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TBM Design for Long Distance Tunnels: How to keep Hard Rock TBMs boring for 15 km or more

Today’s Tunnel Boring Machines are often required to bore longer tunnels in harder rock at a faster pace—a trio of challenges that can be daunting for any contractor. With proper design, operation, and maintenance, however, modern TBMs are very capable of reaching their 10,000-hour design life or more. TBMs in the industry today have already accomplished the feats of boring upwards of 50 km on multiple tunnels over decades, and of completing single TBM drives totaling 27 km. With new capabilities, even greater feats may be possible.

From abrasive rock to fault zones to water inflows, geologic challenges become more common as tunnel lengths increase. In rock tunnels over 15 km long, a host of challenges may meet a TBM, requiring a versatile design. General wear and tear is an issue on machines boring long stretches of tunnel, and thus minimization of downtime is key. In order to counteract these challenges, a number of design features can be added during the manufacturing process, and these, combined with regular maintenance and well-designed logistics during tunneling, can result in TBMs lasting for the tunnel length and possibly over multiple projects.


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