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Tunnel boring for the world's largest baggage system is underway at Heathrow

Construction of the world’s largest integrated baggage handling system is underway, with the start of work on a 2km tunnel under Heathrow Airport.

The £260M tunnel will link the airport’s terminals, enabling Heathrow to handle 110M bags annually by 2012.

A £3.3M tunnel boring machine (TBM) is working close to existing tunnels including rail links and fuel lines. The new tunnel will connect Terminals 3 and 5, eventually linking into the existing baggage tunnel network at a building to be constructed airside.

Laser alignment technology is being used to ensure the TBM remains precisely on course, while extensive monitoring is undertaken to ensure that there is no impact on other tunnels or the airfield. The TBM is boring at a rate of 15m a day, creating a 5.6m diameter tunnel which is being lined with 1,800 prefabricated concrete segments. Over five months 148,000t of earth will excavated. 

“The TBM recently bored within metres of the Piccadilly Line,” said BAA baggage and flight connections project director Dr Chris Millard. “Careful planning and real-time monitoring of the rail track was undertaken throughout, however ground movement was negligible and the Piccadilly Line service was not affected. I am delighted with the team’s progress as well as their outstanding commitment to safety.”

BAA’s £900M baggage improvement plans also involve replacing Terminal 3’s baggage system and refurbishing the systems in Terminal 1 and 4. A new system will also be installed at Terminal 5C which is due to open in 2011.

When the new system is complete bags will eventually be transported using an automated system made up of carts that will travel on rails at speeds of up to 800m a minute.

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