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Breakthrough as tunnelling giant Elizabeth arrives at Stepney Green Cavern

By Hamish McDougall

Breakthrough as tunnelling giant Elizabeth arrives at Stepney Green Cavern
  • Tunnel boring machine breaks into one of Europe’s largest underground caverns
  • Stepney Green plays a crucial part in Crossrail as the convergence point for the tunnels from northeast and southeast London

Crossrail reached another important milestone today as 1,000 tonne tunnel boring machine Elizabeth broke into one of Europe’s largest mined caverns, 40m below Stepney Green in the East End of London.

Elizabeth, along with her sister machine Victoria, is completing the longest tunnel drive on the Crossrail project, from Limmo Peninsula near Canning Town to Farringdon, a distance of 8.3 kilometres (5.16 miles).

Since being launched last winter, both machines have been working round the clock to create the new tunnels, passing through the new Canary Wharf Crossrail station during the summer. Tunnelling machine Elizabeth will now undergo maintenance inside Stepney Green’s westbound cavern before resuming tunnelling towards Whitechapel, Liverpool Street and Farringdon. Yesterday’s breakthrough is the first of four that will take place at Stepney Green. Victoria is due to breakthrough into the site in the next few weeks.

The Stepney Green caverns are some of the largest mined caverns ever built in Europe using a tunneling technique called Sprayed Concrete Lining. They are approximately 50m long, 17m wide and 15m high. Stepney Green will have a critical role to play when Crossrail opens; it is where the railway divides with the southeast spur running underground to Canary Wharf, Woolwich and then onto Abbey Wood. The northeast spur runs from Stepney Green through Pudding Mill Lane, Stratford, and then on to Shenfield in Essex.

Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project and includes 42km (26 miles) of 6.2m diameter tunnels built up to 40m beneath central London and Docklands. Nearly 14 miles of tunnels, over half of the total, are now complete.

Major tunnelling is expected to be complete by the end of next year. One of the tunnel boring machines, Phyllis, has already completed her journey on from Royal Oak in west London to Farringdon in the City.



Crossrail’s construction commenced on 15 May 2009 at Canary Wharf, with tunnelling starting in May 2012. When Crossrail opens in 2018, it will increase London's rail-based transport network capacity by 10 per cent and dramatically cut journey times across the city. Crossrail will be fully integrated as part of the TfL network providing a fast, frequent service linking the east and west and relieving congestion on some of the busiest Tube lines.

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For further information contact the Crossrail Press Office on 020 3229 9552 or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

Joint Venture Dragados Sisk are constructing the eastern tunnels between Limmo Peninsula and Farringdon, Pudding Mill Lane and Stepney Green and Victoria Dock Portal and Limmo.

The total funding envelope available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn. The Crossrail route will pass through 38 stations and run over 100km from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km (13 miles) tunnels below central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

Crossrail is being delivered by Crossrail Limited (CRL). CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. Crossrail is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London.