In the deep dark depths of Vancouver, a major breakthrough is underway.
Last night, a massive tunnel boring machine named “Elsie” broke through metres of dirt at the future Mount Pleasant Station for the Millennium Line SkyTrain extension, also known as the Broadway Subway Project.
Video from crews allows a first look at the historic moment, and it’s a sight to see, with a sea of hardhats taking pictures to capture the massive machine breaking through a dirt wall more than six metres wide.
Teams had drilled steel pipes above the spot (called an umbrella) to “redistribute the weight of the ground above the tunnel to either side of its entrance” before Elsie forced through.
The crowd cheers, and there’s some hugging, before a big photo opp to honour the achievement.
“Last night around 8 pm, Elsie the #TunnelBoringMachine had her first breakthrough at the future Mount Pleasant Station! 🎉🎉” the Broadway Subway Project said online.
“The machine will now undergo maintenance and be propelled through the pre-excavated station before continuing to Broadway-City Hall Station,” the Facebook post reads.
The machine will be excavating the eastbound tunnel which will eventually serve five brand-new stations in Vancouver: Main Street (Mount Pleasant Station), Cambie Street (Broadway-City Hall Station), Laurel Street (VGH-Oak Station), Granville Street (South Granville Station), and Arbutus Street (Arbutus Station).
It can travel at a pace of about 18 metres per day and needs eight to 12 staff on hand around the clock.
The name Elsie comes from a prominent British Columbian, Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill, who was the first female aeronautical engineer and professional aircraft designer in the world.
She also contributed many innovations in aircraft design, including the skis and de-icing for the first successful winterization of a high-speed aircraft.
A second machine, named “Phyllis” began excavating at the end of November and is slated to arrive at the Mount Pleasant station in the spring, and will create the tunnel for the westbound direction trains to pass through.
The machine is named after Phyllis Munday, founder of both the Girl Guides in BC and the first St. John Ambulance Brigade in North Vancouver. She was also known for her volunteering and mountaineering.
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If the project stays on schedule it’s expected each machine will reach the intersection of Cypress Street and West Broadway — the site of a track switch just east of the future Arbutus Station in about a year.
The entire project is set to be open for travellers to use in 2026 at a cost of $2.83 billion to complete.
“On other parts of the project, the 21 columns for the guideway between VCC-Clark Station and the future Great Northern Way-Emily Carr Station are nearing completion. Installation of girders for the track will begin this spring. Excavation and construction of the station foundations continue at the Broadway-City Hall, Oak-VGH, South Granville and Arbutus station sites in preparation for TBM arrivals,” the Ministry of Transportation said in a release Tuesday.
With files from Kenneth Chan