebuild will allow a Labour led Government to fund an albeit exceedingly expense high speed through station, even if the chance is ‘vanishingly tiny’.

  12. T Morrison says:

    Too late, l know but why did they start construction in London?
    If they had begun further north- Crewe/Manchester and Leeds/E.Midlands would have benefited.
    Euston has lost a park and the much needed mature trees, both helped to alleviate the pollution of Euston Rd.
    Ancient woodlands would have lived instead of being destroyed on the route to Birmingham.
    Such a waste!

  13. Peach71 says:

    Netherton Road in Tottenham has an unusually large vent shaft for the Victoria Line. An early TBM was tested between Finsbury Park and there, and I have always assumed the grand size of the shaft reflects where they lifted it out.

    • ianVisits says:

      That’s pretty average for a vent shaft in fact – the reason it seems large is that often most of the structure is hidden below ground or covered up by other buildings so we’re not used to just how massive the vent fans and access facilities are.

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