New Zealand's biggest transport infrastructure job leapt forward today with the arrival of the $13.5 million tunnel-boring machine for the $4.4 billion City Rail Link.
The machine, officially named Dame Whina Cooper, is now at the Ports of Auckland after a voyage of more than 9000km from its factory in southern China.
The large equipment to excavate the rail tunnels has arrived in sections aboard the BBC Orion, to be trucked to the City Rail Link site in Mt Eden for reassembly.
"It's a bit like getting a very early Christmas present," said Francois Dudouit, project director for CRL's Link Alliance.
"Every part of the tunnel-boring machine was neatly boxed away or bundled up in protective wrapping, and while we may know exactly what we're getting there's still plenty of excitement to come opening up everything and putting it all together again."
Sean Sweeney, chief executive of CRL, said today marked an important transition for the project.
"A lot of our work until now has focused on getting ready for the heavy work ahead. The building blocks are in place and the arrival of Dame Whina Cooper marks a symbolic crossover from those enabling works to the complex and hefty job of finishing our tunnels and stations – construction is ramping up quickly," Sweeney said.
The project will hold a public open day in December so people can get a close-up look of the machine that will transform the way we travel around the city.
"It's a chance for us to say thank you for the fantastic support we get from the community, and to explain the work of the project's very clever mechanical star and the big changes it is going to bring to Auckland," Sweeney said.
Further details of the open day will be out next month.
Over the next few days, a small convoy of trucks will transport the machine from the port to Mt Eden, where it will be reassembled and retested before it starts tunnelling next year.
It underwent testing before leaving China, but further checks will be held on site.
"It is very advanced technologically and we want to make sure we have a concrete-solid machine in place and ready to do the job it has been specifically designed for – operating in Auckland's unique soil conditions to build CRL's rail tunnels," Dudouit said.
The Link Alliance - the international and local companies building the substantive tunnels and stations contract for CRL – will use the machine to excavate two 1.6km tunnels from Mt Eden to the CBD to link with the tunnels already dug from Britomart Station. The TBM has been designed to also remove tunnel spoil and install concrete segments to line those very tunnels.
Work will start later this week on the excavation of the first 51 metres of the tunnel at Mt Eden. The excavation of the cavern and trench provides room for the TBM to be fitted into position to take over mining.
Tunnelling is due to start next April.
Before then, mining conventions will be observed when the reassembled TBM is blessed and formally named Dame Whina Cooper.
Big machines working underground are traditionally named after inspirational women. Earlier this year New Zealanders voted for the TBM to be named in honour of Māori rights champion Dame Whina Cooper.
When tunnel excavation starts people will be able to keep track of the machine's progress. An online link will measure the borer's journey below Auckland in real time.