Florence and Cecilia the boring machines survive an interesting journey

Two enormous tunnel-boring machines destined for HS2 have dodged Brexit delays and arrived safely in the UK from Germany – albeit in 300 shipments.

The parts for the 2,000-tonne machines – nicknamed Florence and Cecilia – will now be assembled, tested and commissioned by expert tunnel engineers from contractor Align Joint Venture. Then the machines will work side by side 24/7 for the next three years to create HS2’s first and longest tunnel, the 10-mile twin-bore Chiltern tunnel.

Specially designed to power through the chalk-and-flint mix under the Chiltern hills, Florence and Cecilia are expected to tunnel 15m a day. Florence will be first to launch, with Cecilia a few weeks behind. The identical machines will dig two separate tunnels for northbound and southbound trains

Each tunnel will be made up of 56,000 segments, all constructed on-site. Each machine will have a 17-person crew working in shifts to keep her running 24/7, supported by more than 100 people working above ground to handle logistics and ensure the tunnelling operation progresses smoothly.

Project director Daniel Altier says there’s a flurry of launch preparations at the Chiltern site right now, including the building of a whole factory to manufacture the 56,000 concrete segments to line the tunnel, and a slurry treatment plant to process the material Florence and Cecilia dig out.

The project is expected to create 1,200 vacancies, including more than 100 for apprentices. Align plans to focus recruitment on upskilling local unemployed people, especially women, people with disabilities and young people under 25.