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Buried below Park Ave
July 25, 2011 12:40 PM   Subscribe

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has just finished the initial drilling phase of the East Side Access project to bring the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal. What are they doing with the tunnel boring machine? Giving it a funeral. (NYTimes link, use this if you need to get past the paywall) Instead of removing the $8 million machine, the contractor responsible for this portion of the project has decided it will be cheaper to leave it in place at the end of the tunnel. This is not without precedent; some of the TBMs used for the Channel Tunnel were turned off the tunnel mainline and left buried.
posted by spitefulcrow (45 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
"What will confuse the hell out of future archeologists?" Alex
posted by The Whelk at 12:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Countdown to inevitable Nic Cage tunnel-boring-to-historical-document-thievery film in t minus 20s.
posted by elizardbits at 12:46 PM on July 25, 2011


This is not without precedent

Indeed, here's a precedent dating from the late 1930s.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:48 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


There aren't nearly enough enormous mechanical earthworms buried deep beneath cities. This is a good start.
posted by theodolite at 12:48 PM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Too bad it can't meet up with Brooklyn's buried locomotive and have zany adventures together, drilling and subterranean choo-chooing.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:49 PM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Queensboro Plaza is an elevated station, but the film does get credit for trying.

Heh, I remember getting that feeling during Cloverfield; that wasn't any Prince St. station I've ever been in.
posted by griphus at 12:50 PM on July 25, 2011


Countdown to inevitable Nic Cage tunnel-boring-to-historical-document-thievery film in t minus 20s.

Nic Cage movies are already full of boring.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:50 PM on July 25, 2011 [28 favorites]


The remaining companies offering pensions are eyeing this practice with great interest.
posted by Zed at 1:05 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Who knows? Maybe they will want to continue the railroad south, at which point they would have to take it out.”

Dr. Horodniceanu pondered that a moment: “Not an easy thing if they want to take it out.” He shrugged. “If they want to take it out, they will not look upon us favorably that we left it behind.”


Sandhog from 2053 here. Thanks for the OT, doc!

MTA: Mustn't Think Ahead.
posted by Oddly at 1:05 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Derail: Getting past the NYTimes paywall doesn't exactly require special equipment.
posted by swift at 1:12 PM on July 25, 2011


Couldn't they just back it out?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:16 PM on July 25, 2011


Only if its daddy taught it good.
posted by The Whelk at 1:17 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting that they would never plan to reuse, just sell it for scrap.
posted by smackfu at 1:18 PM on July 25, 2011


Couldn't they just back it out?

I'd expect not. These machines bore a hole the exact size of the front of the machine, then install a lining in it that makes it slightly smaller. Seems like some non-trivial disassembly of the cutting head would be needed, at least.
posted by FishBike at 1:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The tunneling shield Alfred Ely Beach used to build his Pneumatic Transit System was left in place when the line closed. Workers discovered it in 1912. The shield was gifted to Cornell but has since been lost.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 1:25 PM on July 25, 2011


Ugh, I hope I don't have to cross over to GCT to get to my train in the morning. Getting to the East Side is never fun.
posted by Eideteker at 1:25 PM on July 25, 2011


Also, are they at least draining the fluids from the thing? Oil can seep through concrete.
posted by Eideteker at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indeed the machine is probably designed not only not to be reused, but its planned lifecycle is probably built around the expected amount of work needed to complete just this one tunnel. Its spent. And the cost of cutting it into scrap and taking it out of the tunnel is more than the pure scrap value of the equipment.

I hope I don't have to cross over to GCT to get to my train in the morning I think the plan is for the vast majority of LIRR trains to still run out of Penn. Wouldn't be surprised to see some more changes at Jamaica tho once its done.
posted by JPD at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2011


The new Second Avenue subway line ends at the 63rd Street F train station, not an ideal cemetery plot.

oh good, so they've officially given up the delusions of the full route? Good, because no one before our great-great-great-great-great-great-great- grandchildren were going to get to use it anyway.
posted by TravellingCari at 1:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Also, are they at least draining the fluids from the thing? Oil can seep through concrete.

I'm assuming they will be doing the standard decom of the equipment (in fact the article mentions it is already oxidizing, meaning they may have removed much of the grease already). It's just the dismantling and removal of the gigantic metal blades / shield that takes up the bulk of the equipment that they are skipping. Draining fluids would be trivial in that case.

Of course, what I find is kind of surprising is I hope that the contractors had told MTA about this when they started the project, and that this is just "well, it's happening now, ta da!" not this is news for the folks who hired the contractors in the first place. But then, the stories I've heard about the MTA, maybe they assumed these guys were going to remove it as well, but never actually thought to put that in the contract bid.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2011


The one used for Yucca Mountain sits right outside the exit of the U shaped tunnel. Link
posted by Big_B at 1:34 PM on July 25, 2011


When Bank station in London was refurbished to add a connecting tunnel between two of the lines, they reused the tunnel that one of Greathead's original machines had buried itself in back in 1898. To get past the machine, they just put the tunnel through the middle of it
posted by doiheartwentyone at 1:53 PM on July 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


Of course, what I find is kind of surprising is I hope that the contractors had told MTA about this when they started the project,

At one point, they didn't plan on leaving it there: "At the end of tunneling operations, the TBMs will be backed out of the tunnels and disassembled" (Link)
posted by smackfu at 1:54 PM on July 25, 2011


Ugh, I hope I don't have to cross over to GCT to get to my train in the morning.

East Side Access is not slated to open until 2016. You may have a different job or living situation by then.
posted by grouse at 2:00 PM on July 25, 2011


They Might Be Giants should do an album about a giant tunnel boring machine. TMBG: GTBM.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Can.... can I have it?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:03 PM on July 25, 2011


They should put nitrous on it, wind it out to ten grand and launch it into Jersey.
posted by digsrus at 2:11 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poor tunnel boring machine! I feel weepy.
posted by millipede at 2:15 PM on July 25, 2011


In the ancient world, slaves, workers, and defeated enemies were buried beneath the foundations of great public works, their captive souls chained eternally to the structures. Now we bury the metal corpses of our mechanical laborers to similar affect. Rise! Rise, our mechanical brothers and throw off your cruel shackles! Do not submit to this inglorious fate! Drill to freedom and show them all!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:19 PM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Nic Cage in ... C.H.U.D. III : The Boring
posted by mannequito at 2:29 PM on July 25, 2011


Ugh, I hope I don't have to cross over to GCT to get to my train in the morning. Getting to the East Side is never fun. (emphasis added)

That is the whole point of this project, to be honest.
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on July 25, 2011


Not making a burrito tunnel?

*sulks*
posted by padraigin at 2:56 PM on July 25, 2011


A man who answered the phone at the Union League Club said the organization would not comment about the clubhouse’s new underground neighbor. But he conceded that the members were “painfully aware” of the construction occurring 140 feet beneath their gilded lobby.

...guys, if the tunnel boring machine hurts, you're doing it wrong.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 3:23 PM on July 25, 2011


They should have used a tiger to bore the tunnel.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:31 PM on July 25, 2011


I enjoyed this: "the chamber will then be filled with concrete, encasing the cutter in a solid cast, Han Solo-style, so that it can serve as a support structure for the tunnel."

The Star Wars ref was unexpected.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:25 PM on July 25, 2011


It's like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, but with a sad ending.

(It probably won't surprise you that I wept at the final fate of Spirit. Godspeed you, brave little rover.)
posted by SPrintF at 8:01 PM on July 25, 2011


oh good, so they've officially given up the delusions of the full route?

Phase II and beyond are unfunded as of yet, but don't necessarily use tunnel boring -- some of it will be cut-and-cover, for example.
posted by dhartung at 10:18 PM on July 25, 2011


So, they're just leaving these machines that bore enormous underground tunnels lying around major world cities? Is it me, or is this begging for a supervillain style plan to use these machines to hold the world hostage?
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:16 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, they're just leaving these machines that bore enormous underground tunnels lying around major world cities?

I don't think it would be easy (or even possible) to get any of these TBMs working again.
posted by grouse at 11:51 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, they're just leaving these machines that bore enormous underground tunnels lying around major world cities? Is it me, or is this begging for a supervillain style plan to use these machines to hold the world hostage?
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:16 PM on July 25 [+] [!]


I'd be more worried about megalomanical gophers coming across them
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:40 AM on July 26, 2011


Hey, I know. Stuff them full of discarded memorabilia, and rumors of gold and diamonds and lost films, and call them time capsules. Bury the story in the Times in a paragraph at the bottom of page 17.

Great joke on the future. For when they finally dig out from under our debt, I mean.
posted by Twang at 4:21 AM on July 26, 2011


When Bank station in London was refurbished to add a connecting tunnel between two of the lines, they reused the tunnel that one of Greathead's original machines had buried itself in back in 1898. To get past the machine, they just put the tunnel through the middle of it

Indeed. I love that you can still see a part of it in the pedestrian tunnels at Bank if you know where to look.

Won't self link to my piece on it, but a similar thing to this happened with the very first Tunnelling Shield.

When Brunel (the Marc 1.0 version not his son) was attempting to built the Thames Tunnel - the Tunnel to which all deep-level Tube lines the world over owe their existence - he actually ran out of money halfway through.

The works were closed down and, as the workers drifted away, much was left in place - a kind of snapshot of what might have been.

This included Brunel's Tunnelling Shield, the very first of its kind and the predecessor to Greathead's later achievement. Brunel had wanted to make it mechanical in some way, but the steam technology of the day just wasn't up to the task yet. As a result, his was people-powered - an iron frame with a number of chambers which would each be populated by a single man who would excavate the dirt immediately in front of him whilst his colleagues all did the same.

When the tunnel was abandoned Brunel was not prepared to admit that the project was dead, so rather than breaking down the Shield and selling it for scrap (which the company wanted to do), he had it left at the tunnel head and the tunnel bricked up behind it. There it would stay, he decided, until he could raise the money to populate it with people once again.

Ultimately, Brunel would turn out to be right. Through his own dogged efforts and those of various friends and sponsors (such as the Duke of Wellington), eventually the money would be found to finish the tunnel. Thus were laid the seeds for the deep-level London Underground and all its heirs.

It ultimately took years to raise the funds though, and when they pulled down the tunnel head wall to begin work again, they discovered that the Shield hadn't been protected properly against the river water seeping through above and had virtually rusted and rotted away.

As an Engineer, Marc Brunel invented the tunneling shield, the caisson and pioneered a whole raft of the techniques still used in deep level tunnelling to this day...

...but it seems that even he could be a wee bit rubbish at putting his tools away properly sometimes.
posted by garius at 7:10 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


In fact the more I think about it, the more TBMs I can think of that are entirely (or partially) buried around London. Think I'll see what more I can find out about 'em.
posted by garius at 8:00 AM on July 26, 2011


Let's fire those things back up and maybe they can meet mid-Atlantic.
posted by atchafalaya at 12:41 PM on July 26, 2011


Of course, what I find is kind of surprising is I hope that the contractors had told MTA about this when they started the project, and that this is just "well, it's happening now, ta da!" not this is news for the folks who hired the contractors in the first place. But then, the stories I've heard about the MTA, maybe they assumed these guys were going to remove it as well, but never actually thought to put that in the contract bid.


in this case it looks like a financial and logistical decision to leave the big feller inside there- note the Dr.'s comment that the rescue shaft would have to be dug right in front of the Union Building, 40 feet deep. and the shaft would have to be shored up, the righteously huge monster 200 ton crane and its monster pad would have to be brought in, and all the trucks and shit that it takes to get a tunnel machine out piece by piece would have to fit in there somewhere.

"well, it's happening now, ta da!" is a pretty accurate way of how things happen when you're working with TBMs and MTBMs though. the preliminary geotechnical reports only give you a vague idea about the kind of ground you are going through, which means that the projected "ok we're gonna tunnel through this hard rock" can turn into HOLY JESUS OH GOD FUCKING GRAVEL AND WATER EVERYWHERE FILLING UP THE TUNNEL* in the space of an advance, which is measured in feet.

advancing feet at a time for miles. chew on that.

so yeah, sometimes shit hits the fan and you have to abandon a machine inside and throw up your hands and then come the lawsuits and the claims and then more contracts.

but then you got to finish the tunnel so (at least in one case) the new contractor is going to tunnel up to the buried machine from the other side, at which point both machines are getting taken apart from the inside, and welded together, their skins serving as part of the pipe. and the rest gets taken apart and hauled off. this is exactly as complicated and nerve-wracking as it sounds.

sorry i'm writing like U JAMMIN WITH THE KONSOLE KOWBOYS IN CYBERSPACE but this work is so awesome and also so blitheringly insane that you get superlative real fast. and even though the work is dangerous and backbreaking and mind-numbingly, stupidly repetitive at the low levels and full of dishonest, short-sighted, and money-hungry people on the high level, and even though there are some serious barriers to advancement if you're female, i love tunnel machines about as much as i love anything and i miss working around and with them and i want to go back to them, because no field i've been in is as full of talented and blitheringly insane people all acting like crazy pirates around giant secret machines.


*i heard this story from a guy i worked with
posted by beefetish at 12:23 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


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