Two tunnel boring machines purchased to help build HS2 have been unveiled by the company behind the high-speed rail line.
Excavators will dig a 10 mile tunnel through part of the Chilterns, from a site near the M25 to near South Heath in Buckinghamshire,
HS2 Ltd Managing Director Mark Thurston said the machines “will be a defining moment in HS2 history”.
But activists said HS2 “is decimating the countryside and creating a huge financial burden.”
The two 2,000-ton machines, built at a factory in Germany, will dig up to 80 m (262 feet) below the ground.
They were named Cecilia and Florence, in honor of Buckinghamshire-born astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and Florence Nightingale, following a public vote on a shortlist of suggestions made by local schoolchildren.
Plans for HS2 were first sketched out over ten years ago. The initial phase, which is to be completed between 2028 and 2031, will connect London and the West Midlands, while the second section will extend into the East Midlands and the north of England.
HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “HS2 will provide better, more reliable connections that truly improve our country, drive economic growth and share opportunity. ”
Florence will launch in early 2021, with Cecilia starting the other half of the tunnel around a month later.
Both machines are 170 m (558 feet) long and were designed for chalk and flint under the Chilterns.
They will operate almost without interruption and are expected to take about three years to dig the tunnel, which will be covered with concrete.
In May, a report by MPs concluded that the project was “misguided” and accused HS2 Ltd and the Transport Department of lacking transparency and undermining public trust.
Activists against HS2 staged a week of protest along the route of the line in June, saying funds for the project should instead be used for the country’s economic recovery after the coronavirus lockdown.
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