As we sat in the car on that cold winter night, watching the cranes lower tunnel sections into the brilliantly lit pit below, and the yellow clad workers scurrying around, we knew tonight was not the night. Nor was the next. With deadlines to meet and extra time being expensive, these guys were at it 24/7. But eventually one night the lights were on, and for the most part, nobody was home.
It's not often you get to combine drains and trains, but in this case we could. So the trains are of the minature sort, but still - trains in drains, you can't get better than that! Well, maybe you can, because there's a TBM somewhere down there too. In this case its job was to burrow 1.2km of new storm drain, which at the time of writing is almost complete.
*CRUNCH*. We eyed the multi-storey portacabins and its associated domes. The snow earlier in the week combined with the below freezing temperatures resulted in the less ideal situation where the site was covered in what can only be described as very noisy and slippery security snow. Like a scene from Metal Gear Solid, we went across the ice from cover to cover until we reached the pit edge. Solid Snake performance this was not though. But it didn't matter - it's only a building site after all, the noise of the generators and ventilation system would have masked the sound of twenty Genome soliders tromping through. We hopped over the edge and rattled down the scaffold staircase, ignoring what was in the pit and heading straight for the cover of the tunnel, which could only be described to the entrance to Christmas Hell, with a railway running into it.
*SQUELCH*. Lesson learned. Always take the waders. Somewhere along the line an assumption was made that given that this is a drain under construction, there wouldn't be any water in it, so normal boots would do fine. Sure enough there was no water flowing, but was it dry? No. The tunnel floor was covered in thick grey gloop. Some progress was made by walking on the rails, but the slippery mud and metal combination meant that eventually I just gave up. Once both feet had plunged deep into the gloop there was just simply no point in trying to avoid it. We trudged on up the warm and humid tunnel, glad of the fresh air blowing from the odd gap in the ventilation pipe overhead. A stark contrast to the bitter air on the surface. Eventually the lighting stopped, the ventilation pipe funnelled into a smaller one and a conveyor appeared overhead. The TBM at last!
Having never seen one in the flesh before, I was not disappointed. Mollie may only be a mini boring machine but she was still an impressive piece of engineering to find at the end of a concrete tube. Inside the machine it was even warmer and more humid than the tunnel was. I could only imagine what incredible heat and noise must be generated when it is running.
Back to the gloop and back to the pit. The workers used the mini trains to transport themselves of course, and so didn't have such gloop related issues. As well as for transporting workers, by far the most important role of the mini railway is to cart out the tonnes of spoil that's kicked out the arse of Mollie as she burrows her way into the earth. It's also used to transport the concrete sections to the rear of the TBM where they're assembled to construct the tunnel.
I decided to suppress the thoughts about driving one of the trains back up the tunnel.