The largest tunnel boring machine cutting head has been lowered into the space prepared for it to start digging the Silvertown road tunnel in East London. The Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) is 11.91 metres wide, the equivalent of almost three double-decker buses, and is the largest diameter TBM in the UK.

(c) Riverlinx / TfL

The 1,800 tonne TBM began being lowered into the launch chamber in pieces last month, where it will be assembled within the chamber before commissioning and starting to bore the 1.4km tunnel later this summer.

As well as the cutter head, parts of the TBM shield have also recently been lowered down into the launch chamber, as well as the 250-tonne main drive of the TBM. Elsewhere on the site the conveyor which will carry tunnelling spoil from the chamber to barges to then be transported along the river is approaching completion, and the first of the concrete tunnel rings to be installed as the TBM progresses across the river have also began arriving.

The controversial road tunnel is being dug next to the existing Blackwall tunnels to relieve congestion, and as its larger, double-decker buses, which are just a bit too tall for the older tunnels, will be able to cross the Thames at this point. The tunnel will have a dedicated bus lane in each direction and is currently projected to operate at least twenty zero-emission buses per hour from opening. That may change closer to the date if there are future reductions in bus routes due to TfL’s current financial situation though.

Last month, Riverlinx, the venture building the tunnel announced that “Jill” has been chosen as the name for their TBM in recognition of Jill Viner the first female bus driver to drive a London bus in June 1974.

The tunnel is due to open in 2025.

(c) Riverlinx / TfL


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  1. Ed says:

    I would like TfL to consider a road user charging pilot here given that the Silvertown business case requires tolling of the new tunnel and the Blackwall tunnel. It may also alleviate the congestion worries south on the A2.

  2. S.J.Y. says:

    Stunning engineering project. Who designed,manufactured and delivered this amasing bit of Kit? Hopefully there was much UK input. Also, will TBM be dismantled?

  3. William says:

    Ed works for TFL. Tax payers fund these projects. Why pay twice?. I live in west london. Amazing project but more buses.

    • Richard says:

      TFL don’t fund these projects especially now that Mr Khan has bankrupt them,this is tax payers money and private investors money dressed up as TFLs the same as what the EU was doing,taking our money and giving it back but in an EU envelope. The way Mr khan’s mind works is speculate to accumulate just like the ULEZ extension, throw 200 million at it and get 10 fold back, he has to Raise money for TFL that he’s managed to bankrupt during he’s term as london mayor. Just wait for the tunnel tolls that he’s going to charge for something the public paid for.

    • ianVisits says:

      TfL is not bankrupt, and unless you missed it, there was a pandemic recently that wiped out 90% of TfL’s income for a couple of years and I am struggling to work out how that was the Mayor’s fault.

  4. Rajan Datta says:

    This a “Long Overdue Missing Link” which should have been built 30 years ago.

    • Richard says:

      The trouble with these projects is that “if you build it they will come”. 5 years after completion the congestion will return if not sooner.

  5. Joseph Pigg says:

    A great project, long overdue!
    Hopefully this will be the end of the Woolwich Ferry, never seems to be operational and totally unreliable.

  6. Ian says:

    As someone from the North of the UK it makes me very envious of the money that goes into projects in London.

    • ianVisits says:

      In 2019, the UK government received an average of £18,965 in taxes from each person in London, and spent £14,300 — so the government made a profit of £4,369 per person. Only the Southeast of England and East of England also recorded net profits for the government – the rest of the UK runs at a loss.

      So “the north” receives money in excess of the taxes it generates — in effect, London’s taxes fund the north.

      I am in favour of the distribution of wealth as that is a good thing, but it would be easier to support that policy if people stopped carping about London. After all, without London’s tax surplus, the rest of the UK would be poorer, and that would not be a good thing.

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