Little Grace helps launch big drill as construction begins on airport link tunnel

Premier Mark McGowan with Grace and her mother Catherine McPhee. Picture: J Bianchini
Tunnel-boring machine Grace being lowered into the 'dive structure' ahead of tunneling.
Premier Mark McGowan with Grace and her mother Catherine McPhee. Picture: J Bianchini Tunnel-boring machine Grace being lowered into the 'dive structure' ahead of tunneling.

FIVE-year-old Grace McPhee climbed out of her hospital bed to help Premier Mark McGowan officially get drilling started for Perth’s next major tunnel and railway.

They launched the first of two 600-tonne tunnel-boring machines at High Wycombe, the site of the future Forrestfield train station and the start of the 8km underground rail link to the airport and the Midland line at Bayswater.

The 130m-long machine was named after Grace when Edney Primary School classmates nominated her because her fight against leukaemia made her the toughest person they knew.

The $1.86 billion Forrestfield-Airport link will include two tunnels and stations at Forrestfield, Perth Airport and Belmont.

The boring machines, two of only nine of their kind in the world, are designed to simultaneously bore the tunnel, remove dirt and reinforce with concrete segments.

About 54,000 locally fabricated concrete tunnel segments will be installed to form the walls of the subway throughout the project.

A tunnelling crew of 18 will oversee the boring machine operations at any one time.

That number is expected to include five overseas workers on 457 visas, the reason for a protest outside the machine launch by Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union workers.

But a State Government spokesman said the project contract was signed under the previous government and international tunnelling experts would train local employees, so WA would have a local workforce for future tunnel projects.

“It is a pleasure to mark the start of the two-year journey these machines will make under our city to deliver this brand new rail corridor,” Mr McGowan said.

“Once completed the project will provide Forrestfield passengers with a 20-minute central business district journey option, while Perth Airport users will have a direct, 18-minute journey to the central business district,” Federal Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher said.

The Public Transport Authority awarded the design, construct and 10-year maintenance contract to a Salini Impregilo-NRW Joint Venture (SI-NRW) in April 2016.

The project is jointly funded by the State ($1.37 billion) and Federal ($490 million) governments.

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