HS2 tunneling starts at Long Itchington Wood near Leamington

The 2,000 tonne tunnel boring machine is the first to be launched on the West Midlands route of the high speed rail line and it started on its one-mile journey under the wood today (Thursday December 2).

Tunneling has started under Long Itchington Wood near Leamington as part of the HS2 high-speed rail project today (Thursday December 2).

The 2,000 tonne tunnel boring machine (TBM) is the first to be launched on the West Midlands route of the high speed rail line and it has started on its one-mile journey under the wood.

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A team will now work around the clock in shifts to operate the machine for around five months.

HS2 CEO Mark Thurston starts the TBM at Long Itchington Wood.

The TBM has been named Dorothy after Dorothy Hodgkin, who in 1964 became the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

This will be the first HS2 tunnel to be completed on the project, with the machine set to break through its first bore at the south portal in Spring 2022.

It will then be disassembled and taken back to the north portal to dig the second bore, which is due to be completed in early 2023.

HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “This is yet another vital landmark in our journey towards a better connected Britain and with the launching of Dorothy today in Warwickshire, shows real progress in helping transform journeys across our country.

“It also underlines how our £96bn Integrated Rail Plan - the largest ever investment in our rail network – is instrumental in creating jobs and economic opportunities, and ensuring more people reap the benefits of better rail journeys.”

Campaigners from communities along the line have opposed HS2 for many years now with various forms of protest taking place.

And earlier this year Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western called for an urgent review into the future and viability of HS2 amid spiraling costs and untimely delivery.

He also called for more regular debates in Parliament on HS2’s progress.

“According to HS2’s figures at least 11 ancient woodlands will suffer direct impacts as a result of the railway’s construction.

“The UK is one of the least wooded areas in Europe, with just 13% tree cover compared to nearly a third across European Union nations.

“And ancient woodlands older than 400 years only cover 2% of the UK – and they are a precious amenity.

“Four ancient woods have already been felled in Warwickshire, including 5 acres in South Cubbington.

“We need to make urgent progress in combating climate change, developing electric vehicle infrastructure, delivering hydrogen to our towns and cities and rolling out full fibre broadband across the UK.

“There is also a need to improve our existing dilapidated railways, particularly in the Midlands and the North.

“It is time for the Government to seriously consider these alternatives to HS2.”

HS2 has said that the tunnel will preserve the ancient woodland above and "forms a key element in how HS2 is managing environmental impacts through the design of the railway, preserving Britain’s precious wildlife habitats".

The woods are classified as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and have complex ecosystems which have taken hundreds of years to establish.

TheTBM will remove a total of 250,000 cubic metres of mudstone and soil, which will be transported to the on-site slurry treatment plant where the material is separated out before being reused on embankments and landscaping along the route.