A FERTILIZER company has unveiled the first of its impressive machines that will construct an underground tunnel between Whitby and Teesside.

Sirius Minerals is currently developing its new multi-billion pound polyhalite fertilizer mine near Whitby.

As part of the operation, minerals will be transported underground via a tunnel constructed by 1,800 tonne tunnel boring machines (TBM).

The 225-metre-long machine is undergoing final checks in Germany before being shipped to Teesside in the coming weeks, where it will be reassembled.

It will start tunnelling in the second quarter of this year and schoolchildren across Redcar and Cleveland have been given the opportunity to enter a competition to name the first machine.

The TBM will be operated by construction firm Strabag, who also worked on the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Swiss Alps.

Initial excavations have already begun to prepare for the machine’s arrival and Chris Fraser, managing director and CEO of Sirius, said: “The assembly of our first tunnel boring machine represents an exciting milestone for the company and the region.

"With around 1,000 people currently employed across all of our sites, the team working to make this project a success continues to grow as we deliver this world class project.

"We expect to create hundreds more skilled construction roles in the coming months to help build our mineshafts, tunnel and mineral handling facility.”

The machine will bore the first of three planned tunnel drives which will make up the 23-mile tunnel from the new underground mine near Whitby, to a processing facility on Wilton International in Redcar.

Two other machines are planned to be launched in 2020 from Whitby and Lockwood Beck, near Guisborough.

These will complete the final 15-miles of the six-metre diameter tunnel.

Workers will operate the TBM 24 hours a day, seven days a week, lining the tunnel with concrete segments as it goes.

When complete, the tunnel will transport up to 20million tonnes a year of polyhalite ore on a conveyor belt.

A tunnel was chosen as the transport solution to avoid negatively impacting the local landscape and will have no impact on the ground above, sitting at an average of 250-metres below ground level.

Sirius expect to reach the polyhalite seam in 2021 and to be producing 10million tonnes of fertiliser per annum by 2024, bringing about around 1,000 new long-term operational jobs.