Balfour Beatty Vinci’s custom-built machine emerges near Stratford-on-Avon after eight months of underground drilling 

A 2,000-tonne tunnel boring machine (TBM) which is paving the way for the HS2 high-speed line from London to Birmingham has made its first breakthrough after spending eight months drilling underground.

Emerging at Long Itchington Wood near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire late last week, the TBM nicknamed Dorothy has completed the first of 64 miles of intermittent tunnels between London and Manchester.


Dorothy breaks through at Long Itchington Wood

The 125m-long machine and its 400-strong tunnelling team have been busy installing 790 concrete rings underground since they began their journey at the tunnel’s north portal in December 2021.

The job is being delivered by HS2 main works civils contractor Balfour Beatty Vinci (BBV JV)

The machine, one of 10 custom-built for the project, was named after Dorothy Hodgkin, who in 1964 became the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize for  chemistry.

>> Also read: On site: HS2’s groundbreaking project under way beneath the Chilterns

The tunnels have been designed with the aim of protecting ancient woodlands and their ecosystems, integrating with the natural landscape by reusing excavated material as a soil roof around the tunnel entrance.

A 254 metre long conveyor at the north portal is removing the remaining excavated material from the site over the Grand Union Canal.

Long Itchington Wood is classified as a site of special scientific interest and the scheme is opposed by environmental activists who criticised the destruction of some woodland.

HS2 minister Trudy Harrison described the news as “quite literally, a ground-breaking moment” for the scheme. She said it demonstrated that the government was “getting on with delivering on our promises and progressing our transformative plans to boost transport, bring communities together and level up the  North and Midlands”.

Over the next four months, the cutterhead and the front of the machine will be dismantled and taken back to the north portal.

The bulk of the TBM will be taken back through the tunnel to be reassembled ready for launch on the second bore of the tunnel.