Tunnelling Work Has Started On The Controversial Silvertown Tunnel

Tunnelling Work Has Started On The Controversial Silvertown Tunnel
The tunnel boring machine (TBM) - which is now creating two 1.4km-long tunnels beneath the Thames. Image: TfL

Tunnelling on the controversial Silvertown Tunnel in east London has begun.

The 1.4km twin-bore underwater road crossing — which is being carried out by Riverlinx — will link the Docklands and North Greenwich, with the aim of reducing congestion at the nearby Blackwall Tunnel — and creating new bus links across the Thames.

Tunnel boring machine Jill in its launch chamber. Image: TfL

Construction work on the project began in 2020, but now an 82-metre-long tunnel boring machine (TBM) — with its cutter face of 11.91m, has started its work of coring out the tunnels, beginning from the north side of the river.

The TBM will progress at around 10 metres per day. Once the first tunnel is completed, it'll be turned around and work its way back towards Newham, coring out the other tunnel. (Nice little fact for you: the TBM is named 'Jill' in honour of Jill Viner, the first female bus driver in London.)

The estimated open date for the tunnel is 2025.

How traffic from the Silvertown Tunnel will merge with that from the existing Blackwall Tunnel. Image: TfL

All the TfL schtick, of course, plays up the fresh job opportunities and housing/business developments that the new tunnel will lead to. All well and good. But you can't mention the Silvertown Tunnel without bringing up the massive controversy it has stoked. For one, there's the increase in carbon emissions another road tunnel will create. Cyclists and pedestrians won't be able to use the crossing either — despite the Mayor of London's push for net zero carbon by 2030.

TfL would counter that it's creating walking, cycling and landscaping improvements as part of the project — although these are only happening at the tunnel entrances.

At least the new bus routes will be zero-emission; maybe they need to resurrect the 'bike bus' services from the 1960s.

A huge construction project taking place on the banks of the Thames, with loads of crane, and huge craters in the ground
The TBM is now working its way from the Docklands to North Greenwich. Image: TfL

There is also the little matter of tolls: right now, road users aren't charged to use the neighbouring Blackwall Tunnel, but that will change when the Silvertown Tunnel opens; both will incur a fee.

After all, TfL will have a whopping debt to pay back to Riverlinx — anywhere between £1bn and £2bn.

Last Updated 12 September 2022

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