Tunnel Boring Machines

Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) are large machines that excavate below the ground surface, while simultaneously installing concrete lining units to build a tunnel. Two TBMs have been specifically designed for the Forrestfield-Airport Link by German company Herrenknecht, the world’s leading supplier of TBMs.

There are various types of TBMs to cater for different ground conditions and project requirements. For this project, the TBMs are Mixshield, which use the latest dual-mode technology capable of adapting to variable ground conditions (such as sand, rock and clay) as the machine progresses.

Key components for our TBMs were manufactured in various places around the world before an in-depth nine-month assembly and testing program was conducted in China. Once testing was finished, they are disassembled and shipped to Henderson Port. The TBMs were then transported to site and lowered into the dive structure at Forrestfield, where they began their two-year journey towards Bayswater. During this 8km journey, the TBMs will excavate under Perth Airport and the Swan River reaching up to 26m depth below the surface.

To find out more about how these machines operate, view the TBM fact sheet.

Naming the TBMs

The two tunnel boring machines that will dig the tunnels for the Forrestfield-Airport Link have been officially named.

Like ships, TBMs are named before they begin work to bring good luck. Traditionally, a TBM cannot start work until it is given a name. TBMs are generally given female names as underground workers look to Saint Barbara for protection.

The first TBM has been named Grace, in honour of pre-primary student Grace McPhee who was nominated by her classmates at Edney Primary School in High Wycombe. The students said Grace, who is undergoing treatment for leukaemia, was the toughest person they knew - a toughness the TBM would need to bore through the earth. This TBM is decorated with artwork by Year 6 Walliston Primary School student Georgia Fields.

The second TBM has been named Sandy - suggested by High Wycombe Primary School Year 4 student Sarah Spratt. Sarah was inspired after finding a sandgroper in her backyard, as the local insect (which is also a colloquial name for Western Australians) is 'excellent at tunnelling, just like the TBM'. This TBM is decorated with artwork by Rossmoyne Primary School Year 5 students Faith Brand and Jood Al Jashammi.

More than 100 students entered a competition for the chance to be a part of the project.

Will I hear the TBMs?

Despite their huge electric and hydraulic-powered motor drives, TBMs create little noise at the surface and cause only minor vibrations as they cut through the soil and rock in their path. If you are living near the tunnel route, you’ll be given plenty of notice and information before the tunnels are bored, but most people will not notice when the boring machines are close by.

Where are the TBMs now? 


Arrive in Henderson

Start at Forrestfield

Finish at Bayswater


Mid-May 2017

July 2017

April 2019


Mid-July 2017

September 2017

June 2019

Estimated tunnelling timeframes (subject to change).



The diameter of each tunnel


The weight of the TBMs