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Completion of Wirth's first two very large soft ground TBMs coincides with an important company landmark for managing director and majority shareholder Niko Kleuters. In mid June Wirth became a totally independent and independently financially backed company once again.

Wirth's history of heavy manufacturing for drilling and mining equipment at Erkelenz in the Rhineland stretches back to 1895. But a take-over in the late 1980s by the Howden Group, which in turn was subject of a hostile takeover by the Charter Group in 1997, left a huge question mark over Wirth's future.

On acquisition, Charter had immediately put the company up for sale. But there were no takers.

'We (the Wirth management) got the chance in 1999, ' recalls Kleuters with enthusiasm. Against the background of a threatened liquidation he and his colleagues bought the company from Charter Group in March 1999, literally signing at midnight on the last day of the offer. The buyout included a financial guarantee from Charter for 39 months. That guarantee ran out last month (June) and has been successfully replaced by other backing negotiated by the management team.

Independence for Wirth means that all the, few, major tunnelling machinery manufacturers worldwide outside Japan are now in private hands.

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