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Humongous Tunnel Boring Machines


Tremors!.. They're getting louder... OMG, it's getting out - and it's HUGE!!

What dwells beneath, does not dwell so quietly - these enormous machines are notorious for producing shaking and loud noise, but they do the job - excavating tunnels wide enough to fit two trains inside (maximum tunnel diameter 19 meters). They produce a smooth tunnel wall, but woe to any creature that stands in its way (obviously).

(image credit: Frida)

(images via 1, 2)

Some hard rock facts:

- Modern TBMs have fifteen electric motors, which supply some machines with a record-breaking 6,375 horsepower.

- "The machine tows nearly 800 tons of backup equipment through the tunnel, including trailers for electrical support systems, firefighting supplies and even a lunchroom."

- "The face of the drill contains a small door through which workers can crawl to replace the 15 or so cutters that wear out every day." (source)

- The biggest ever built was used to excavate Gotthard Base Tunnel - 19 meters diameter. It was made by Herrenknecht AG of Schwanau, Germany in 2005. Here is a scaled-down model:

(image credit: Transit New Zealand)

(image credit: Rama)

Here is how Herrenknecht company describes it:
"With two 57km-long tunnels, the Gotthard Base Tunnels will be the world's longest railway tunnel. Four Herrenknecht Gripper machines are excavating a total of 75km through the Alps. The identical S-210 and S-211 (diameter of 8.830m each) have been cutting their way through the rock from the south since November 2002 and February 2003 respectively."

(image via)

These machines easily capture the imagination of movie makers. The whole pulp-style scientific romance "Core" is built around exploring the Earth's innards, and in "Oceans 13" the guys smuggle a 600-ton tunnel boring machine under Vegas.

Here is TBM cabin control center - and the driver:

(image credit: Lisa)

(image credit: Manuel Anastácio)

(image credit: Popular Science)

Through Hard Rock, with the help of Heavy Metal -
"Gripper" machines use special plates to push rock around.

Gripper, Double-Gripper, MixShield, Double-Shield - Herrenknecht AG manufacturers a full spectrum of these macho machines.

M-30 By-Pass Sur Túnel Norte, Madrid:

Eastside LRT Project Los Angeles:

Two identical machines at Katzenberg Tunnel, Efringen-Kirchen, Germany:

These machines excavate West Area CSO Tunnel under Atlanta, Georgia since 2005:

What's under (and all around) Niagara Falls? Tunnels!

The Worlds Largest Hard-Rock Tunnel Boring Machine - STRABAG AG- at the Niagara Tunnel Project (current progress: around 8 meters per day):

(image credit: Niagara Frontier)

Army needs to bore tunnels, of course, for various underground compounds and headquarters:

Hard rock tunel boring machine at Little Skull Mountain, near Area 51 in Nevada. Source: U.S. Department of Energy.

This is a small one, literally a baby (considering how big these can get):

(image credit: doi.vic.gov.au)

Excavating close to earthquakes

There were special conditions with the Arrowhead Project, that Herrenknecht AG has been commissioned to undertake - very close proximity to major earthquake fault:

"Nobody has ever excavated so close to the site of earthquakes before. The route of the S-233 and S-234 through the South Californian mountains above San Bernardino is only a few hundred meters away from San Andreas Fault."

"Providing drinking water for the population of Los Angeles, California, is without doubt one of the greatest challenges facing the municipal authorities and local government. The mountain overlooking San Bernardino, through which a tunnel is to be drilled to pipe the water, presents quite unique challenges of its own: the aqueous rock has been heavily fissured by the San Andreas fault, which is located very close to the mountain."

Here is a good animation of how these machines work:


The tunnel is ready. Get inside.

(images credit: Herrenknecht AG)


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

when these types of machines were reported on 'alternative news' websites (read: conspiracy theory) decades ago, the posters were called nuts, tin hat wearing conspiracy theorists.

i guess you're one as well, even though you have pictures :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

19m diameter... that is insane

I was totally unprepared for that. This type of stuff is truly hard-core engineering (no pun intended, but I'll enjoy the serendipity of it)

I can barely even fathom what the project management is like for the design and development of those (both TBMs and tunnel systems alike.) One minor error could be hugely compounded. Remarkable, great post!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. I've been a huge fan of DRB for years now, and it's this kind of post that I love. Fantastic, imagination-catching stuff. Wow, can you imagine the consequences of forgetting to carry the 1 on an alignment equation??

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"when these types of machines were reported on 'alternative news' websites (read: conspiracy theory) decades ago..."

Huh? Which sites were you on in the 70s and 80s?

Blogger Guus said...

"when these types of machines were reported on 'alternative news' websites (read: conspiracy theory) decades ago..."

Huh? Which sites were you on in the 70s and 80s?

LOL, nice catch!

OT: Love the post. Incredible machines!

Blogger Sigivald said...

Look here for a view of what looks to be an endpoint for the Little Skull Mountain tunnel.

The internet (combining various maps and commentaries) suggests that the area in question is Nevada Test Site Area 25, and given the fact that that's a tunnel, the best guess is it is or was used for underground depleted uranium testing (of projectiles or armor or both).

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

To all the fans - thank you! your good words keep us going.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for all. great site!!:)

Anonymous Kırmızı Mantar said...

Thank you for the great post.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strabag AG is not the type of the machine but the construction company which owns it (www.strabag.com)

But anyhow nice article.

Blogger Neo van Goth said...

Everytime I see such machines, my first thought is: Wow, as long as Germany is still able to build so magnificent machinery, my country still isn't doomed completely. ;)


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