Tell 'em Big Bertha sent ya!
April 2, 2013 11:41 PM   Subscribe

Meet Bertha, the world's largest underground tunnel boring machine that will soon begin digging a controversial roadway underneath downtown Seattle, similar to Boston's Big Dig
posted by Blazecock Pileon (36 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bertha's not a boring machine, she's a lovely machine.
posted by Nossidge at 1:29 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe, but once you've seen one tunnel bored, you tend to know the drill.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:30 AM on April 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


Maybe, but once you've seen one tunnel bored, you tend to know the drill.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:30 AM on April 3 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Perhaps, but at this caliber?
Also this is just strange:
Bertha
A photo of the tunnel boring machine's cutter head.

Age: <1
Height: 57.5 feet
Weight: 7,000 tons
Length: 326 feet
Occupation: Tunneling specialist
Likes: Dirt, small boulders, perfectly formed concrete rings
Dislikes: Sunlight
Role models: Bertha Knight Landes, Marc Isambard Brunel, whoever invented the shovel
Twitter: @BerthaDigsSR99
View photos on Flickr
(They forgot to include "Blood type: 80w-90")
posted by mcrandello at 2:08 AM on April 3, 2013


Ooooooh... Anyone else read Boneshaker?
posted by orrnyereg at 2:27 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hope they learn from the Big Dig's example. Control the costs, hold contractors to account, and DO NOT slough the costs onto your public-transit users. Have stringent oversight of inspectors who sign off on construction details. You don't want the ceiling of your tunnel to start falling on people because the fastening systems aren't up to the job.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:43 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, five tunnel boring machines (named Ada, Phyllis, Victoria, Elizabeth and Sophia) are making their way beneath London to build the Crossrail railway tunnels (a larger, more widely spaced service than the Underground; something like Paris' RER in concept). The current locations of the machines are displayed on a map here.
posted by acb at 4:02 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


similar to Boston's Big Dig

Boston? All this time I thought that was under the Smithsonian Institute!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:20 AM on April 3, 2013


"It's a beautiful waterfront. Just beautiful, with the mountains and the sound. Truly an emerald city."

"Hey, let's build a giant ugly freeway right next to it!"

"OK! But only if it blocks the view!"

"Got it!"

"This is gonna be sweet. Sure hope the city won't need the world's largest tunneling machine to correct this decision decades from now."

"Nah, I'm sure they'll thank us for building this ugly freeway. Should we make it earthquake safe?"

"Pshaw! Earthquakes are for Californians."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:53 AM on April 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


Bertha also has a Twitter account.
posted by TheDonF at 6:10 AM on April 3, 2013


Shoulda torn the viaduct down and replaced it with... nothing.
posted by scottatdrake at 6:24 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's sort of funny that the various cutting blades are all color-coded with paint like that. Once the thing's running, I expect the paint will last all of ten seconds, no?

Maybe I'm getting old and sentimental, but it strikes me as more than just a tiny bit sad that huge, impressive engineering projects like this never seem to be made in the US anymore. The biggest ships, the biggest planes, etc - they're always built somewhere in the Pacific rim or in northern Europe.

Not that "Made in Japan" is a bad thing at all. Heck, it will probably beat its EPA mileage estimate and never break down even in the face of indifferent maintenance. But the doors will never close with the satisfying thunk that the ones on your Dad's old tunnel boring machine did.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:28 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


similar to Boston's Big Dig

In that both projects involve underground roadways, yes. But most of the tunnels in Boston were cut and cover, not bored.
posted by hwyengr at 6:33 AM on April 3, 2013


Shoulda torn the viaduct down and replaced it with... nothing.

It's an attractive alternative until you have to drive anywhere near downtown at pretty much any time of the day without the 99 corridor moving traffic through the city.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 7:37 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know how much trouble these are, and usually I'm against new highways in cities. But I really wish there was one of these tunnels that connected 395 and 83 in Baltimore.
posted by spaltavian at 8:47 AM on April 3, 2013


In Baltimore, the tangle of highway connections that would have turned some of the city's most vital neighborhoods into Robert Moses-style ruination with CBE-style soul gouges everywhere was finally halted when the march of "progress" hit a white neighborhood and people decided that such things might not actually be a good idea. It's left the city with a mess of missed connections worthy of Dr. Haber's last effective dream, but that's still better than what might have been.
posted by sonascope at 9:16 AM on April 3, 2013


huge, impressive engineering projects like this never seem to be made in the US anymore

$80 million is really a steal for a one-off machine that is up there in complexity with a jet plane or a submarine. I imagine the R&D is heavily subsidized by Japan's government, which obviously has a strong national interest in tunnel building.
posted by miyabo at 9:17 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It's a beautiful waterfront. Just beautiful, with the mountains and the sound. Truly an emerald city."

"Hey, let's build a giant ugly freeway right next to it!"


You sure that "beautiful waterfront" part was true at the time they built the freeway?
posted by smackfu at 9:35 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


$80 million is really a steal for a one-off machine that is up there in complexity with a jet plane or a submarine. I imagine the R&D is heavily subsidized by Japan's government, which obviously has a strong national interest in tunnel building.

They build similar machines in Germany. (The ones tunnelling under London were made by a German company named Herrenknecht.)

Apparently there's a TBM boring out a subway extension under New York; anyone know where it's from? I got the impression it may have been made in the US.
posted by acb at 9:53 AM on April 3, 2013


sonascope: In Baltimore, the tangle of highway connections that would have turned some of the city's most vital neighborhoods into Robert Moses-style ruination with CBE-style soul gouges everywhere was finally halted when the march of "progress" hit a white neighborhood and people decided that such things might not actually be a good idea. It's left the city with a mess of missed connections worthy of Dr. Haber's last effective dream, but that's still better than what might have been

Trust me, I am happy they didn't finish 83; I can't believe that they were actually considering destorying Fell's Point. I am also interested in the plans I am hearing about to tear down the highway for few blocks and extend President St. further up.

That said, as someone who lives in Mt. Washington but works in Columbia, I really wish there was a tunnel. The morning communte isn't too bad, but the afternoons are awful.
posted by spaltavian at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2013


Apparently there's a TBM boring out a subway extension under New York; anyone know where it's from? I got the impression it may have been made in the US.

Surprisingly interesting:
The Second Ave Subway TBM was originally manufactured by The Robbins Company about 30 years ago. It was first used to dig the MTA's 63rd Street Tunnel in the late 1970's and has been used on at least four other projects. The machine has been reconditioned and was rebuilt in Newark, NJ at contractor Schiavone's yard where it was assembled, tested and then disassembled for shipment to the site. The TBM was most recently used on the Fall River CSO Project in Fall River, MA.
posted by smackfu at 10:18 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shoulda torn the viaduct down and replaced it with... nothing.

Hear, hear. It's an impressive machine, but the project is an even more impressive waste of money.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:32 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hm.

I thought at first they could have had this TBM(PDF) that's been for sale for a while, but it turns out it's only 25' in diameter.

posted by mmrtnt at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2013


I, too, think that the tunnel is a colossal waste of money. I think it's hilarious that there will be no downtown entrances or exits. Almost as hilarious as driving on the viaduct now and seeing all the places where they planned for entrances and exits that were never built. I guess it all balances out.

I glanced at this post this morning before I headed to work in downtown Seattle. Then I got on Hwy 99 heading into town, and traffic was just crawling. Worse than the usual crawl.

The usual crawl exemplifies driving in Seattle. This is a rare two-mile stretch of highway in Seattle that doesn't have exit and entrance ramps on both sides of the road, with cars and trucks trying to merge across all lanes of traffic to get to or from one or the other, causing a perpetual slowdown. Nope, this is two miles of the left lane being the through lane. No merges at all. No reason to slow down. All of the traffic from the West Seattle freeway merges into the right lane. Then there's a bus lane that ends and merges into the right lane. Then there's another merge into the right lane, of traffic getting onto Hwy 99 northbound by the stadiums. Guess which lane is consistently the slower of the two lanes in the morning? Yep, the left lane. The through lane. Because that's how we roll in Seattle. But I digress.

I figured that this morning's slowdown was because Big Bertha was at the worksite and all the drivers were slowing down to gawk. Kind of like how during the week leading up to Seafair, when the Blue Angels are doing their practice flights, you can be driving along, you'll hear the jet engines, and then the person in front of you will jam on their brakes and stick their head out the window to see the airplanes. Seattle drivers are special like that.

But nope, I finally got up to the dig site and there was no Big Bertha to see. Just two cars that had crashed into each other right at the point where the two lanes of northbound traffic get up onto the viaduct and expand into four lanes. Because that's how we roll in Seattle. Or don't roll, more often than not.
posted by Balonious Assault at 12:45 PM on April 3, 2013


"It's a beautiful waterfront. Just beautiful, with the mountains and the sound. Truly an emerald city."

"Hey, let's build a giant ugly freeway right next to it!"

"OK! But only if it blocks the view!"

"Got it!"

"This is gonna be sweet. Sure hope the city won't need the world's largest tunneling machine to correct this decision decades from now."

"Nah, I'm sure they'll thank us for building this ugly freeway. Should we make it earthquake safe?"

"Pshaw! Earthquakes are for Californians."


I guess I'm in the minority in that I love the viaduct, think it's one of the prettiest urban drives I've ever experienced, makes it really nice getting from home (West Seattle) to downtown and parts further north without dealing with the fugliness that is the 5, and hate how even crappier our traffic has gotten since they started mucking about with it.

I wish they'd've just rebuilt the thing to be earthquake safe... the tunnel project seems to me like someone said "oh hey, if we tear the viaduct down, there's a ton of waterfront real estate all the sudden... cha ching!"
posted by stenseng at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Portland we dig huge tunnels for sewage.
posted by asfuller at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2013


Oh, we do that in Seattle, too.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2013


Still better than a monorail.
posted by maxwelton at 2:11 PM on April 3, 2013


I don't drive through the Big Dig a whole lot, but when I do I really appreciate it. It has made getting to and from Logan Airport so much easier....particularly coming in from the south. I remember the days when the drive was sheer hell. It required sitting in traffic on the old elevated central artery through the heart of Boston. And when the Logan exit was finally reached, it funneled like 10 lanes of traffic down to 2 lanes to go through the Callahan tunnel. And then returning from Logan involved crazy back ups to get into the Sumner tunnel on the Logan side and then a drive on congested surface roads in the North End--under the old elevated highway to get back on the interstate. It was such a cluster fuck. I remember the first time the Big Dig opened and I was taking a bus to Logan from the south. We exited smoothly off I-93 into the new Ted Williams/I-90 tunnel system and emerged at Logan on the other side with amazing speed and efficiency about 2 minutes later. I turned to the person sitting next to me on the bus and said "I don't care how much this cost...this ride was worth it". She agreed.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:36 PM on April 3, 2013


I wish they'd've just rebuilt the thing to be earthquake safe...

It really would've had to been a complete tear-down and rebuild. Knock it down, excavate the land and start over.

Because Seattle's viaduct was a near-identical design of the Cypress Street Viaduct that collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:24 PM on April 3, 2013


Yeah, I get that it would be a big deal, but if they're planning to raze it anyway, it seems like a better alternative than a tunnel that is less useful for getting around town, costs a huge amount of money, and is being dug at a massive scale in what I understand to be less than stable ground... I dunno. I'm not a civil engineer, but I can't help but feel that the whole thing is largely about "liberating" a lot of high dollar value real estate, as opposed to practical easing of traffic congestion...
posted by stenseng at 3:45 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ugh, the tunnel. The drill is actually pretty cool, I'll give ya that, but I'm still not looking forward to the devil's choice my commute from LQA to Bellevue is soon to become: either get in line for the Mercer mess every morning, or pay a toll to roll down the (maybe) Scary Tunnel Of Overpriced Death.

Also, why do the drills mostly have lady names? Is it related to the ship thing?
posted by zinful at 4:23 PM on April 3, 2013


zinful, says here it's indeed traditional (which is to say, uh, here).

the whole thing is largely about "liberating" a lot of high dollar value real estate

Also a laudable goal of planning.

I guess I'm in the minority in that I love the viaduct, think it's one of the prettiest urban drives I've ever experienced

To be sure, highways are designed to be optimized for the driver, so this is not surprising. What is a problem is everyone else who has to deal with it.
posted by dhartung at 5:09 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hope the pricing and the ceiling tiles work out better for you guys, but other than all that, the Big Dig was pretty fantastic. I don't know anyone who complains about the actual result. As long as you avoid rush hour and don't need one of the more confusing exits, driving under the city is a breeze. The new parks created where I-93 used to run over the city restore the Emerald Necklace's legacy.
posted by maryr at 5:30 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Goddamn I'm glad I can bus to work.

I work right next to where the construction is going on and we can see it out the window. Sure is nice to have the viaduct down so we have an unobstructed view of all those shipping containers.
posted by valrus at 6:29 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


They build similar machines in Germany. (The ones tunnelling under London were made by a German company named Herrenknecht.)

I visited the Herrenknect TBM plant in Germany back in 2011. They'd just finished building and testing Phyllis, the first of the Crossrail TBMs. They were justly proud of their work and wanted to show it off before it got dismantled for shipping to London. They invited a bunch of the Crossrail tunnelling team over to take a look.

Being pretty smart in the PR department, Crossrail invited a few industry journos along as well (myself included) and even persuaded an ITV news crew to make the trip.

The Herrenknecht plant is a mental place. It's just this huge, old school, industrial and engineering works entirely dedicated to churning out mechanical sandworms of all sizes - from metre-wide self-piloting TBMs for digging out sewer tunnels, to crew controlled ones like the Crossrail TBMs (which are "average size" as these things go), to truly epic ones for road tunnels like Big Bertha here.

Technically we were only there to see Phyllis, and my photos of Phyllis at the Herrenknect plant here. Annoyingly I've got a bunch of other photos of the factory site, but their "personal use only" as technically it was all of limits. Phyllis' builders were just kind enough to give a few of us an unofficial tour.

It's an absolutely crazy place and you soon realise why just a few companies dominate the TBM world. One minute you're in a clean room or computer lab, then you step through a door and suddenly you're on a factory floor. Giant metal skeletons are towering over you and men and machines are shaping them and joining them together through both technology and brute force.

I remember walking onto one particular assembly room floor. The sparks were flying, the molten metal was flowing, and in the middle of it all are a bunch of beefy Germans in white t-shirts, overalls open to the waist, hammering away at giant pieces of twisted metal. Behind them was a large, beaten up sound system pumping out full on eighties hair rock.

"Christ," I remember thinking, "This isn't a factory, it's a fucking Spandau Ballet video."

Anyway, I always love seeing TBMs like this - and more importantly seeing them get some proper attention. It's really hard to appreciate just how complex these things are. They don't just dig the hole, they're effectively moving factories. They carve out the earth, step themselves forward, grout out the space created and then lay the tunnel behind themselves, all the time being fed tunnel wall segments via narrow-gauge railway, and spewing spoil back along seemingly infinite conveyor belts. Even at Phyllis' size they've got crew cabins and depressurisation chambers (the cutting head and the space behind it are always pressurised during tunnelling to minimise the risk of collapse). That Flikr set shows that Bertha is even more complex.

When you seeing a Tunnel Boring Machine rehearsing its motions, or better yet see one actually tunnel, it's impossible not to be proud at just how fucking good we are as a species at engineering. You just can't look a these things move and not be blown away at how far we've come. That in a relatively short amount of time, in the grand scheme of galactic time, we've gone from using rocks and bones as tools, to creating these cybertronic sandworms that can carve through the earth almost at our very command. The sheer innovation, the engineering, behind these things is just mindblowing. They don't just dig through the ground, in their own special way they dance.

If you want to see humanity and our ability to learn and build at its best, don't look just look to space, look beneath your feet.
posted by garius at 5:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems like it would make a lot of sense to just dig out extra tunnel space while you have the machine down in the bedrock.
posted by smackfu at 6:13 AM on April 4, 2013


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