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Undercover operation on Crossrail's Whitchapel tunnels

With a building to cover the Whitechapel shaft the only clue about the Crossrail work underway there are the lorries taking material to and from the site.

Work on the Crossrail station tunnels at Whitechapel are well progressed but pedestrians walking along Whitechapel High Street could be forgiven for missing the major work that is taking place under their feet. The main focus of the construction is sandwiched between a multi storey supermarket car park, school and apartments and, with a building covering the site, there are very few visual clues to the hive of activity underway.

The work at Whitechapel is part of contract C510 and involves construction of the stations, platform tunnels and concourse escalator shafts for the stations here and at Liverpool Street. According to the site team, the work is technically challenging as it is all sprayed concrete lining (SCL) and it is more advanced in terms of the volume of SCL undertaken than other Crossrail contracts.

Tunnel construction at Whitechapel is well advanced

Tunnel construction at Whitechapel is well advanced

The work is being carried out by BBMV joint venture which is a five way agreement between Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall, BeMo Tunnelling and Vinci Construction. Bachy Soletanche was brought on board as a sub contractor to undertake the compensation grouting elements of the work.

The C510 site team is working close to the site teams of C511 and C512 here and the C510 work is being undertaken and accessed via a temporary shaft that is adjacent to the permanent shaft in order to keep work flowing. The permanent shaft has been built under C511 and will be excavated under C512.

“The temporary shaft is covered with an acoustic shed to manage the noise levels and allow us to continue operating 24 hours a day over three shifts,” says BBMV C510 project director Nigel Russell.

The shaft is 12.5m in diameter and 30m deep with two openings at the base.

Ground movement is a concern at Whitechapel and the solution to prevent the Crossrail project adversely impacting on the area calls for a range of techniques. “We have 80 surveyors working on the contract and automated monitoring systems from Soldata,” says Russell.

Jacks have been placed under the Sainsbury’s supermarket car park so that the level can be maintained as tunnelling progresses.

Compensation grouting is also being undertaken for another three buildings close to the site and is being carried out from a shaft between the temporary C510 access shaft and the permanent shaft at Whitechapel. There are 60 tubes a manchette (TAMs) in place at 16m below ground level which extend radially from the shaft over distances of up to 63m.

“Grouting was undertaken before the tunnelling started to ‘tighten’ the ground and then grout is pushed into the TAMS in accordance with the predicted settlement as tunnelling progresses,” says Russell.

However, there are a number of sensitive structures that could not be stabilised using compensation grouting techniques. “The tunnels pass under a block of flats called Kempton Court which is supported on piles and the tunnel construction will actually cut the bottom 2m off the piles,” says Russell. “The piles were designed on friction rather than end bearing and the cut
off point is below the
reinforcement level.

“The other structure that is sensitive to the work is the school where we have already carried out minipiling work and covered the large windows with film just in case the settlement causes them to crack.”

Excavation of the platform tunnels has been completed and work is now underway on the adits that will connect them.

The primary SCL lining is already in place where excavation has been completed and work is now progressing on the secondary lining which in most places is another layer of SCL but in some higher stress sites, the secondary lining will be cast insitu.

“Excavation of the tunnels is being carried out using a 4 to 6m diameter pilot tunnel with 1m advances and a sloping excavation face,” says Balfour Beatty tunnelling director Paul Hoyland. “This is the safest approach and also helps to reduce settlement. The pilot tunnel is then enlarged after the primary lining is in place in order to minimise the size of the unprotected face.”

The enlargement is undertaken in two stages with the crown excavation done first followed by the invert excavation.

The excavation is being undertaken by a Terex Schaff 312 with a central conveyor in the smaller diameter tunnels but in the larger tunnels a Liebherr 944 excavator with dumpers working alongside is being used.

“We are also probing ahead of excavation as we are very close to the bottom of the London Clay at Whitechapel and it is possible that the excavation will encounter the granular, sandy bed of the Lambeth Group.

“The Lambeth Group is likely to contain some water which is under pressure so we are installing depressurisation pipes as the excavation progresses.”

All the tunnels on C510 involve spreayed concrete lining work

All the tunnels on C510 involve spreayed concrete lining work

The SCL mix for both the primary and secondary linings is essentially the same mix with steel fibre reinforcement but the secondary layer also has polypropylene for fire retardancy. The SCL is produced on site to ensure there are no delays to the operation. The mix is an upper J2 which has been designed to have a rapid strength gain but the team are using retarders to give the material a life of three to four hours. The design aimed to give strengths of 30N but Hoyland said that the strength was generally around 60N.

Uphill excavator

The excavation and shotcrete profile is being controlled by a laser total station system.The primary lining is around 75mm in thickness, whereas the secondary lining is 150mm and up to 600mm thick in areas where there are openings, such as close to the cross passages.

The work on the platform tunnels and crossovers is well progressed but the BBMV site team literally have a new uphill challenge yet to deal with – excavating the escalator shafts from tunnel level upwards. “An uphill excavator is being manufactured for the work and we think it is the first time such a machine has been used in the UK,” says Hoyland. “The GTA machine uses the principles applied in the mining sector and will hang from the crown of the tunnel.”

As well as having excavating capabilities, the machine is also fitted with an SCL sprayer and will be used to excavate three escalator shafts at Whitechapel.

The tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will arrive at Whitechapel, having travelled from Stepney Green first before progressing on towards Liverpool Street. The TBMs are expected to arrive in June next year so the pressure is on to ensure the tunnels are completed before then to avoid having to remobilise to the site for anything other than minor elements of the work.

“We won’t have access to the site for 12 to 18 months once the TBMs arrive but we should only have some finishing off to complete rather than major construction tasks,” says Hoyland.

Circus Act

The other shaft on C510 is located in Finsbury Circus

The other shaft on C510 is located in Finsbury Circus

At the Liverpool Street end of the C510 project, the team is working from Finsbury Circus where the central garden area has been taken over for the construction work.

“We don’t have a lot of residents around that area but there are a lot of high profile businesses and there isn’t much storage space so it is a challenging site to work on,” said Russell. “There is also a complicated interface between our works and the central line, district and circle line, northern line and post office tunnels.”

Within the centre of Finsbrury Circus, the 12.5m diameter Finsbury shaft takes the construction team to Crossrail tunnel levels 40m below ground.

The shaft was formed using caissons through the gravels and then using SCL techniques the shaft ‘bells’ out bottom to create additional construction space but rest of the main shaft was formed using a cast insitu slipformed concrete lining with Cordek polystyrene formers used to create “eyes” through which the four adits have been constructed.

“The work at Liverpool Street is well progressed,” says Russell. “The concourse tunnel is progressing well and pilot tunnels for the platforms are underway and are being driven from four fronts.”

Two tunnels have also been driven at a higher level for the compensation grouting work to support the ground above and these have reached the halfway stage. They will be 40m long and 100 tubes a manchette will be driven through the London Clay to radiate horizontally from the tunnel.

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