Train spotters and other fans of the U.K.’s new high-speed rail network rejoiced this week when the first tunnel on the London to Birmingham route was completed. This is the first of 64 miles of intricate tunnels on this route alone.
The new high-speed train system, known as HS2, combines aboveground and underground travel. In some places, tunnels are favored to protect the ecosystems the train will pass beneath. For example, the mile-long Long Itchington Wood Tunnel will preserve ancient woodland. The 10-mile-long Chiltern Tunnel will be the deepest, at up to 90 meters in places. In a nifty turn, the excavated material will head out on a conveyor belt, rather than being trucked on giant vehicles, which could clog local roads.
To create the tunnels, 10 custom-built tunnel boring machines will chew away below the U.K.’s surface. The machine that just finished creating the first tunnel has been dubbed Dorothy and, judging from the U.K. Department for Transport press release, the boring machine uses feminine pronouns. She weighs 200 tons and spent eight months underground in order to complete her mission.
The HS2 project promises to greatly enhance rail capacity as it connects London to major cities in the north of England and the Midlands. It’s also expected to create thousands of new jobs.
“HS2 will play a key role in the government’s £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan – the biggest ever public investment in Britain’s rail network – which, through the creation of three new high speed lines, will add more seats, shorten journey times, support local services and deliver a modern, fully connected transport for the north and Midlands quicker than under any previous plan,” said HS2 Minister Trudy Harrison in a statement. “This is, quite literally, a ground-breaking moment – demonstrating that we are getting on with delivering on our promises and progressing our transformative plans to boost transport, bring communities together and level up the north and midlands.”
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