Thursday, September 22, 2011

Subway Infrastructure Milestone Achieved

Tunnel Boring Machine Arrives
at Lexington Ave/63rd Street Station

Major Milestone Reached in the Long
History of the Second Avenue Subway

At 11:28 a.m. today, September 22, 2011, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) that had been mining the east tunnel of Phase I of the Second Avenue Subway reached its final destination.

It successfully broke through a rock cavern wall -- into open air -- deep inside Manhattan's Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station.

The posting that follows chronicles today's historic event.

Update: 9/23/11
The MTA's official video of the TBM breakthough, and a selection of media pieces about the event, have been added near the end of the post.

This is a view of the solid rock wall at the eastern end of the so-called 63rd Street Stub Cavern. Built in the early 1980's as part of the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station, this cavern has one purpose: to connect to the G4 (east) tunnel of the Second Avenue subway.

When this image was taken at 10:22 a.m., the cutterhead of the TBM was still about 1-2 feet behind the rock wall.

Here, a large delegation of invited guests begins to congregate - cameras in hand.

As the TBM mines behind the rock, two workers check the rock face to ensure that all is proceeding as planned.

The machine continues to mine. . . The crew boss, on the right, communicates by radio with the operators of the TBM which is located on the other side of the wall.

At 11:23 a.m., small cracks and fissures start to appear in the wall, and rock dust begins to billow out toward the workers and guests. Viewing this gave me the impression of a long-slumbering dragon breathing out smoke as he slowly awoke.

Workers also begin to spray water on the wall in an effort to minimize the dust that is produced by the TBM's approach.

The dust continues to accumulate, settling again afterwards as the TBM pauses.

Finally, as the dust clears we have our first view of the face of the TBM -- at last!

Loud cheers break out and the assembled crowd claps in appreciation.

Second Avenue Subway TBM Hole Through (0:23)
via YouTube
This short video was shot a few minutes after the TBM broke through the wall.

Here, the machine is fully stopped. A worker (with the yellow shirt) steps forward to assess the depth of the remaining rock. He determines that the machine still has about about one foot of rock to grind through.

The workers step back and the machine is restarted in order to mine the last foot of rock. The dust builds again, as clearly can be seen in the images above and below.

The dust settles on the guests as the machine continues to thrust forward.

The cavern walls are now totally obscured by a dense cloud of dust.

A decision is made to stop the machine at this point, since it became clear that the final foot of rock would require more time to mine.

The assembled press is then brought forward to inspect the scene and to interview various MTA officials.

Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, answers a question from NY1 reporter Tina Redwine. Jay Walder, Chairman and CEO of the MTA, is standing on the far left.

An S3 Tunnel Constructors worker inspects the face of the TBM.

S3 Tunnel Constructors, a joint venture of Skanska USA Civil, Schiavone Construction, and
J.F. Shea Construction, is the contractor responsible for mining the two running tunnels, and the construction of the launch box, in Phase I of the project.

Look closely and you can see that a small trap door (at about 12 o'clock) on the face of the cutterhead has been opened.

The Sandhogs can use this door to access the face of the cutterhead. During mining operations, this door would only be opened after first stopping the machine and then backing it up about 5 feet, to create a space between the rock and the face of the TBM.


Following the press briefing, many people stood together for photos in front the TBM; I did my best to capture some of the group photos.

Here is what I really like about the group shots below -- they show just how proud all of these men and women are of today's accomplishment. These people have been part of a great achievement in underground construction, and each of them wants the event recorded for posterity.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder (center-left), MTA Capital Construction President Dr. Michael Horodniceanu (center-right) and New York City Council Member Daniel Garodnick (right).

Pat Barr and two other Sandhogs standing with Julio Martinez of S3 Tunnel Constructors.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder on the right.

MTA Capital Construction President, Dr. Michael Horodniceanu and MTA Chairman, Jay Walder.

This group from S3 Tunnel Constructors poses with MTA Capital Construction Sr. Vice President William Goodrich (3rd from the right). Goodrich has overall responsibility for the Second Avenue Subway project. An MTA project engineer is the 4th person from the left.

Three MTA engineers (vests) pose with two workers from S3 Tunnel Constructors (T-shirts).

A group of engineers from Arup and AECOM (formerly DMJM+Harris) pose with an MTA project engineer.

An assembled group of Parsons Brinckerhoff employees. Parsons Brinckerhoff is providing construction management services for Phase I of the project.

Chris Smart (a surveyor), Tom Maxwell, Anthony Del Vescovo, Mike Goldstein, Alaeden Jlelaty, Julio Martinez and Bob Hamill - all with S3 Tunnel Constructors.

Some of the original Second Avenue Subway design team from Arup and AECOM.


After the photo session, everyone was asked to leave the cavern so the machine could be restarted to complete the last bit of tunneling.

On my way out, I took these three pictures of the Lexington Ave/63rd Street station.

looking west

This is an image of the existing track on the north side of the lower level of the station. The track was laid in the early 1980's. Note that the 3rd rail has been removed.

This track extends through an inactive tunnel under Central Park that eventually leads to the 57th Street/7th Avenue station. (A diagram for this section of track can be found on this link.)

looking west

looking east

Note the active signal. This section of track was being used to store out-of-service trains between runs, until recently.

I exited the station so that I could transmit the cell phone picture that was used in the previous posting.


When I returned to the station about an hour later, I found these four Sandhogs and Julio Martinez, a Tunneling Engineer for S3 Tunnel Constructors, relaxing in the Lexington Ave/63rd Street station.

Normally, these guys are working inside the TBM. However, they are now clearly thrilled to be outside the TBM, contemplating a job well done.

Alaeden Jlelaty, Skanska's head project manager on this job and Anthony Barrett, a Sandhog with the very special title of walking boss.

Barrett, a long time Sandhog, was involved with the construction of the Lexington Ave/63rd Street station between 1979 and 1982. As a stroke of good Irish luck, today's events coincided with his birthday.

I was subsequently invited back down into the tunnel, with two other photographers, to take this group photo. Clearly, this is a very proud group of men.

The Sandhogs have a closer look at their machine and then proceed to climb back into it via the hatch (just out of view) that is now positioned at about 6 o'clock.

A Sandhog heading back to the job.

The walking boss, Anthony Barrett, is visibly pleased with today's accomplishment.

The last two Sandhogs descend back into the TBM.

The TBM will be backed up all the way to the launch box at 92nd Street and partially disassembled.

It will then be shipped back to the contractor's yard in New Jersey where it will be refurbished for its probably next assignment - an 8-mile long Combined Sewer Overflow tunnel for the city of Indianapolis, Indiana.

MTA staff photographer, Patrick Cashin, takes his final pictures.

The sign that says it all.

And so there you have it. A major milestone in the 82 year history of the Second Avenue Subway.


Update - 9/23/11

Second Avenue Subway - 9/22/2011 Update
Metropolitan Transportation Authority via YouTube

A selection of media pieces about the event:

"Second Avenue Subway Reaches "Boring" Milestone"
By Tina Redwine
Video (1:59) - NY1 - 9/22/11

"New York MTA Completes Two-Mile Tunnel for Second Avenue Subway"
By Esmé E. Deprez and Andrea Riquier
Bloomberg News - 9/22/11

"TBM breakthrough in New York"
By Paula Wallis
TunnelTalk - 9/11

"At 63rd Street, Adi emerges"
By Benjamin Kabak
2nd. Ave. Sagas - 9/23/11


Here's a listing of the recent additions
to the right-hand column of The Launch Box

"Construction to Start on Second Avenue Subway 86th Street Station"
By Amy Zimmer - 9/15/11

BREAKING NEWS -- TBM Breaks Through

Second Avenue Subway TBM Drills Through Wall
into Lexington Avenue/63rd Street Station

Moments ago, at 11:28 a.m., the tunnel boring machine that had been mining the east tunnel of the Second Avenue Subway reached its final destination. It successfully broke through a rock cavern wall, into open air, deep inside the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station.

Here you can see the rear wall being watered down, to minimize airborne particles in anticipation of the imminent breakthrough of the TBM.

As the machine's cutterhead broke through the rock cavern wall the assembled crowd cheered loudly to celebrate the momentous occasion.

I was fortunate to witness this historic event -- more than 80 years in the making. A full report, with plenty of pictures, will be posted this evening. Stay tuned.

Update 9/22/11
A full report from the TBM Breakthrough event
can be found on this link:

Subway Infrastructure Milestone Achieved
The Launch Box

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Brilliant Morning Light on Second Avenue

As we turn the calendar from August to September, we know that summer is nearing an end. As the days get shorter, the shadows along Second Avenue are only getting longer. Still, the brilliant morning light enhances the many bright colors found throughout the work site.

On a recent Friday morning, I set out as early as I could bear in order to capture the ongoing construction work, and the shadows of the rising sun over the active work site.

The MTA's contractors on Second Avenue start work at 7 a.m. I arrived shortly thereafter, and this is what I saw through the lens of my camera.

97th Street - looking S

Workers at this location are in the process of excavating a section of slurry wall trench using the machine shown in this image. The trench will be excavated to a depth of about 100 feet.

btw. 96th and 97 streets - looking NE

Another view of the same machine - in which you can clearly see the hole where the trench is being excavated.

The yellow hose in the foreground is used to deliver a slurry mixture into the trench as they dig. The slurry, which is a mixture of clay and water, keeps the walls of the trench from collapsing.

btw. 95th & 96th streets - looking NE

Once the trench has been excavated, a 100-foot long rebar cage, like the one shown above, will be carefully lowered into the hole.

just south of 96th street - in front of the Rite Aid - looking NE

After that, workers will lower a long tremie pipe into the newly dug trench. Fresh concrete will be poured into the pipe so that the trench can be filled with concrete - from the bottom up. As the concrete rises, the slurry mixture is pumped out so that it can be recycled and used again.

on 95th Street, about 100 feet to the west of 2nd Avenue - looking E

At other locations on the job site, workers were in the process of assembling new rebar cages.

Workers in the image above are just about to start building a new cage on top of the wooden frame shown in this image.

Note the worker (with his protective helmet) who will soon start welding sections of rebar together at this location.

just south of 97th Street - looking NW

Workers in this image are wrapping sections of rebar using heavy steel wire. Basically they are wrapping the sections together so that they don't move when the cage is lifted and lowered into the trench.

btw. 95th & 96th streets - looking E

At a different location on the site, a second machine can be seen excavating another section of slurry wall trench.

87th Street - looking SW

At this location, workers are excavating an access shaft that will be used during the construction of the new 86th Street station. The excavation here is being performed using a technique known as controlled blasting.

Even though the blasts are controlled, they are still quite loud.

btw. 86th & 87th streets - looking W

Another view of the same shaft site. In the lower right corner of the image, you can see a rock drill (which was incredibly loud) boring holes into the bedrock. The explosive charges will be lowered into these holes.


A closer view of the rock drill. If you enlarge this image and look very closely, you can see that the workers are, of course, wearing ear protection.

83rd Street, just to the east of 2nd Avenue - looking W

A view of the site where the other 86th Street station access shaft is being built.

83rd Street - looking E

Another view of the same shaft location, from a different angle.

73rd Street, NE corner

On the left in this image, you can see a environmental monitoring station. At this location, the contractor appears to be monitoring both the sound level and the quality of the air.

79th Street, NE corner - looking SW

Workers at this location, in the middle of Second Avenue, are operating a pumping station that is being used to deliver concrete down into the west tunnel below. The concrete is being used to line the walls of the new tunnel.

69th Street - looking N

A view of the MTA's Muck House between 69th and 72nd street on Second Avenue.

This nondescript temporary structure houses a set of electric winches and skips that are being used to transport muck from the station cavern below to waiting dump trucks at street level.

An identical structure, which can be seen in the distance in this image, has also been put up between 72nd & 73rd streets.

The workers on top of the structure appear to be installing sound insulating material under the roof.


Another view of the work taking place on the roof.

Note the reflections of bright sunlight on the building and the muck house, above and below.


A closer view of the insulation being installed under the roof line.

69th Street - looking N

A view into the muck structure at this location, through the south entrance.

The workers here are lowering a [red] box of supplies(?) into the shaft.

70th Street - looking W

A large section of ventilation pipe is carefully walked down the street.

72nd Street - looking N

A view into the muck structure at this location, through the south entrance. The orange device in the foreground is a mobile ventilation fan.

Workers in this image are lowering one of the skips down into the access shaft.

73rd Street - looking S

A view into the muck structure at this location, through the north entrance.

If you look carefully, you can see rock and other material (i.e. muck) being dropped into the waiting dump truck. The worker on the ladder would appear to be checking to see that they don't load too much material into the truck.


A sign posted on an entrance to the muck house.

72nd Street, NE corner - looking N

A view of the deep cavern that now exists between the muck house and the residential building on the right.

One could assume that the exterior walls of the muck houses have been painted an off-white color so as to reflect as much natural light as possible into this corridor.

73rd Street - looking S

A view of a dump truck that has just entered the structure so that it can be loaded.

73rd Street

This hand-made sign announces the final performance [on Second Avenue] of Gary Russo, the now famous singing ironworker.

At last count, his original video has been viewed by over one million people on YouTube.

63rd Street, btw. Lexington & 3rd - looking E

At this location, on the north side of the street, workers are excavating part of the plaza so that they can access the existing station below.

63rd Street & 3rd Avenue, SW corner - looking S

A survey team at work, at 7:10 a.m.

Existing Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station
Track 1 - Southbound
Looking W

Passengers waiting for a southbound F train.

This station is in the process of being completely renovated as part of the project. The renovation includes the activation of a set of long dormant tracks on the other side of the orange wall, and the opening of four new station entrances on 3rd Avenue.


A Note About the Current Location
of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM):

As of 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning (9/13/11), the TBM was 296 linear feet away from its final destination: the lower level of the stub cavern at the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station. This would put it somewhere near the middle of the city block that is bordered by 63rd & 64th streets and 3rd & Lexington avenues.

With good rock (i.e. rock without fractures, so they can mine 50 to 70 feet a day) they most likely will [now] break through into the stub cavern sometime early next week.

Please stand by for further news...

Update - 9/20/11
As of 7 a.m. today the TBM had just 77 feet left to mine.


Off Topic:
The Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

I know that this is off-topic, but I felt compelled to include a few links here to mark the passing of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The four pieces that I selected, all from The New York Times, highlight the men and women who are working to rebuild the World Trade Center site.

"The Workers"
By Fred Conrad, Nick Harbaugh and Andrea Rice
The New York Times - 9/8/11
"The World Trade Center site employs more than 3,200 workers. At present, it is the largest construction project in the United States. These portraits [146 in total] and audio narratives are a testament to their myriad skills and talents."

"Ironworkers of the Sky"
By Randy Kennedy
The New York Times - 9/4/11

"Raising High Steel Atop 1 World Trade Center"
By Damon Winter
The New York Times - 9/4/11
Eleven black-and-white photographs by the Damon Winter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the newspaper.

"Reaching the Heights"
By Dean Robinson
The New York Times - 9/2/11
A behind-the-scenes look at how Damon Winter got his pictures from the top of 1 World Trade Center.