Milestone day for Auckland: Tunnel boring machine launched at City Rail Link

Today marks a milestone for Tāmaki Makaurau with the launch of the tunnel boring machine at New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project, the $4.4 billion City Rail Link.

The German-designed Chinese-built machine, named Dame Whina Cooper, is launched this morning at the project’s Mt Eden site, with final checks about to be carried out before she starts cutting around the middle of this month.

“Completing Auckland’s City Rail Link has taken an exciting step forward today with the official launch of the machine at the project’s Mt Eden site,” CRL announced today.

The machine will be operated by the Link Alliance: New Zealand and international design and construction companies building stations, tunnels and rail systems.

The first 50m of tunnel at Mt Eden has already been mined to give room for the front sections of the enormous 130m-long machine.

That will excavate 1.6km under the Central Motorway Junction and Karangahape Rd into central Auckland to connect with the CRL tunnels already built from the Britomart Station.

The machine has three jobs as she crawls under Auckland: excavating spoil, removing spoil by conveyor belt from the tunnel and lining its new tunnel walls with concrete segments.

She will complete her first tunnel towards the end of the year, then be trucked back to Mt Eden in sections and prepared for its second tunnel drive next year.

Transport Minister Michael Wood described today’s event as an “exciting milestone” for New Zealand’s largest transport infrastructure project, “one that is helping our economic recovery and supporting jobs. Building infrastructure like the City Rail Link is part of our Covid-19 economic plan. This project is providing real jobs and opportunities for thousands of Aucklanders. It’ll give us a step-change in our public transport and cultivate a diverse and highly-skilled workforce”.

Mayor Phil Goff said: “The City Rail Link will transform rail travel in Tāmaki Makaurau. It will carry up to 54,000 people an hour, moving the equivalent capacity of three Auckland Harbour Bridges or 16 extra traffic lanes into and through the city at peak times.”

“The official start of tunnelling represents an important milestone on Auckland’s journey towards providing a world-class, 21st-century transport network.”

Mining tradition has a significant role at this morning’s event.

One tradition involved breaking a bottle of champagne on the machine to mark its official launch.

Father Christopher Denham of the Catholic St Patrick and St Joseph’s Cathedral blessed the machine and the teams who will operate her in acknowledgement to St Barbara, the patron saint of miners and others working underground.

The other significant wahine acknowledged this morning was Māori rights champion, Kahurangi Dame Whina Cooper.

“Big underground machines, by tradition, carry the name of an influential woman,” CRL said.

New Zealanders helped the project choose the kupu as the most fitting name for the machine.

Sean Sweeney, CRL chief executive, congratulated workers for reassembling and commissioning the machine after it was shipped here in sections from China last year.

“A lot of work hours in some pretty demanding conditions have got us here today. Dame Whina Cooper will have its first encounter with some real dirt very soon, an encounter that shows the project remains on track despite the challenges thrown up by covid in the past year or so,” Sweeney said.

The project, paid for by the Government and Auckland Council, aims to make the city’s rail network more efficient: trains will be able to run more often, faster and carry more people.

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