On the morning of 26 April 2022 the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) was declared as ready to bore the second City Rail Link tunnel. It marked the start of the machine's final underground journey.
Francois Dudouit, Link Alliance Project Director, was joined by the project's Mana Whenua partners, Father Christopher - Dean of the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph, and project staff at the tunnel portal in Mt Eden site. After traditional karakia and a blessing in the name of Saint Barbara, Francois boarded and launched the TBM. You can see this in the photo above.
Dame Whina Cooper's final underground journey will take about seven months and comes with complex challenges. "The work ahead for the TBM and associated teams is incredibly complex. The TBM is being launched in a very tight, 140-metre radius curve. The machine sits within a mined tunnel. The gantries sit on a bridge that spans an access to another mined tunnel. These gantries then enter the Mt Eden Station troughs, where construction of the City Rail Link platform and bridges is underway," Francois said of the time ahead.
The machine's next stop is the Karangahape, where it is expected to breakthrough at the station's Mercury Lane construction site this winter.
TBM Thursdays at Mt Eden
TBM Thursdays are back, this time at Mt Eden! We loved hosting TBM Thursdays at Aotea in January and February and are bringing it to Mt Eden for the April 2022 school holidays.
The Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) has been reassembled at Mt Eden and is getting ready to start its last underground journey to build the second City Rail Link tunnel. It is an exciting time!
TBM Thursdays are your chance to see the TBM at Mt Eden before it goes underground. Attendees will:
- meet the experts behind the TBM’s construction;
- have chances to win spot prizes from local businesses;
- get an impressive view of our Mt Eden construction site and TBM;
- join ‘boring’ TBM and construction themed activities;
- visit the Te Manawa visitor centre, where you can enjoy many educational and fun installations like using our virtual reality headsets, wondering at the TBM model and lots more!
Book quickly as numbers are strictly limited, and vaccine passes are mandatory. Choose one time from the list below to attend and book by email to email@example.com. Use the subject “TBM Thursdays” and share which session you want to join and how many people you’ll bring (up to 5 people). We’ll reply to let you know if your reservation has been successful.
14 April 2022: 10am – 11am or 3pm – 4pm
21 April 2022: 10am – 11am or 3pm – 4pm
Guess what's back..
After completing the first City Rail Link (CRL) tunnel and breaking through at Aotea in December, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) has returned to Mt Eden! Work is now underway to reassemble the TBM.
Part of the reassembly involves welding the huge pieces of the machine together. It's a process that will take specialist welders two weeks of 24/7 work to complete. Protecting our people is our first priority, so the welders will work in shifts to ensure they have enough rest to do their job safely.
Once the welding is complete and all other connections have been made, the TBM will undergo hundreds of tests to make sure it's ready to start building the second CRL tunnel later this year.
In this photo, you can see the TBM's cutterhead being lifted into position at the Mt Eden portal.
On the move
We took a road trip with a 104-wheeled trailer recently. No, we didn't overpack for a weekend at the beach! We needed it when we transported the tunnel boring machine's front shield from Aotea to Mt Eden.
This 10 second video shows the front shield departing Aotea for Mt Eden overnight on 3 February. The 145-tonne front shield was transported by a truck with a 104-wheeled trailer and a second truck supporting it from behind.
The Aotea construction site is located in the heart of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. You can see the city's iconic Sky Tower in the opening seconds of the video.
The full shield of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) is being dismantled into six pieces underground at Aotea. We moved it overnight to reduce the possible impact on traffic in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and will do the same with the remaining pieces over the coming weeks.
Up goes the front shield
This GIF shows the process of the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine's (TBM) front shield being detached and lifted above ground at Aotea. At first, you can see the front shield attached, then an increasing gap between it and the middle shield, before the front shield is lifted above ground no longer visible in the final shot.
The front shield houses and protects critical parts of the tunnel boring machine (TBM). One of these parts is the Main Drive Unit which is powered by several motors and turns the cutterhead.
Lifting the front shield above ground was no easy feat! It weighs 145 tonnes, 67 tonnes more than the cutterhead, and required two 450 tonne cranes to execute the lift, known as a tandem lift. It required faultless communication between the two crane operators and our multiple spotters.
We're glad to report that the tandem lift was executed safely, efficiently and without incident, in line with our first objective: to achieve industry leading standards in health, safety and wellbeing.
The dismantling of the TBM will continue until late February. It's a huge effort from our dedicated team onsite and we're proud of the results so far. We'll continue to share these great images with you as the dismantling continues.
Return of the cutterhead!
In early January the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine's (TBM) cutterhead was lifted above ground at Aotea. Now we're sharing images of its 'homecoming' as it returned to our Mt Eden site.
Last week, the circular, 78 tonne cutterhead was transported across Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland's city centre overnight. It was quite a sight to behold. To protect people's safety and to limit disruption to commuters, it was necessary to move it outside peak traffic hours.
In the above photo you can see the cutterhead on its way through Tāmaki Makaurau.
The cutterhead is the first of six pieces of the TBM's shield to be detached from the main unit and transported to Mt Eden. It's at Mt Eden that it will undergo maintenance and cleaning before starting mahi (work) to complete the City Rail Link's second bored tunnel.
It's another big moment for our team and we know our Mt Eden folks are glad to say nau mai, haere mai (welcome) again to our favourite machine!
Join TBM Thursdays
We’re busy dismantling the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) and lifting it above ground at Aotea. Now we are sharing your chance to see it!
After completing its first drive in December 2022, the front section of the Dame Whina Cooper TBM, called the shield, is being dismantled and lifted above ground. In the above photo you can see the all-important, 85-tonne cutterhead emerging.
We can’t keep such exciting progress to ourselves so, these school holidays, join us for TBM Thursdays! They are your chance to see the TBM safely from the public walkway while it’s being dismantled, and to meet the experts who manage its construction and the construction of CRL's Aotea Station. The view will be from a distance, but our experts will help you to spot it.
Each TBM Thursday, you’ll be able to take the TBM Trail and complete the CRL quiz for your chance to win.
Get in quick as spaces are limited and vaccine passes are mandatory. Learn more and book your spot on Eventbrite.
Moving the mega machine
The Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) broke through at Aotea on 22 December 2021. This doesn't mean the TBM's job is finished though, it still has a 1.6 kilometre length of the City Rail Link's twin tunnels to construct.
After a short break over the holiday period, the team who operate the machine returned to work and immediately started preparations for its return to Mt Eden. This is where the machine will relaunch in April 2022.
Moving the 910 tonne machine is no simple task. Throughout January and February the TBM's front section, called the shield, will be dismantled into six pieces and each piece will be lifted above ground by a crane. Trucks will transport each piece to Mt Eden overnight to minimise disruption to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland's traffic.
In the above photo you can see the 85-tonne cutterhead being lifted above ground.
Three days before Kirihimete Christmas 2021, an early present arrived at the City Rail Link's Aotea Station construction site. There was no wrapping paper to open however, just a diaphragm wall (d-wall) that was broken through!
A little after 10 am on Wednesday, 22 December 2021, guests and staff gathered under and above ground to witness the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine breakthrough into Aotea. The moment marked the completion of the first of CRL's 1.6 kilometer long twin-tunnels.
The TBM's first drive took seven months to complete which meant, despite months of disruption from Covid-19, it arrived on time! This was due to the dedication and hard mahi (work) from everyone involved with the project. We are so proud of their efforts.
Now that the first tunnel is complete the team is focused on returning the TBM to Mt Eden so construction of the second tunnel can begin.
On track to Aotea
We're getting ready to welcome the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) at Aotea as she edges closer to her breakthrough moment!
In this photo you can see the 1-metre thick diaphragm wall which the TBM will breach, being prepared in anticipation.
Cuts have been made in the concrete, and a large steel ring has been inserted into the concrete. This ring acts as a seal between the TBM and the wall, ensuring the surrounding wall remains intact until it is permanently stabilised following the removal of the TBM.
We'll share more detail about the breakthrough on this website as it happens.
Record breaking 48-hours!
The Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) is a record breaker!
On Thursday, 2 December 2021 the mega machine and the crew who operate it constructed more of the City Rail Link’s westbound tunnel than they had to date, only to beat the new record the very next day.
In the 24-hour period from 12am to 11:59pm on Friday, 3 December, a huge 33.62-metres of the City Rail Link’s (#CRL) first tunnel was constructed and 22 segment rings were installed.
Over the record setting 48-hours on both Thursday and Friday, 65.62-metres of tunnel was constructed. That’s 22-metres more than the height of the Auckland Harbour Bridge!
It is all in the build up to the upcoming breakthrough into the Aotea Station construction site, which is still expected to happen early in the new year.
After the breakthrough, the TBM will be partially dismantled and the front section (called the shield) will be transported aboveground back to the Mt Eden Station construction site. The rear section (called the gantries) will be pulled back through the completed tunnel.
Once both sections are at Mt Eden, the TBM will be reassembled so that it can begin its journey to construct the second CRL tunnel.
Next stop, Aotea
The Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) is now on the move again and the next stop is at the Aotea construction site.
After breaking through at Karangahape on 17 October 2021, pushing through the 223-metre long tunnel cavern and undergoing maintenance for the journey ahead, the TBM and the team who operate it were ready to begin the second leg of the four-stage journey. The breakthrough at Aotea is planned to finish early in the new year.
One at Aotea, the Dame Whina Cooper TBM will be dismantled underground and returned to Mt Eden in sections, reassembled and then excavate the second rail tunnel in 2022.
Getting ready to bore (again)
After the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine's (TBM) breakthrough at Karangahape on 17 October, work has been underway to prepare it for the next stage of the journey to Aotea.
Replacing cutting tools on the cutterhead which bore through the earth in front of the machine is currently underway. An elevated work platform has been set up in front of the machine to provide safe access to the cutting tools which sit at different heights on the 7.19-metre tall TBM. You can see this in the image above.
We are looking forward to continuing the journey to build the first City Rail Link tunnel once the TBM relaunches in the coming weeks!
Watch the breakthrough moment
Click the video above to see the moment the breakthrough eye fell as the tunnel boring machine (TBM) approached Karangahape.
The eye is a 100-millimetre-thick concrete wall that the TBM needed to breakthrough in order to enter the Mercury Lane mined tunnel at Karangahape. Just imagine how much pressure and force the TBM used to make it happen!
Kia mataara Karangahape breakthrough
On Sunday, 17 October 2021 the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) met a mighty milestone as it completed its first of four breakthroughs. After starting its underground journey from Mt Eden in May 2021, the TBM broke through 32 metres below Mercury Lane, at the Karangahape Station construction site.
To meet the milestone the TBM constructed 860 metres of the first City Rail Link tunnel, placed 519 precast concrete rings to line the tunnel, and removed 74,000 tonnes of spoil.
Essential workers gathered underground to mataara (witness) the moment the Dame Whina Cooper TBM breached the breakthrough eye. The breakthrough eye is a 100-millimetre-thick concrete wall that, once broken, opens to the mined tunnel below Mercury Lane.
It was an impressive moment, as you can see in the photo above.
How do you turn a TBM?
Do you ever wonder how to control what direction the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) goes? With no steering wheel and a weight of 910 tonnes, it's very different from turning a car.
As GPS doesn't work underground, we use Total Survey data to determine the TBM's location. This data is updated and fed to the TBM pilot every 30 seconds to show them the machine's exact location.
From the control cabin, the pilot controls the pressure on the ‘thrust rams’, also called hydraulic cylinders. Thrust rams are positioned around the circumference of the TBM shield and advance the TBM by pushing against the pre-cast rings which form the tunnel wall lining.
The amount of pressure each thrust ram places on the segment rings can be adjusted to control the force at which the thrust rams push their area of the TBM forward. If the left-hand side of the thrust rams has less pressure applied than on the right, the TBM will veer left. This creates a 'turn' and ensures the TBM is always on the right path!
Celebrating the first 500 metres!
We're celebrating a significant milestone 35 metres below the streets of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland)! The Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) has completed 500 metres of the first City Rail Link tunnel!
In the photo above, you can see TBM pilot Arnelio Bentay overseeing the machine as it reached 500 metres.
On Friday 24 September, the Dame Whina Cooper TBM began operating 24/7 again following Tāmaki Makaurau’s move down to Covid-19 Alert Level 3. The TBM operated at a reduced capacity for five weeks during the city’s five-week lockdown.
Teams of 24 crew can now again work on the TBM in 12-hours shifts with 12 people working above ground and 12 people below.
“Arriving at the 500-metre mark is an important target for tunnellers everywhere,” says Link Alliance Project Director, Francois Dudouit. “Getting here so soon after the Level 4 lockdown ended is a great achievement and demonstrates the persistence and hard work of our teams above and below ground to get the tunnels built.”
Ka pai e hoa mā! Well done friends!
Safe changes at Alert Level 4
Construction on Tāmaki Makaurau's City Rail Link paused at 11:59pm on 17 August 2021 as Aotearoa moved into Alert Level 4.
The positive news is that the Dame Whina Cooper TBM will resume her underground journey. It might be slower and at a reduced capacity but it means the cutterhead can keep rotating.
TBMs are not designed to be left static and need to keep moving forward to avoid getting “stuck”. Pressure from earth settling around any stationary TBM could “trap” it. This is why it's essential for the Dame Whina Cooper TBM to keep moving.
As always, our priority is protecting the health and safety of our team and the public. The number of crew who support the TBM’s operations above and below ground will be limited from the usual 24, and the crew who are onsite will follow strict health and safety protection measures.
We're looking forward to moving down alert levels and ramping up construction again once it is safe to do so. Until then, noho ora mai, me marutau, me tūhononga – take care, stay safe and stay connected.
Driving in the tunnels
Every day vehicles drive in and out of the City Rail Link tunnels being constructed by the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM). Why is this if the CRL tunnels will be used by trains when they open?
Building the CRL tunnels requires lots of materials, such as the heavy pre-cast concrete segments that form the tunnel lining. These can't be stored on the TBM and need to be imported from above ground. Moving the materials underground is a task for the project's three multi-services vehicles (MSV)!
A MSV is a strong vehicle that is specially built to drive through the CRL tunnels while they're being built. When we say a MSV is strong, we mean it! The largest CRL MSV can move up to 35 tonnes of equipment at any time. That's the same weight as six elephants.
Every day the MSV drivers, like Keith Hawkins who you can see in the photo above, oversee the safe loading and unloading of the MSVs, and drive them into and out of the tunnels. One is specifically designed to carry the people who work on the TBM underground, helping ensure they reserve their energy for the 12 hour shift ahead of them.
Are you as impressed by the MSVs as we are?
24/7 for Dame Whina Cooper TBM
Tunnelling shifted up a gear on Tuesday, 13 July 2021, as the Dame Whina Cooper tunnel boring machine (TBM) started excavating around the clock.
The TBM's conveyor belt, which removes the excavated material (spoil) from the tunnels, means it can now work 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7). You can see the conveyor moving the spoil in the above photo. Before Tuesday the TBM was working 24/5.
"As with any machine Dame Whina Cooper has had a careful and steady start. Being able to run 24/7 means we're now ramping up, even more, to get the very best from our TBM," said Francois Dudouit, Link Alliance's Project Director.
24/7 work for the TBM doesn't mean 24/7 work for the people who operate it. Three teams of 24 people (12 above and 12 below ground) rotate in shifts every 12 hours to ensure they are well-rested when operating the machine.
What happens to the material the TBM excavates?
With each segment ring the tunnel boring machine (TBM) installs it excavates just under 100 tonnes of material. That's about the same weight as a plane with over 200 people on board! We call the excavated material 'spoil'.
At peak operation, 2,600 tonnes - 260 planes - of spoil are expected to be removed each day.
As the TBM's cutterhead excavates the tunnel, the screw conveyor removes the spoil at a controlled speed and then transfers it to the belt conveyor. You can find where these pieces of the TBM are by clicking here.
The conveyor belt grows in length as the TBM moves forward, pulling more belt from a storage tower at our Mt Eden Station construction site. Inside the tunnel the conveyor framework is attached to the TBM itself and to the freshly lined tunnel behind the machine.
Once the conveyor belt has removed the spoil from the tunnel it crosses the construction site and unloads it into a basin. You can see the conveyor belt crossing the site in the photo above. Later the spoil is loaded onto trucks with trailers. The trucks then move the spoil to a number of locations throughout Auckland.
Meet Medhi Ghasemi, a TBM Pilot
Medhi Ghasemi is a pilot. Instead of controlling a plane in the sky, he controls our tunnel boring machine (TBM) underground!
One of four TBM Pilots on the project, Medhi works in twelve-hour shifts to make sure the TBM can operate 24 hours a day. Having four pilots means they rest well between shifts and can have time off work when they need it.
Hear more from Medhi himself by watching the video above.
Watch how it works
Watch this awesome, animated video to learn how the Dame Whina Cooper TBM will construct the City Rail Link tunnels.
Meet Marine - TBM Shift Engineer
Meet Marine Barthomeuf, TBM Shift Engineer. Marine is one of the few people that staff each twelve-hour shift aboard the Dame Whina Cooper TBM, and shares more about her job in this video. Click the image above to watch.
Our TBM is ready to bore!
The project took an exciting step forward on 07 May 2021 with the official launch event of the Dame Whina Cooper TBM.
We were joined on site at Mt Eden by members of Dame Whina Cooper’s whānau, Auckland Iwi, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, and Transport Minister Michael Wood who described the launch as an “exciting milestone” for New Zealand’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project.
In keeping with tradition, Father Christopher Denham blessed the TBM and the team who will operate her and acknowledged Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners and those who work underground. A champagne bottle was also smashed against the side of the TBM per tradition for good luck and to mark the official launch.
Minister Wood and Mayor Goff then entered the TBM's control room and started the TBM allowing the cutterhead to make ceremonial revolutions. You can watch the event's highlights in the video above.
On the move
In March 2021, the 450-tonne front section, or shield, of City Rail Link’s Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) was successfully positioned in front of the Mt Eden tunnel portal after a 500-metre long drive that took one-and-a-half hours to complete.
The shield was moved from the western edge of the Mt Eden site along a specially built road by a truck towing a hydraulic trailer fitted with 15 axles and 250 wheels to safely carry the shield’s weight
. After positioning the shield inside the first 50 metres of the CRL tunnel, our team connected the shield to the TBM’s ‘factory’ – the 11 sections or gantries that provide the hydraulic, mechanical and electrical power. The shield needs these to excavate the tunnels, remove the excavated spoil, and install the precast concrete segments that will line the tunnels
Not so boring, Boring Day Out
On Sunday, 6 December 2020 our Mt Eden construction site opened to the public for the Boring Day Out. 5,000 Aucklanders snapped up tickets for the day, ensuring they got to see the Dame Whina Cooper TBM up close and personal before it began its journey underground.
The day was full of ‘boring’ fun with thousands of smiling faces enjoying the day safely and with the sun shining. If you missed out on tickets, you can see some Boring Day Out highlights in the above video.
Thank you to everyone who came and made the day so ‘boring’.
Unveiling the TBM
On Friday, 4 December 2020, Dame Whina Cooper’s whanau joined Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Transport Minister Michael Wood, Mayor Phil Goff and mana whenua to unveil the shield of the Dame Whina Cooper TBM.
It was a special day with Dame Whina Cooper’s daughter, Hinerangi Cooper, representing her whanau and whaea with true mana.
The unveiling revealed the traditional and symbolic iconography that make the Dame Whina Cooper TBM unique. You can see these in the above photo.
Two hands in an embrace is an international gesture of sharing respect and friendship for one another – values shared by Dame Whina.
The three koru (fern) have a dual symbolism. The first, through the balanced shape represents how she supported harmony between all people in Aotearoa (New Zealand). The koru is also symbolic of new life – Dame Whina championed wahine (women) and the protection of tamariki (children).
How the TBM got its name
We asked New Zealanders to help name our Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) in early 2020. After receiving thousands of nominations for ‘ground-breaking New Zealand women’, a panel chose the top three names which were put to a public vote.
Georgina Beyer, in honour of the human rights activist and world’s first openly transgender Mayor.
Dr Margaret Bradshaw, an extraordinary woman who broke new ground in male-dominated Antarctic research.
Dame Whina Cooper, who worked tirelessly for the civil and land rights of Māori. Dame Whina Cooper received the most votes from the public and is the ground-breaking woman our TBM is named after.
Our tunnelling team
We have a team of local and international tunnelling experts with a wealth of knowledge, tasked with operating and supporting the Dame Whina Cooper TBM. They have worked on other tunnelling projects around the word including Crossrail in London, Hong Kong’s MTR (Mass Transit Railway) and Auckland’s own Waterview Connection.
Led by our Tunnels Project Manager, Florent Detraux, and TBM Tunnels Construction Manager, Derek Whelan, we’ll share some profiles of the team
here so that you can get to know them
a little better.
Factory Acceptance Test
In early August 2020, the Dame Whina Cooper TBM passed its Factory Acceptance Test - a programme of over 500 tests. Link Alliance then formally received the machine from expert manufacturers Herrenknecht.
Passing the Factory Acceptance Test is a milestone for all tunnel boring machines as it shows us the TBM works as expected before we receive it. It’s similar to test driving a car before you buy it – it gives you the opportunity to make sure you’re happy with your future purchase.
Find out more about our Factory Acceptance Test and the Dame Whina Cooper TBM in the video above.