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The tunnel boring machine

Nominated by Mike Glover.

The developments in tunnel boring machines (TBMs) stick out as a significant advance in the industry.

On the tunnelled sections of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, we used one of the best and it was truly beautiful to watch it working. It’s where finely tuned logistics and product engineering come together – the tunnel is excavated, the spoil is removed, the segments are delivered, all with the minimum number of workers.

TBMs are also reliable, wellengineered machines – we tunnelled over 9 km without a single maintenance issue. It’s vastly improved the safety of tunnelling.

Before the TBM, you needed compressed air to tunnel; essentially, it would be like divers working under pressure.

The TBM allows workers behind the machine to operate at atmospheric pressure, with minimal risk of collapse. The future of TBM design lies in multiheaded TBMs so that different shapes can be bored.

Mike Glover is Arup’s infrastructure design and technical leader. He was Arup’s deputy project director for the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link