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London's Crossrail officially launched

London's Crossrail officially launched

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The first two tunnel boring machines for London's new transport link have been switched on, signalling the first phase of Crossrail.

London's Crossrail project, nearly 40 years after it was first proposed, has now launched at an officially ceremony to turn on the first two tunnel boring machines.

Ahead of the next mayoral election in May, the Mayor of London's rail link between Hackney and Chelsea is now under construction, and the first two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will begin work next week.

The two machines -- named Ada and Phyllis after the names were thrown open to the public -- will spend the next few years digging tunnels under the streets of London. In the Mayor's words, the "voracious worms nibbling their way under London" will remain undetected below street level.

One will be heading eastward from a portal at Royal Oak in West London, and another shall start digging towards Farringdon in 2013. From these positions, the machines will begin their course east, n order to carve out the new east-to-west underground link.

Two more machines are scheduled to begin work during 2013. Eight TBMs will be used in total to carve paths required for 42km tunnels needed to complete the first Crossrail project. It is expected to take three years for all the tunnels to be completed by the TBMs.

Each machine weighs approximately 1,000 tons and is 150 meters long. The highly-specialized machines will be operating for 24 hours a day, and will move at a rate of about 100 meters a week.

Furthermore, Boris Johnson hopes that after the success of the first Crossrail is proven, it will be possible to secure further investment from the UK treasury for a second development.

However, the future of the project has already been in jeopardy -- when the UK's coalition government cast wary eyes over rates of pubic spending and the cost of the project. Originally, it was estimated that the public would have to pay less than £3bn ($4.7bn), and now it is closer to £14.8bn ($22bn).

Mayor Boris Johnson told CN:

"It is absolutely vital to get Crossrail 2 under way and I believe I'm the man to get that commitment from government. Of course it’s feasible. We have taken a lot of costs out already by de-scoping the stations and changing the orders of buildings.

I'm going to fight for investment in infrastructure - Crossrail is a massive boost for construction. It's the type of project we should be doing in London and I hope the industry will really put its back into this and deliver a first-rate railway."

The Crossrail project is currently the largest civil engineering project in Europe. It is hoped that the rail project will cut travel times across London, and expand the network's capacity by 10 percent, as well as promote job creation.

To view an example of a TBM in action, view the video below:

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure