As an engineering challenge, the Crossrail is one of the finest examples of the need for not only highly skilled and well trained engineers in Great Britain, but it also highlights the need to remain focused on the education and training of future engineers. Even though the Crossrail is perhaps the most challenging task of its kind to date, in the future there will be other challenge that will likely be greater.

Who will head that project and ensure that it works out without an issue within the confines of the existing systems and networks in place?When tunnelling through the underground, chief engineer Chris Dulake highlights the narrow turning radius of the boring machines that are required for ensuring the safety and integrity of not only the workers digging the tunnel, but also to the existing tubes and other network of utility lines. The tunnel boring machines – these massive drills that devour the underground soil – are quite massive and tend to require large turning radii. Yet for this project, it requires much tighter control.

For the Crossrail project, it is necessary to be able to manoeuvre in a much tighter space than for most other underground rail projects. And none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the engineering innovations that have helped make these tunnel boring machines (TBMs) more efficient and more productive. From the process of boring through the earth and stone to coupling that with laying a first coat of concrete and then funnelling the debris out and away from the machine to be removed all makes the Crossrail possible.

The TBMs that are to be used in the Crossrail project were specifically designed for it, and the tight turning radius was a major concern. So where were these Crossrail TBMs sourced? From Germany.

Why did we have to go to Germany for this technology?  The answer for that is simple. According the Chris Dulake, the United Kingdom simply doesn’t have a manufacturer that could handle the project from the beginning, from development to production. He opined that one would have to look back a long way to find any potential manufacturer that could have even handled something of this magnitude. It’s a shame, almost a national tragedy, to think that the engineering and manufacturing potential within the UK is in such condition, but with the Crossrail project set to begin, perhaps this is the time to highlight the importance of engineering and home-grown manufacturing in this country.