Tunnel-boring Machines Arrive By Thames for Super Sewer

Tunnel-boring machines (TBMs) that when fully assembled will weigh more than 1300 tonnes each and measure more than 100m long arrived in London this month from France after sailing down the Thames.

Infrastructure Intelligence reported that the first shipment of the TBMs, named Millicent and Ursula, have made the 500-mile journey from the across the Channel after being built in Le Creusot, France. They arrive as Tideway, the company building London’s super sewer, prepare to begin tunnelling later this year.

Arrival of Millicent and Ursula. Source Tideway

The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a 25km super sewer tunnel that is being constructed to tackle the problem of sewage pollution in the River Thames. Once completed it will stop millions of tonnes of untreated sewage flowing into the Thames each year.

Andy Mitchell, Tideway’s chief executive officer said: “This is going to be a big year for Tideway and we’re working hard to get tunnel shafts completed in preparation for the start of tunnelling later this year.”


Teams have named Millicent after Dame Millicent Fawcett, an English suffragist, intellectual, and political leader, who is soon to be the first woman to be commemorated with a statue erected at Parliament Square.  Similarly, Ursula was named after Audrey ‘Ursula’ Smith, a British cryobiologist at King’s College Hospital in South London who discovered the use of glycerol to protect human red blood cells during freezing.


The TBMs were transported along the Thames in order to keep in line with Tideway’s commitment to transport over 90% of materials by river, reducing the number of road vehicle journeys needed to build the tunnel. Millicent will tunnel 5km from Kirtling Street to Carnwath Road in Fulham while Ursula will tunnel 7.6km from Kirtling Street to Chambers Wharf in Bermondsey.


Several key milestones have been achieved in the last few months as preparations move closer to the start of tunnelling. The first tunnel shaft at Kirtling Street has been completed near the Battersea Power Station. At 60m deep, the crews excavated 45,000m3 of spoil – enough to fill 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools. 

Click here to see a video of the progress made by some of the 4,000 workers who are pressing ahead with the project