Mega-machine heads 'down under' for big tunnel project


The world’s 10th largest tunnelling boring machine (TBM) is now on its way to Auckland to construct the city’s Waterview Connection tunnels - one of New Zealand’s most important transport links since the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge more than 50 years ago.

The huge machine left Guangzhou in south-east China yesterday and is due to arrive at the Ports of Auckland’s Waitemata terminal in two and a half weeks.

Because of its size, the machine has been broken down into 97 separate pieces, including 20 containers of small parts.   It will be reassembled at the bottom of a 30 metre-deep trench in Owairaka before boring the twin 2.4km-long Waterview motorway tunnels.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland and Northland State Highways Manager, Tommy Parker, says the Waterview Connection will link the Northwestern (SH16) and Southwestern (SH20) motorways to complete the Western Ring Route, one of the Government’s economically strategic roads of national importance.

“At $1.4b, it’s the biggest single roading project ever undertaken by the NZTA and, as the critical part of the Western Ring Route, will remove Auckland’s reliance on a single motorway corridor - State Highway 1 and the harbour bridge.

“We are planning to have traffic using the tunnels by the end of 2016, which will give Auckland the connected and cohesive motorway system it needs to support growth in the region, and to improve links between our neighbours in Northland and in Waikato/Bay of Plenty.  It will be as important a catalyst for change as the opening of the harbour bridge was in 1959,” says Mr Parker.

When the TBM has landed, it will be trucked to Owairaka over a 10 day period. Some of the 97 loads will be oversize, and Mr Parker says that they will be moved through city streets overnight to keep disruption to traffic to a minimum.

The heaviest of these will be the 260 tonne main drive for the cutting head,  while the largest will be the TBM’s 8.5m diameter main bearing.

The machine will be reassembled inside the motorway trench, onto a launch cradle with its massive cutting head facing north – the direction it will go when tunnelling starts at the end of October.

The re-assembly will take a team of 30 approximately three months to complete and will be overseen by members of the Well-Connected Alliance team who spent several months in China involved in the manufacture and assembly of the machine alongside German manufacturer Herrenknecht.  The TBM was factory tested in March before being stripped down and packed ready for its voyage to Auckland.

It is the largest machine ever built for use in Australasia, and has been designed specifically for the local geology.  The cutting head and shield at the front are as high as a four-storey building.

The machine is 87m long, almost the length of a rugby field.  It comprises a 14.4 diameter rotating cutting head attached to the front of a 12-metre long shield, followed by three back-up cars, or gantries, that house all the equipment needed to operate it, remove excavated material and put in place the precast concrete rings that will line the two tunnels.

“Delivery and assembly of the TBM will be complex – the start of a construction process that will lift the development of New Zealand’s transport infrastructure to a whole new level,” Mr Parker says.

The one vital element not packed away on the ship is a name. Tunnellers’ superstition demands that a TBM is given a woman’s name before tunnelling commences, People are about to be asked to choose from four possible names short listed from over 500 put forward by Auckland primary school children for the Waterview TBM. The whole country is invited to help choose the name by voting online at link). The winning name will be announced on Friday July 12.

About the project

The Waterview Connection will complete Auckland’s Western Ring Route and create a direct motorway link between the city’s CBD and International Airport and also improve regional transport links north and south of Auckland. It is being delivered for and alongside the NZ Transport Agency by the Well-Connected Alliance, comprising the NZTA, Fletcher Construction, McConnell Dowell Constructors, Tonkin & Taylor, Obayashi Corporation, parsons Brinkerhoff and Beca Infrastructure. For more project information visit link)