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Thames Water's Lee Tunnel Project, East London, United Kingdom




Key Data


East London

The Lee Tunnel project is the first of the two tunnelling projects being undertaken as part of the Thames Water London Tideway Improvements scheme. The second is the Thames Tunnel. The scheme aims at presenting a cleaner River Thames by 2020.

The four-mile (6.4km) Lee Tunnel runs underwater and underground through East London, from the Abbey Mills Pumping Station in Stratford to the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works (STW) in Newham.

It will carry sewage from London's largest combined sewer overflow (CSO) at Abbey Mills station to Becton STW. The CSO at Abbey Mills receives 40% of the sewage discharge in London.

Construction of the Lee Tunnel project began with the diaphragm walls at Beckton Overflow Shaft site in September 2010. Work on the actual tunnel began in February 2012. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2015.

The tunnel has won the Greatest Contribution to London and Infrastructure Award.

Purpose of Thames Water's London Tideway Improvements

London manages its wastewater through a network of 50 CSOs. The CSOs discharge sewage and rainwater overflows into the River Thames and its tributary River Lee.

"It will carry sewage from London's largest combined sewer overflow (CSO) at Abbey Mills station to Becton STW."

The 150-year-old stormwater and sewer network has now become inadequate to handle the excessive flow of water. The discharges also exceed the permissible limits set by the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD).

Thames Water has embarked on the London Tideway Improvements project to comply with the UWWTD and put in place a better mechanism to discharge wastewater. Under the project, five sewage treatment works (Mogden, Crossness, Beckton, Long Reach and Riverside) are being upgraded in addition to constructing the two tunnels.

Beckton Sewage Treatment Works is being expanded by 60% to handle the sewage that will be carried by the Lee Tunnel. Lee Tunnel, which will reduce the water discharge into the River Lee by 16 million tons a year. The Thames and the Lee tunnels will together capture 39mt of sewage every year from 35 CSOs.

Components of the four-mile long Lee Tunnel

The tunnel is 6.9km long and has a diameter of 7.2m. The tunnel project includes four shafts: three located at Beckton STW and one at Abbey Mills. The three shafts located at Beckton STW are Beckton Overflow Shaft, Beckton Connection Shaft and Beckton Pumping Station Shaft.

"The tunnel has won the Greatest Contribution to London and Infrastructure Award."

Beckton Overflow Shaft will directly connect to a new outfall channel at the River Thames. The Beckton Connection Shaft will carry the water to a suction tunnel between the connection shaft and the pumping station shaft.

The pumping station shaft will have six three megawatt pumps to transfer the sewage for treatment at Beckton STW.

The Abbey Mills Connection Shaft will transfer sewage flows from two pumping stations (A and F) to the main tunnel. The new outfall channel, to be constructed on the top of the overflow shaft, will help in directing discharge of water during heavy storms.

Other major components of the project include surface infrastructure, a new power supply complex at Beckton STW and new surface culverts and sewerage flow connections at Abbey Mills Pumping Station complex.

Construction of shafts and use of TBM Busy Lizzie

The tunnel and the shafts will be double-lined for water tightness. The primary lining will be 350mm thick, with fibre reinforced precast concrete segments. The secondary lining will be 300mm thick fibre reinforced concrete cast. The primary walls of the shafts will be of reinforced concrete.

"Thames Water has embarked on the London Tideway Improvements project to comply with the UWWTD."

Works at Beckton began in September 2010, and those at Abbey Mills a year later. TBM Busy Lizzie was custom-built to suit the construction condition. It is 120m in length and at 8.88m in diameter. The largest part of the machine is the seven metre-diameter cutterhead.

The machine was transported from Germany by barge along the River Rhine to Rotterdam, and then across the North Sea to Tilbury. It was carried to the site in 60 lorry loads.

Busy Lizzie was lowered at 80m depth in December 2011. The machine mixes 100t of excavated chalk with water for every one metre of tunnel dug. The slurry is transported to a pipe for being treated above ground. The tunnel will be dug at 17m a day.

Busy Lizzie commenced drilling of the tunnel in February 2012. It is expected to reach the connection shaft in November 2012.

Excavation of the last two shafts, Beckton pumping station and Abbey Mills, was completed in September 2012. The TBM will be lowered into the shafts in 2014.

Key players involved with London's Lee Tunnel project

CH2M HILL is the programme manager for the project.

The construction contract for the tunnel was awarded to MVB, a consortium of Morgan Sindall, VINCI Construction and Bachy Soletanche, in January 2010.

MVB sub-contracted the shaft civil engineering, hydraulic engineering and mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, controls (MEICA) engineering to Mott MacDonald, tunnels and surface structures engineering to Underground Professional Service (UnPS) and shaft diaphragm walls engineering to Bachy Soletanche.

The TBM was supplied by Germany-based Herrenknecht. KSB will supply four 52t wastewater pumps for the project.


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The Lee Tunnel runs underwater through east London.
The Abbey Mills Pumping Station complex.
The Beckton Sewage Treatment Works plant.