Historic first journey is made through completed HS2 tunnel near Leamington

Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport, joined HS2 CEO Mark Thurston for a walk along the first bored tunnel at Long Itchington

An historic event has taken place in the controversial HS2 project at its site near Leamington this week.

Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport, joined HS2 Ltd CEO Mark Thurston for a walk along the first bored tunnel at Long Itchington.

Mr Harper went 33 metres below ground for an exclusive end-to-end tour of the first completed tunnel of the project.

HS2 Ltd's CEO Mark Thurston and Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport, take a walking tour of the first bored tunnel at Long Itchington.

He said: ““It was absolutely extraordinary to see first-hand the sheer scale and craftmanship of this monumental project which will positively transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the North and Midlands.

“As well as boosting connections, regenerating communities and creating tens of thousands of jobs, tunnels such as this have been designed to ensure Britain’s biodiversity and countryside are preserved during construction and for many decades to come.”

A 2,000 tonne tunnel boring machine (TBM) dug the one-mile tunnel taking the HS2 rail line under Long Itchington Wood which, HS2 has said, “protects the ancient woodland above”.

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The tunnel boring machine (TBM) Dorothy at the Long Itchington HS2 site.

The TBM - named Dorothy after Dorothy Hodgkin who in 1964 became the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry - broke through the south portal tunnel wall in July this year.

The tunnelling team worked around the clock for seven months, placing 790 concrete rings to build the 10 metre diameter tunnel.

Since the summer breakthrough, a 300-strong site team from HS2’s construction partner Balfour Beatty VINCI (BBV) have pulled the TBM gantries back through the tunnel, for the TBM’s relaunch to start the second bore last week.

Mr Thurston said: “It was a pleasure to welcome the Transport Secretary to site today as the first member of the UK Government to travel the entire length of the completed one-mile tunnel under Long Itchington Wood.

The TBM Dorothy on its way under Long Itchington Wood.

"This is another fantastic milestone for HS2, demonstrating the huge progress we’re making in the West Midlands, where nearly 7,000 people are working on the project.

“Travelling from end-to-end of our first completed tunnel just shows the unstoppable momentum on a project that is providing essential skilled jobs for people today, and in the future will provide zero-carbon public transport and help to level-up the Midlands and North.”