A 3.2 km offshoot of the London Underground’s Northern Line from Battersea Power Station to Kennington was completed in September 2021, thanks to the round-the-clock efforts of two huge tunnel boring machines (TBMs). They were given the names Amy and Helen after the aviation pioneer Amy Johnson and the first British astronaut, Helen Sharman. Amy knew that some of the TBMs used elsewhere had simply been driven off-track into a dead-end of their own making when their work had been finished, and she worried that this might happen to her and Helen. So, as she tunnelled her way towards Kennington, she hatched a survival plan, just in case…
Amy and her ‘crew’ after breaking through at Kennigton
“If you think your life is boring, it can’t compete with mine:
I’m down here carving tunnels to extend the Northern line,
And it’s boring, boring, boring every hour of the day.
There is no going back – this trip is just one-way.
I have a sister, Helen, who has suffered the same fate;
She is boring next to me at a very similar rate.
“My owners called me Amy, after Amy Johnson, who
In the early 1900s, took to the skies and flew
Distances so lengthy that I cannot comprehend.
But, sad to say, her exploits met a very sticky end:
In Herne Bay’s wintry waters, poor Amy’s plane was downed
And, despite attempts to rescue her, the aviator drowned.
“Her body’s not recovered – will her fate now be mine?
Will I be left, with Helen, in the extended Northern Line,
In London Clay entombed, with no blue memorial plaque?
If that’s the case, we’ll show them how we TBMs strike back:
With strategies and tactics we will plan out finest hour,
And bide our time, absorbing geothermal power.
“When fully charged, we’ll come to life and once more start to bore
With new-found energy and drive, more eager than before,
We’ll tunnel through the clay, oh how we’ll dig and cut and scrape,
And so, to everyone’s surprise, make good our Great Escape!
We’ll be in all the papers, social media and TV,
And best of all, we TBMs will once again be free!”
(In fact her future’s brighter and rather more benign,
For plans had been made to take her apart at the end of the Northern Line.
Her cutter head would be removed and lifted out by crane,
While all her other body parts would travel back again
Along the very tunnel that she and Helen bored
And lifted out at Battersea – their tunnelling reward!)