My initial role was as deputy temporary works coordinator, working with the site team and temporary works designers to create appropriate design solutions for site specific constraints. This was in preparation for the ‘ready to bore’ milestone of the Main Tunnel Line D (MNTLD), and the commission of ‘Selina’, the slurry tunnel boring machine (TBM). Specifically, this involved: the installation and burying of the back-up gantries; connection to the slurry treatment plant to allow for a continuous slurry system; and installation of services. Selina is the last machine on the project to get underway, journeying from Bermondsey to Abbey Mills Pumping Station and will complete the 25km-long Thames Tideway Tunnel intercepting sewage overflows before they pollute the River Thames.
As site engineer, I was working with as a team with the miners, mechanical fitters, and other operatives. Together we worked to remove Ursula, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) from the central main line C. The 700 tonne TBM was lifted from a 65m shaft with a strand jack system, and then an 1800 tonne marine crane (the Matador 3) lifted the TBM onto a barge to embark on a journey to the Netherlands.
Following the removal of TBM C I became shift/section engineer for the tunnelling of MNTLD. My role was to work with the TBM pilot, supervising foremen, miners, and other operatives to ensure successful mining operations, with a successful balance of quality and production. During the excavation I would work with the TBM pilot to monitor grout pressures, navigation and other parameters whilst mining predominantly through chalk. During the segmental lining ring building, I was responsible for checking the ring configuration and working with the miners to ensure high-quality rings were erected. As the engineer on the TBM, I communicated and reported all the activities with the other engineers and managers in the office and at the surface. The time I spent on the main tunnelling phase was during the ‘learning curve’ phase of the project. I saw how the team came together and started to act as one superhuman, all relying on each other to produce a safe and successful working environment.
I have gained a lot of experience and taken away such depth of knowledge from this role on site. I worked with extremely talented operatives and the range of experiences and expertise for me to draw from was invaluable. Everyone I worked with was patient whilst I was learning and shared wonderful insights and experiences, in return for my different perspective and design background experience. I learned to prioritise activities, multitask, think on the spot and most importantly ask for help when needed. This, in turn has helped me develop more confidence in my engineering judgement and my assertiveness. As a young engineer, during Covid-19, I found the transition to working from home difficult, and was very grateful that I had the opportunity to work on site and help navigate this key construction project.
This experience has already helped better my skills as a tunnel engineer, gain a different perspective and has provided me with a broader understanding of the tunnelling process. The time I spent on site pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible. I could hold an MS Teams meeting and make a cup of tea from 65m under the Thames; I watched a 700-ton tunnel boring machine break through the shaft and set sail down the Thames and I could survive (and enjoy!) a 12-hour night shift with a team of wonderful miners! I greatly enjoyed the company of my colleagues with their inherently safe and positive attitudes. I am proud to have worked as part of this diverse team, celebrating the successes whilst working in such a challenging and rewarding environment.
Emily Farmer, assistant engineer.