Two of the biggest tunnel boring machines (TBMs) in the southern hemisphere are in the final stages of assembly, set to be launched in the coming months as part of the North East Link Project. 

The final piece of the TBM – a 137t screw conveyor – has arrived at the Watsonia site to help dig the 6.5km road tunnels that will help take 15,000 trucks off local roads.

A 550t gantry crane has started lowering each TBM piece into the launch box and when assembled, each 4,000t tunnel boring machine will stretch 90m long and 15.6m high.

Once up and running, the TBMs will dig up to 15m per day as they travel from Watsonia to Bulleen – passing deep underneath traffic instead of through local suburbs.

More than 100 tunnel workers are currently undergoing intensive training to work up to 45m below ground level, with a hyperbaric facility currently being installed on site so workers can prepare to work under a compressed air environment.

Across Melbourne’s north-east, a huge amount of work is underway to get ready for tunnelling – a covered conveyor belt and shed are in place to safely load dirt and rock onto trucks, more than a quarter of the concrete tunnel segments have been built in Benalla, and the TBM retrieval box is taking shape in Bulleen.

Worksites are being set up along the Eastern Freeway and M80 Ring Road, with large areas of open space needed to upgrade the freeways to connect with the North East Link tunnels – cutting travel times by up to 35 minutes.

Speed restrictions and barriers have already been rolled out along the Eastern Freeway between Burke and Bulleen roads and these will extend to Tram Road in the coming months.

More than 5,000 workers are already working across North East Link, the Eastern Freeway Upgrade and M80 Ring Road completion – with 12,000 jobs to be created over the life of the projects before completion in 2028.

Victorian Premier, Jacinta Allan, said that not a minute is being wasted delivering this vital project. 

“Whether it’s level crossing removals, building the Metro Tunnel or North East Link – we’re delivering the transport connections a growing Victoria needs,” Ms Allan said. 

Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, said that from the ports in Melbourne to the suburbs in the north east, the final pieces of these massive machines are on site and ready for assembly ahead of tunnelling.

“Not only is this incredible infrastructure project employing thousands during construction, it will leave a lasting legacy for road users and for Victoria well into the future.” 

Image credit: nikonka1/

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