Tunneling has begun for the $1.86 billion Forrestfield-Airport Link Project, marking the first component of the METRONET rail plan for Perth.

In the project’s biggest milestone to date, the first of two tunnel-boring machines (TBMs) began its 8km subterranean trip to Bayswater from the future Forrestfield Station site.

The Forrestfield-Airport Link will be comprised of twin rail tunnels, providing a direct link between the growing foothills and the CBD, with three new train stations at Forrestfield, Airport Central and Belmont.

Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure Paul Fletcher said, “Once completed the project will provide Forrestfield passengers with a 20-minute central business district journey option, while Perth Airport users will have a direct, 18-minute journey to the central business district.”

TBM Grace, named after a local schoolgirl undergoing treatment for leukaemia, will drill the first of the two tunnels.

Grace’s peers nominated the TBM be named after her because she is the toughest person they know – a quality the machine also needs to bore the 8km of tunnels.

A second TBM, Sandy, will be lowered into the 12m-deep dive structure at Forrestfield in September to start drilling the second tunnel.

The 600-tonne, 130-metre-long machines are two of only nine of their kind in the world and are designed to tunnel through the diverse ground conditions on the route.

The enormous machines are designed to simultaneously bore the tunnel, remove dirt and reinforce with concrete segments.

About 54,000 locally fabricated concrete tunnel segments will be installed to form the walls of the subway throughout the project, providing valuable jobs.

Meanwhile, a tunnelling crew of 18 will be overseeing the TBM operations at any one time.

International tunnelling experts will train local employees throughout the project, so by the time the rail link is built, WA will have a local workforce capable of delivering future tunnel projects.

The Public Transport Authority awarded the design, construct and 10-year maintenance contract to a Salini Impregilo – NRW Joint Venture (SI-NRW) in April 2016.

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