Saint Barbara: Mining tradition plays role in ultra-modern Kiwi rail project

A mining tradition hundreds of years old was observed at dawn when a statue of St Barbara, the patron saint of miners, was blessed and placed in a small shrine near the tunnel entrance at the City Rail Link Mt Eden site.

“We are a very modern project, but the old traditions remain important – welcoming St Barbara is a significant event for the team that will mine the tunnels,” says Francois Dudouit, project director for CRL’s Link Alliance.

“Ceremonies like this have been repeated all over the world for centuries wherever people go to work underground. St Barbara is their guardian, and her presence gives assurance that they will be safe below ground.”

The blessing, observed by Link Alliance workers kitted out in hard hats and protective clothing for the start of their day’s shift, is one that usually precedes the start of any new tunnelling or mining project (a statue of St Barbara also protects workers building the Karangahape underground station).

Work will start shortly mining the first 50 metres of tunnel at Mt Eden to accommodate the project’s big Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) for the start of its work to excavate the tunnel all the way to the new Aotea underground station in central Auckland.

The TBM – to be named after Māori activist Dame Whina Cooper – is being reassembled at Mt Eden after it arrived from a factory in China last month.

The Link Alliance – the group of New Zealand and international companies building the substantive tunnels and stations contract for CRL Ltd – will use the TBM to excavate two 1.6-kilometre-long tunnels from Mt Eden to link with the tunnels already dug from Britomart Station. Dame Whina Cooper is due to start the first of two excavations for New Zealand’s biggest transport infrastructure project next April.

Meanwhile, planning continues for a public open day at Mt Eden this Sunday (December 6) to give Aucklanders a chance to meet the TBM. 

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to welcome people to see the TBM, but we first need to be sure that we can safely accommodate large numbers particularly while Auckland and the rest of New Zealand continues to manage the Covid-19 risk,” Dudouit says.