Getting on with the job: $1.15 billion Tunnelling Contract on North West Rail Link

Four huge tunnel boring machines will call Sydney’s North West home from next year after the NSW Government awarded a $1.15 billion…

Four huge tunnel boring machines will call Sydney’s North West home from next year after the NSW Government awarded a $1.15 billion contract to build the North West Rail Link’s 15km twin tunnels, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian announced today

The Thiess John Holland Dragados joint venture has been awarded the contract, with work starting immediately to get the first tunnel boring machine (TBM) in the ground by the end of next year.

Mr O’Farrell, Ms Berejiklian and local MPs today gathered at the site of the new Bella Vista station – one of three major tunnelling work sites – to mark the official start of the tunnelling contract.

“The people of the North West have waited far too long for this historic day – now it’s all hands on deck as we deliver Australia’s biggest public transport infrastructure project,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“The NSW Government is getting on with the job of delivering the $8.3 billion North West Rail Link – and I’m pleased to confirm this project is on track and on schedule.

“We have now passed the point of no return, the first major contract has been awarded and the Western Sydney community can rest assured the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government will deliver this critical public transport infrastructure project.”

Ms Berejiklian said a lot of hard work had occurred over the past two years to get to this point.

“It’s now full steam ahead on the North West Rail Link,” she said.

“The awarding of this contract also heralds the beginning of a new high capacity rapid transit network for Sydney which will eventually include a new line through the CBD and beyond.”

The contract involves:

  • Four “double-shield, hard rock, gripper” TBMs to build the 15km twin tunnels from Bella Vista to Epping;
  • Excavation and civil works for five new stations at Cherrybrook, Castle Hill, Showground, Norwest and Bella Vista;
  • The first TBM will be in the ground by the end of next year, with the remainder to follow soon after; and,
  • Completion of the tunnel contract expected in the first half of 2017.

It is a major task to establish the construction sites in preparation for the arrival of the TBMs and this work, including major excavation work, will begin now.

The NSW Government announced last week the North West Rail Link budget has been set at $8.3 billion and the line will open by the end of 2019.

Once the tunnelling contract is complete in 2017, work will continue along the 36km length of the project to lay tracks, fit out stations and deliver Sydney’s new generation rapid transit trains.

Due to the massive scale of the North West Rail Link project and its unique three-contract structure, the final tunnelling contract value may vary due to ongoing fine-tuning and optimisation involving the two other major contracts, for which tenders have yet to be received.

For example, the North West Rail Link project team is finalising smaller aspects of the project which could see the scope of the tunnelling contract change to include additional elements like pedestrian underpasses at Norwest and Castle Hill stations.

Any changes would be covered in the total $8.3 billion total budgeted cost of the project.

The tunnelling contract is the first of three major contracts on the North West Rail Link to be awarded:

  • The skytrain and surface construction contract is out to tender and is expected to be awarded before the end of this year; and
  • Formal tender documents have been issued to the two shortlisted consortia competing to operate the North West Rail Link, with the contract expected to be awarded before the end of 2014. This contract will be a Public Private Partnership, subject to value for money criteria being met.

Tunneling Contract Fact Sheet

Building twin 15km tunnels between Bella Vista and Epping – Australia’s longest rail tunnels.

Contract also includes excavation and civil works for five new stations at Cherrybrook, Castle Hill, Showground, Norwest and Bella Vista, and two service facilities.

Two TBMs will be launched from the site of the new Bella Vista station and will dig to Cherrybrook. When the machines reach Showground, some of the tunnelling support infrastructure will be relocated there from Bella Vista so the machines can continue.

Two more TBMs will be launched from the new Cherrybrook station and will travel to Epping.

Once the TBMs are launched they will operate around the clock deep underground, other than when they stop for planned maintenance.

The TBMS will be made by world-leading suppliers and are specially-manufactured to meet the design specifications of the North West Rail Link. Each TBM requires a team of 15 people during excavation.

Roadheader tunnelling machines will be used to build a short section of tunnel linking the TBM tunnels to the existing Epping to Chatswood tunnels as well as a cavern to allow trains to cross from one line to another.

Excavating the tunnels with double-shield TBMs allows the permanent concrete tunnel lining to be installed immediately as the machine advances.

About the joint venture


Founded by the Thiess brothers almost 80 years ago, Thiess has a long list of major tunnelling achievements including Epping to Chatswood rail tunnels, Lane Cove, Eastlink in Melbourne and AirportlinkM7 in Brisbane.

John Holland

A world-renowned tunnelling and rail contractor and 2012 International Tunnelling Contractor of the Year, John Holland has delivered Lane Cove, Eastlink and AirportlinkM7, and is working on tunnelling projects to augment the Hong Kong and Singapore transport networks.


Dragados, based in Spain, has delivered more than 1,200km of tunnels across the world including the 21km CrossRail Eastern Running Tunnels in London and the Manhattan Tunnels and Manhattan Structures for the East Side Access project in New York.

Tunnelling Contract Fact Sheet (pdf 197KB)

Tunnel boring machines infographic (below) click to see bigger image (JPG 400KB)

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