Ainscough Crane Hire has provided heavy lift services on behalf of HS2 joint venture Balfour Beatty VINCI to help complete another key moment in the early stages of the landmark infrastructure project.

On 3rd December, HS2 CEO Mark Thurston pushed the button to start a 2,000 tone tunnel boring machine (TBM) on its journey under Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire, marking the launch of the first TBM on the Midlands section of HS2.

The TBM is the first on the northern section of Phase One of HS2 and will create a one-mile twin bore tunnel under Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire.

A tunnelling team will now work around the clock in shifts to operate the machine for around five months as it excavates the first bore of the one-mile tunnel.

Ainscough was appointed to assemble the TBM. This entailed installing the cutter head along with the three support gantries and then fitting a tunnel seal can on the portal face of HS2’s Long Itchington Wood TBM.

A variety of heavy lifts at a radius of up to 22 metres were needed to complete the assembly of the TBM cutter head. These included the 10.2 m diameter cutter wheel at 150 tonnes, the tail skin at 107 tonnes, the main drive at 132 tonnes and the eight main body segments at 65 tonnes each.

In order to complete the work a variety of cranes were utilised. This encompassed the CC2500 and LG1550 and assorted other cranes from Ainscough’s Coventry and Birmingham depots including the new Stage 5 engine 110 tonne and 60 tonne cranes and 450 tonne, 500 tonne, 750 tonne cranes from Ainscough’s Heavy Cranes fleet.

Ainscough’s lift team for the project was led by project manager Gerry Newby and included Mark Brown, Matt Baxter, Kyle Nelson and Sammy Nelson.

 Operators and riggers included Bob Christmas (CC2500), Rob Perrins and Dave Lamour (LG1550), Steve Kennedy and Ronny Donahue (500t), Ashley Winter and Danny Carrick (750t), Kevin Smith and Lee Williams (450t) and Dave Hodges.

Manufactured in Germany by Herrenknecht, the TBM is 10 metres wide. This will be the first HS2 tunnel to be completed on the project, with the machine set to break through its first bore at the south portal in spring 2022. It will then be disassembled and taken back to the north portal to dig the second bore, which is due to be completed in early 2023.

The tunnel, which will preserve the ancient woodland above, forms a key element in how HS2 is managing environmental impacts through the design of the railway, preserving Britain’s precious wildlife habitats. These woods are classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and have complex ecosystems that have taken hundreds of years to establish.

A spokesperson for Ainscough Crane Hire said: “As the HS2 build programme progresses across the country, it’s been a brilliant experience for more of our staff, cranes and depots to play a role in supporting this transformational, once in a lifetime project.

“Assembling the TBM cutter head took months of planning and collaboration with BBV. The start of the TBM’s journey was a proud moment for our team – we all feel privileged to contribute to such an inspirational project.”

During a ceremony on the construction site earlier this year, music producer and rail enthusiast Pete Waterman revealed that the TBM is called ‘Dorothy’ – named after Dorothy Hodgkin, who in 1964 became the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

A video of the HS2 project, including the assembly of Dorothy, can be seen here: