Silvertown Tunnel tunnelling work
The tunnelling machine reached the Greenwich chamber on February 15

The first bore of the Silvertown Tunnel has been dug – but construction of the controversial new route is slipping further behind schedule.

Riverlinx, the company which is building and will operate the controversial road tunnel on behalf of Transport for London, said the milestone had been reached on February 15, five and a half months after tunnelling began.

The tunnelling machine, named Jill after London’s first female bus driver, is now in a rotation chamber – a large hole in the ground – off Millennium Way on the Greenwich Peninsula. It will be dismantled, turned around and reassembled so it can head north and dig the second bore.

When work began TfL predicted that the tunnel would open in early 2025. Earlier year that date was changed to the following April. Now the completion date has now been pushed back to June 2025, according to documents published this week. TfL blames “shortages of skilled labour and supply of construction materials”.

A102 evening traffic jam at Woolwich Road flyover
The tunnel will funnel traffic into this evening rush hour queue in Greenwich Credit: The Greenwich Wire

TfL is also £13 million over its £173 million budget for construction, which it is blaming on inflation. The bulk of the tunnel’s £2 billion-plus costs will be met by Riverlinx, which will be paid back by tolls on both the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels.

Campaigners against the tunnel, who say it will increase congestion and pollution and is incompatible with climate change commitments, have called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to stop work after the first bore to consider ideas such as using it for a tram or Docklands Light Railway extension.

Both Greenwich Council leader Anthony Okereke and his counterpart in Newham, Rohksana Fiaz, have criticised the road project, with Fiaz calling it “madness”.

But Khan has dismissed opponents as a “vocal minority” and insisted that the tunnel, from the peninsula to the Royal Docks, is needed to combat persistent northbound queues at the 126-year-old Blackwall Tunnel. The new road will have a dedicated lane for HGVs and buses, but will not permit cycling or walking.

TfL has continued to describe the scheme as a “public-transport focused” tunnel, but only two bus routes are set to use the crossing from its opening date.

Silvertown Tunnel rotation chamber
Workers are now preparing to dig the second tunnel

Riverlinx says work on the second bore will be finished by the end of the summer. Work will soon begin on a new footbridge across the A102 just south of the Blackwall Tunnel. This will allow for the construction of a flyover which will take southbound Blackwall traffic over the entrance to the new tunnel.

Helen Wright, the Silvertown Tunnel project director for TfL, said: “The completion of the first bore of the Silvertown Tunnel is a huge milestone for the project. Work is now under way to rotate the tunnel boring machine within the rotation chamber, which is an innovative and complex process, so tunnelling the second bore can begin in the coming weeks.

“We are committed to working hard to ensure that this project is delivered with minimal impact to those living, working and visiting the local area and have extensive monitoring in place to ensure that this continues to be the case during and after construction.”

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