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Transportation Technology

Mammoth "Metal Moles" Tunnel Deep Beneath London 294

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-burrow-time dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that the first of eight highly specialized Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM), each weighing nearly 1,000 tonnes, is being positioned at Royal Oak in west London where it will begin its slow journey east. It will carve out a new east-west underground link that will eventually run 73 miles from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. Described as 'voracious worms nibbling their way under London,' the 150-meter long machines will operate 24 hours a day and move through the earth at a rate of about 100m per week, taking three years to build a network of tunnels beneath the city's streets. Behind a 6.2-meter cutter head is a hydraulic arm. Massive chunks of earth are fed via a narrow-gauge railway along the interior of the machine, which is itself on wheels, as the machines are monitored from a surface control room which tracks their positions using GPS. Hydraulic rams at the front keep them within millimeters of their designated routes. 'It's not so much a machine as a mobile factory,' says Roy Slocombe, adding that the machine is staffed by a 20-strong 'tunnel gang' and comes with its own kitchen and toilet. Meanwhile, critics complain that the project is a peculiarly British example of how not to get big infrastructure schemes off the ground, because almost 30 years will have elapsed from its political conception in 1989 to its current projected completion date of 2018."
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Mammoth "Metal Moles" Tunnel Deep Beneath London

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  • ....as anyone who's seen the beginning of "Reign of Fire [imdb.com] could tell you.....
  • GPS? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Duvzo (221790) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:20PM (#39397201)

    GPS?? Underground? Cool, so my scuba GPS is just around the corner too then.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014)

      From TFA:

      The machines are monitored from a surface control room which tracks their positions using GPS.

      So this would be more like having GPS in your dive boat than having GPS underwater.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm pretty sure they know where the surface control room. It's the position of the machine that needs monitored, not the stationary control room.

      • So they track the control room? In case it starts moving around??

        • by hey! (33014)

          So they track the control room? In case it starts moving around??

          That was the sense I got. These are *civil* engineers, after all. My wife once visited the Fundy Tidal Power Project. It had a million dollar visitor center, but the engineers still worked in white trailers.

          The impression I got was that they were going to communicate with the device from the surface near the tunnel face rather than from the tunnel mouth or bore holes. They only way GPS would make sense in this situation is if they used acoustic methods to locate the actual boring machine from a movable st

          • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @05:25PM (#39398395) Journal

            Sometimes a white trailer is the right tool for the job. I've worked with civil engineers for years, and the ones I've worked with were pretty full-on professional. If a job needs a white trailer, that's what they trot out. If the job needs a million dollar visitor centre, then that goes into the spec.

            It's probably worth mentioning that there's GPS, and then there's GPS. The sort that we are used to ("In 400 metres, exit ramp, on left, to Proposed Western Freeway"*) depends entirely on trig between orbiting satellites, another more sophisticated type augments that with intertial guidance systems. If you can read the RF from the satellites, you can use the former - and that depends on a combination of antenna design and how much (generally metal) is in the way that might soak up the radio frequency energy before it gets to the box. To a point, you can make up a lot of signal strength with a higher-spec antenna.

            The latter type of (what's erroneously, but conveniently called GPS), the inertial guidance system, measures and sums accelerations and gives you a vector -- sort of like summing the movements of a small mass in an enclosed box over time. These can use accelerometers and gyroscopes to add up quite small movements and tell a computer in summary that it's gone this far, in this direction, over this interval of time. If it sounds complex, you're right -- but the technology has been available since the advent of the ICBM.

            The Wikipedia entry on the subject is really quite good -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_guidance_system [wikipedia.org] -- worth reading (warning, there is a lure and fascination in these things, especially when you get to laser gyroscopes...)

            And as much as I like my little Garman Nuvi (*yes, it really did give me that direction once) it wouldn't be the GPS of choice for locating a major piece of underground tunnelling kit.

      • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Informative)

        by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Sunday March 18, 2012 @04:00PM (#39397873)

        I don't know the specifics of this, but from my former work in an oilfield services company, I know that oil well drilling systems can track their own position within a few inches. One example [wikipedia.org] from about 30 years ago was a set of wells drilled under an estuary in the UK. The gov. allowed the drilling company a one-acre island to do all the drilling from. They drilled down about a mile, then branched off into 10 separate holes that were drilled horizontally, following an oil seam that at times was only one foot high. The longest horizontal hole was about 10 kilometers (34000+feet, 6.6+ miles) long. Here is another reference [greeningofoil.com], including info on a new well system on the North Slope that extends even farther - two miles down, then over 10 km horizontally, then back down another km or two so they can use an existing oil processing facility.

        Drilling systems are among the most sophisticated technological marvels going - they include seismic signalling, mass spectrometry, neutron activation analysis, nuclear magnetic resonance, gamma ray spectral analysis [wikipedia.org], and other really geeky stuff. The bit knows where it is geographically and where it is relative to the geological structures that it is following. The computers that sit 10 feet behind the actual bit meet tougher specs than military or aerospace - 1000 G shock, very high pressures (I forget the PSI), 400 degree F temperatures. Cooling is accomplished by the drilling fluid that is going past the outside of the drill string. Truly oil well technology is the perfect geekly combination of extreme "big heavy dangerous machines" plus extreme high tech.

        • by multiplexo (27356)
          That's really cool. You know, one of these machines would make a really cool hideout for a James Bond villain. The only things you'd need to add to make it perfect are a prominently labelled self-destruct switch and a pool full of sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads.
    • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hawguy (1600213) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @03:01PM (#39397507)

      GPS?? Underground? Cool, so my scuba GPS is just around the corner too then.

      Unless your SCUBA activities consist of walking around above the water level, I don't think you're going to find a GPS based solution to help you - water attenuates the signals too much.

      However, if you're underground, there are a number of companies that can sell you GPS repeaters that will help you navigate even when you can't receive any satellite signals directly:

      http://www.vialite.co.uk/gps_band_overview.php [vialite.co.uk]
      http://www.leica-geosystems.us/en/GPS-Machine-Guidance_1939.htm [leica-geosystems.us]

  • Why exaggerate? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nuckfuts (690967) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:21PM (#39397213)

    From the summary:

    the 150-meter long machines...

    From the article:

    The 140 metre long, fully assembled tunnel boring machine...

    At 140 metres, each TBM would just fit just inside the boundaries of a cricket oval.

    Was 140 meters not impressive enough, so the submitter had to add 10 meters?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:30PM (#39397285)

      TIL 140 metres = 150 meters. It's not just a wonky British spelling.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:32PM (#39397295)

      Was 140 meters not impressive enough, so the submitter had to add 10 meters?

      He's a guy - exaggerating a bit about length is reflexive.

    • by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:34PM (#39397315) Homepage

      Obviously the submitter is American and did the conversion from British-meters to American-meters.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:45PM (#39397401) Journal
        Metres. A metre is a measure of length. A meter is a thing you measure with. A metre meter is a stick one metre long. Damn yanks overloading words, it's as if they're speaking C++...
        • by AK Marc (707885)
          The final "e" sound is pronounced before the final "r" sound, so it seems silly to reverse them when spelled. The US is more phonetic. We don't hold on to antiquity because we find it quaint, but are more practical. If meter and metre are pronounced the same, why is it an issue if some place chooses to spell them the same?
          • Some counter points.

            Sulfur (the US spelling) is more archaic than Sulphur (the English spelling).

            Meter is English, Metre is French (they invented the metric system).

            I suppose you would also want all other homophones to be spelled the same way, right, rite, wright, write?

            English has never been a phonetic language, neither the UK nor the US version.

            • by AK Marc (707885)

              I suppose you would also want all other homophones to be spelled the same way, right, rite, wright, write?

              I made no such claim, however, it would actually help linguistic clarity to have all homophones be homographs.

              English has never been a phonetic language, neither the UK nor the US version.

              Yes, it was. Old English and Middle English are phonetic, but Modern English has adopted many words never officially in the precursor languages. Bureau is not phonetic, but is an English word, even if it retains its French spelling and approximately French pronunciation. But such adoptions post-date the inception of the language called "English."

          • by petsounds (593538)

            It originates from the French word metre [accent lost on slashdot], and before that the Greek word metron (to measure). Obviously in French the r is pronounced first. There's plenty of examples of American English taking on archaic spellings or words wholesale from other languages, so I don't think there's much room to boast of American linguistic pragmatism here.

            • Uh.. What accent? ê? é? è? ë? (&ecirc; &eacute; &egrave; &euml;)I can't find any resource that suggests there's an accent.

  • Meh. (Score:4, Funny)

    by hey! (33014) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:28PM (#39397263) Homepage Journal

    Call me when they can load one up on a big green supersonic aircraft and deploy it anywhere in the world on a moment's notice.

  • Dune (Score:3, Funny)

    by sixtyeight (844265) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:28PM (#39397269)

    We may as well get all of the Dune references out of the way here in this one thread.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 18, 2012 @02:32PM (#39397299)

    There's nothing peculiarly British about partisan politics resulting in funding taking years to be approved and plenty of NIMBYs protesting the plans!

  • ISTR reading about this somewhere three weeks ago, it was old news then...

  • Ugh, terrible journalism, they've buried the lede. You have to read to the very last sentence to figure out that it's a heavy commuter rail corridor, not a subway, bus, or car tunnel. Maybe this is obvious to British readers, but I found it confusing as hell.

    • by 6Yankee (597075)

      Heavy rail v subway, fair enough. But I would have thought that the "rail" in Crossrail, which appears in bold on the first line, would rule out buses and cars.

    • by Canazza (1428553)

      wasn't particularly obvious as to whether it was a rail line or a tube line. Don't think anyone would have thought it was a road tunnel though.

      • by digitig (1056110)
        It isn't particularly obvious to the project team either, and the European standardisation laws were still an issue last thing I heard (a couple of weeks ago).
    • by xaxa (988988)

      Ugh, terrible journalism, they've buried the lede. You have to read to the very last sentence to figure out that it's a heavy commuter rail corridor, not a subway, bus, or car tunnel. Maybe this is obvious to British readers, but I found it confusing as hell.

      Do you mean the BBC article? The project has been going on for a long time with other work (excavating the big underground stations in central London) for ages now, so everyone in London is familiar with it. I think the article was only in the BBC's local news for London. The rest of the country ought to be aware of it -- it was a big expenditure that was definitely not going to be cancelled for any short-term savings, and rail spending has been in the news in other regions of the UK quite a lot recently.

  • Good to see London going for public infrastucture development during the recession. Definitely will be great to have a fast Crossrail service and add to the options of moving around London. I was standing waiting for a bus at Angel the other day and I realised all the people sitting in the cars between the two sets of lights in that section could fit into one bus (or a train carriage). Public mass transport got to be the way to go in cities like London. Could you imagine London without the tube? (Mind you

    • by FunPika (1551249)
      Well London is lucky in that case, at least your public transportation isn't proposing to increase fares and cut several of its services at the same time (the Massachusets Bay Transportation Authority is doing this).
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @03:04PM (#39397521)

    You can't count the life of a project from the date someone first thought of it. By that measure, the Apollo moon landing project took at least 100 years. You should start counting from the date significant funding began, which in this case is 2010. Not bad, compared to, say, Boston's Big Dig.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      30 years only seems like a long time to people in their 20s.

  • ARTILLERYMAN: We're gonna build a whole new world for ourselves. Look, they
    clap eyes on us and we're dead, right?

    So we gotta make a new life where they'll never find us. You know where?
    Underground.

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @03:27PM (#39397661)

    ... consulted with Professor Quatermass before commencing excavation?

  • It can't be just GPS + dead reckoning, can it? Are there more accurate methods to do underground positioning?

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      There are GPS re-radiators that will allow GPS underground. Based on the wording, it seems like that is something they are doing, but I didn't see the exact method explicitly stated.
    • Yes. Lasers are commonly used. It's not uncommon for two underground boring machines to meet at the center of a ten mile tunnel and be less than a centimeter off.

  • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @03:59PM (#39397851)
    Pffft, Amateurs. Boston's Big Dig [wikipedia.org] is only 3.5 miles long and it took 35 years from first review to completion.
  • They had these in Ninja Turtles. Can't find a link, though.
  • The fundamental approach to digging appears to broadly resemble that of Brunel's ideas [wikipedia.org] for digging the Thames Tunnel [wikipedia.org] in the early-mid 1800's.

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