mark mcgowan grace mcphee
Premier Mark McGowan with Grace McPhee and TBM Grace in 2017. Image – Facebook.
  • Micro machine will be used near the Ranford Road Bridge as part of the Thornlie-Cockburn Link
  • A similar competition was held in 2017; one machine was named Grace, other Sandy
  • As Saint Barbara is the patron saint of underground workers, such machines are traditionally given female names

A ‘creative’ new name for a micro tunnel boring machine (TBM) is being sought by the Western Australian government.

The TBM will be used to drill under the freight rail corridor near Ranford Road Bridge, which falls under the Thornlie-Cockburn Link project as part of the METRONET project.

The major transport, rail and land use project (METRONET) was a key election promise from the newly-reelected McGowan Labor government. It includes 72 kilometres of new passenger rail and up to 18 new stations, encompassing a rail link from the Perth airport to Forrestfield in the south-east and an extension to Yanchep in the north, among other projects.


The boring machine is 3.5 metres long and weighs 27 tonnes, with work expected to take place next month and September. It will be operated by Australian-based tunnel-boring specialist Rob Carr.

Previously, a similar competition was held in 2017 when school students throughout the state were given the opportunity to name two boring machines that were used to drill twin 8 kilometres from Bayswater to Perth Airport.

One of these was named Sandy – after the sandgroper insect, known for tunnelling – while the other was named Grace.

Grace McPhee, a student of Edney Primary School, was nominated by her classmates for her bravery while undergoing leukaemia treatment, arguing she was the toughest person they knew – a toughness that such a machine would need to drill the tunnels.

Traditionally, TBMs are given female names due to Saint Barbara’s status as the patron saint of underground workers.

“We received more than 100 entries during the TBM-naming competition in 2017 and, with another tunnelling job to start on the METRONET Thornlie-Cockburn Link, it’s a great opportunity for a new naming competition,” said Transport Minister, Rita Saffioti.

“Western Australians have a strong track record for coming up with many creative, locally-inspired suggestions during similar competitions in the past and I’m excited to see what they can come up with this time.”

Rita Staffioti, Minister for Transport

However, not all such public competitions are decided by popular vote.

In 2016, the Natural Environment Research Council in the UK announced a competition to name their research vessel.

7,034 suggestions were made; the five with the most votes were:

  • Boaty McBoatface – 33.16%
  • Poppy-Mai – 10.66%
  • Henry Worsley – 2.95% (a British antarctic explorer who died in 2016 while attempting to become the first person to cross Antarctica on foot unassisted and unsupported)
  • David Attenborough – 2.95%
  • It’s Bloody Cold Here – 2.85%

Despite Boaty McBoatface garnering more than a third of the votes, the UK government decided to name the vessel after Sir David, although one of the remotely controlled submersibles was named Boaty McBoatface.

Over in Sydney earlier this year, construction firm Hansen Yuncken held a competition to name a crane working near a primary school, as part of their community engagement campaign.

The winning entry came from 11-year-old Conor, with ‘Sir Liftalot‘.

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