Completing Auckland’s City Rail Link has taken an exciting step forward with the official launch of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), Dame Whina Cooper, at the project’s Mt Eden site.
Final checks are underway before the TBM starts cutting into Auckland soil in mid-May, excavating the first of the two rail tunnels that will completely change the way people can travel around Auckland.
Transport Minister Michael Wood described the launch as an “exciting milestone” for New Zealand’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project – “one that is helping our economic recovery and supporting jobs," he says.
“Building infrastructure like the City Rail Link is part of our COVID-19 economic plan - this project is providing real jobs and opportunities for thousands of Aucklanders. It’ll give us a step-change in our public transport and cultivate a diverse and highly-skilled workforce,” Mr Wood says
The Transport Minister was joined by Dame Whina Cooper’s whanau, Auckland Iwi, the city’s Mayor Phil Goff and City Rail Link workers at the launch celebration.
Mayor Goff welcomed the launch of the TBM.
“When complete, the City Rail Link will transform rail travel in Tāmaki Makaurau. It will carry up to 54,000 people an hour, moving the equivalent capacity of three Auckland Harbour Bridges or 16 extra traffic lanes into and through the city at peak times,” he says.
“The official start of tunnelling represents an important milestone on Auckland’s journey towards providing a world-class, 21st-century transport network.”
At exactly 8 am the Minister and the Mayor entered the TBM’s control room and pressed the button to start the machine to allow its cutter head to make a couple of ceremonial revolutions.
Alongside CRL’s contribution to Auckland’s future, mining tradition also had a significant role at the event.
One tradition involved breaking a bottle of champagne on the TBM to mark its official launch. Father Christopher Denham, the Dean of Auckland’s Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph, also blessed the TBM and the teams who will operate it – an acknowledgement to St Barbara, the patron saint of miners and others who work underground.
The other significant woman acknowledged this morning was Māori rights champion, Dame Whina Cooper. Big underground machines, by tradition, carry the name of an influential woman. New Zealanders helped the project chose Dame Whina Cooper as a fitting name for its TBM.
City Rail Link Ltd’s Chief Executive, Dr Sean Sweeney, congratulated workers for reassembling and commissioning the TBM after its arrival in sections from China last year.
“A lot of work hours in some pretty demanding conditions have got us here today. Dame Whina Cooper will have its first encounter with some real dirt very soon, an encounter that shows the project remains on track despite the challenges thrown up by covid in the past year or so,” Dr Sweeney says.
The TBM will be operated by the Link Alliance, the group of New Zealand and international design and construction companies responsible for CRL’s main stations, tunnels and rail systems contract.
The first 50 metres of tunnel at Mt Eden have already been mined to provide room for the front sections of the 130 metre-long TBM.
Dame Whina Cooper will excavate 1.6 kilometres under the Central Motorway Junction and Karangahape Road into central Auckland to connect with the CRL tunnels already built from the Britomart Station.
The TBM has three busy jobs as its crawls below Auckland. excavating spoil, removing spoil by conveyor belt from the tunnel, and lining the tunnel walls with concrete segments.
The TBM will complete the first tunnel towards the end of the year. It will then be returned to Mt Eden in sections and prepared for its second tunnel drive next year.
The $4.4 Billion CRL project, sponsored by the Crown and Auckland Council, will make the city’s rail network more efficient. Trains will be able to run more often, more quickly and carry more people, and it will double the number of people living with 30 minutes train travel of central Auckland – New Zealand’s biggest employment hub.
You can stay up to date with the City Rail Link project at cityraillink.co.nz