Dude, where’s my TBM? HS2 buries Tunnelling Machines until there’s money for Euston stop

Will the HS2 Tunnel Boring Machine see the light of day again? HS2

It may be reminiscent of a Hollywood comedy, but HS2, Britain’s vast high-speed rail project, may have accidentally created the ultimate time capsules. In an amusing turn of events that could easily be the script of a mildly funny comedy, HS2 has seemingly taken a page out of the movie “Dude, Where’s My Car?” by burying not one, but two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) at the Old Oak Common site, waiting until the buried plans of bringing HS2 to Euston are possibly unearthed in the future. The audacious act, initially raising eyebrows and drawing incredulous chuckles, is now being hailed as a monumental time capsule project, and quite possibly the most extensive ones the world has ever seen.

In an audacious “hold-my-hardhat” manoeuvre, bosses at HS2 decided to stash away two of its mega-sized tunnel boring machines, until the distant future when they’re required to resume their tunnelling escapades. What HS2 officials failed to foresee was that “tunnelling” should be a figurative term here, not taken quite so literally. It appears that while HS2 was aiming for “genius storage”, it accidentally birthed a hilariously befuddling scenario that might have people wondering, “Dude, where’s my TBM?”

Tubular task from the temporary terminus

There’s nothing new in burying TBMs. Anyone who cares to dig up the middle of the English Channel will still find one of the monster machines. It was walled up like Egyptian mummies when it had done its part in connecting England to France. In what was perhaps a design oversight, these things don’t have a reverse gear – or it could just be the laws of physics writ large: the machine is always bigger than the hole it leaves behind, hence getting out is not always an option. So it would appear for the HS2 mega-moles.

Construction cranes over the site of HS2 Old Oak Common station
Out of sight but not out of the site. Construction cranes over the site of HS2 Old Oak Common station and, underneath – somewhere – a pair of tunnel boring machines sit quietly, waiting for their moment in the sun (image: HS2 Ltd)

HS2, the high-speed railway project aimed at transforming the UK’s rail infrastructure, has run into something of a brick wall regarding the dig to Euston – the central London terminus of the project. At least, it was going to be the central London terminus of the project, until the UK government found that the magic money tree has run out of magic (and money) and is economising on projects left, right and centre – and in the case of HS2, underground as well. The Euston terminal has been shelved, and so have the tunnels required to reach it. So, for now at least, and possibly for quite a while, the two TBMs destined for the tubular task of burrowing from the ‘temporary terminus’ at Old Oak Common are being spun down and buried underneath the site.

Has anyone seen the keys?

It may be difficult to mislay two gigantic, multi-million-pound machines, but HS2 are assuredly taking careful note of where they’re parking the equipment. Are they really embracing the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mantra, or just giving them a deserved a little break from the drilling hustle. The TBMs, in their newfound roles as the unwitting stars of an underground escapade, have become the talk of the town – Camden Town, the neighbourhood under which they will not be doing their thing for a while. HS2 has already uncovered a wealth of archaeological finds. Some witty Londoners have already said they’re putting something back for future generations to unearth. Future archaeologists may speculate as to whether ancient humans were in a competition to see who could bury the largest contraption.

With the tunnelling titans taking on the role of time capsules, and unwittingly putting HS2 on the map for perhaps the quirkiest reason imaginable, it remains to be seen whether the company will capitalise further on this unplanned marketing opportunity. The official (and real) reason for the manoeuvre is so that when the UK government finally finds itself in funds and sanctions the completion of the London end of the HS2 line, the TBMs will be in the right position to go straight to work. As long as someone can remember where they left the keys.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

4 comments op “Dude, where’s my TBM? HS2 buries Tunnelling Machines until there’s money for Euston stop”

John Airey|22.08.23|18:45

Actually dismantling a TBM is always a possibility. Only the digging head is too wide. As I recall one of the Channel Tunnel TBMs was removed (probably continued forward without the digging head) and used to dig a sewage tunnel in East Sussex. The main question is whether it can be reused, otherwise you are paying for storage.

Robert Kirk|23.08.23|12:43

Yet another illustration what a white elephant HS2 is. Costs completely out of control. Taxpayers and their descendants will be paying the bill and most will derive little or no benefit. Meanwhile most commuters will pay exhorbitant fares for bad services. Another example of senior executives being handsomely rewarded for abject failure, unless that is milking the taxpayer is counted as success.

david hill|24.08.23|18:25

The person you want to blame is Mick lynch for poor time tables no trains especially on a bank holiday weekend etc plus the continued whining ,,,we aren’t getting enough money ,,, basically whole the rest of us put up with his withering about , pay , pension, and job security ,,, no one has a job secured for there life time Mick sorry ,,, I can’t get over to see my father who’s terminal due to cancer thanks to you ,,, great ,,, hope your sleeping well mate

David C Robson|25.08.23|12:34

Wrong station!

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