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Eye's wide open in time for Millennium


Late last Friday, Tim Renwick, the MACE project director for the London Eye Millennium Wheel felt more relaxed about the second attempt to lift the giant 1600 tonne structure. 'We finished the 110% load test which is where the anchor plates failed last time,' he said, showing no outward signs of relief.

With new redesigned plates holding temporary lift cables to the wheel rim, the test went 'without a murmur'. The action started for real a few hours later on Saturday morning when tension on the newly redesigned stabilisation system was released and the main wheel lift began.

Imperceptibly the far rim began to rise at around 340mm every five minutes. Lift contractor Mammoet, working for Dutch main design and construct contractor Hollandia brought it to 30 degrees from the horizontal by darkness with just two stops for checks.

A lifting procedure rethink by the project team during the four week enforced delay meant the lift was now a two-stage operation to allow the stabilisation system - the arrangement of cables and winches preventing the structure rotating during the lift - to be modified half way.

Renwick said that repositioning these guys gave more control during the second lift phase. Work was completed overnight and the wheel was lifted another 35 degrees with two stops on Sunday. The lift finished at 7pm, leaving Renwick declaring the 140m high wheel looked 'just awesome' in the floodlights.

With the wheel in place, the anchor cables holding its A-frame permanently at 65 degrees were stressed and locked earlier this week. Restraint towers carrying the rim-bearing drive units are now being installed before the hub is swung to the vertical this weekend.

Pre-assembly of these units continued while the wheel lift was re-thought over the last four weeks (NCE 16 September 1999). However, to rotate the wheel to the horizontal the inner units must first be dropped to give clearance and re-mounted once the wheel is in its final position.

Renwick said that despite a very tight programme, the weekend's success meant the 31 December opening date could still be hit. He pointed out that it was vital for work over the next couple of weeks to go smoothly to allow the first gondola, currently in storage at Dartford, to be installed at the start of November.

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