Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Starter Tunnels

The MTA sent their staff photographer Patrick Cashin underground on Friday to capture a set of images of the on-going work that is taking place inside the Second Avenue subway TBM launch box.

Here are a few of his images, courtesy of the MTA.

Patrick J. Cashin/MTA - 3/26/10

An Update - 4/2/10
The MTA just provided me with a high-resolution copy of this image. Left-click on the image to see an amazingly detailed view of the inside the TBM launch box.

The photographer is standing on the floor of the launch box - about 60 feet below street level - and his camera is pointed south.

The two holes that you see are the starter tunnels for the new Second Avenue subway line. These two tunnels will be blasted to a depth of about 40-50 feet and then the tunnel boring machine will be set up to bore the actual tunnels down to 63rd Street.

If you look closely at the right and left walls you can see where the bedrock ends and the concrete secant walls of the launch box begin. All of the bedrock that was present at the south end of the launch box was removed using controlled blasting over the past few months.

After the tunneling is finished (in June 2011, according to the current schedule) they will turn this cavern into the new 96th Street station.

Patrick J. Cashin/MTA - 3/26/10

The photographer here is standing (approx.) under 92nd Street. (The open hole in the image is in front of Delizia's Ristorante & Pizzeria at 92nd Street and Second Avenue.)

It looks like the workers here are preparing for the next blast by drilling holes in the rock for the explosives. (The blast on 3/26 took place at 7:50 PM.)

If you look at the top of this picture you see the road decking that covers Second Avenue between 92nd and 95th Streets. You can also see some of the utility lines (water, gas, electric, telephone, etc.) that have been suspended from the decking.

Patrick J. Cashin/MTA - 3/26/10

Patrick J. Cashin/MTA - 3/26/10

Patrick J. Cashin/MTA - 3/26/10

In this image the photographer has turned himself around so that he's facing north.

The 36" round steel struts that are shown in this image, and the one below, act to counter the forces that the ground and buildings (outside the box) exert on the walls.

The wall at the far end of the launch box is just south of 95th Street - 3 city block away!

Patrick J. Cashin/MTA - 3/26/10

When you look at these pictures you begin to realize just how much work has taken place on this project over the past 3 years.

Every last shovelful of dirt, rock and muck in this enormous hole has been brought to the surface by these workers and hauled away by truck.

About a dozen additional images taken by Mr. Cashin are available on the MTA's Official Facebook page.


About a week ago the MTA mailed out letters to a number of tenants on Second Avenue with the news that they would need to temporarily relocate due to work that needed to be performed to reinforce the integrity of their building, in advance of upcoming work.

This story was first broken by the real estate magazine, The Real Deal, in their piece "UES Residents Ousted Due to Second Avenue Subway Construction" on Monday, March 22nd.

By Tuesday morning, the NY Post, The Daily News, and amNY ran articles on the story, and most of the local TV stations were working on pieces for the evening news. (I was contacted by two of the TV stations.)

Note: Links to a few of these news articles and videos can be found at the end of this posting.

Interested viewers can find a copy of the letter that the MTA sent to residents at 1873 Second Avenue below:

Letter from MTA Capital Construction to a tenant at 1873 Second Avenue - 3/19/10

Various media sources reported that the affected apartments are located at 1873 Second Avenue and the five walk-ups between 1821 and 1829 Second Avenue, as shown in the diagram below.

Courtesy New York Post
"2nd Ave. Subway dig sends tenants packin' " - 3/24/10

94th Street, near the SE corner - looking NW

This image shows the west side of Second Avenue between 94th and 95th Streets. The affected buildings, from 1821 - 1829 Second Avenue, are outlined in blue.

btw. 1827 and 1829 Second Avenue - looking straight up

If you look closely at this image you can see some of the instruments that have been mounted on this building by the MTA's contractors - including a number of retroreflectors. These instruments allow the contractors to monitor the stability of the building in real-time.

Further information on how retroreflectors are used on this project can be found on my earlier posting "Retroreflectors Everywhere".

97th Street & Second Avenue - looking SW

This is the affected building at 1873 Second Avenue - which also has numerous instruments mounted on its facade and on the north and south walls.

The good news out of all this is that the affected tenants will live rent free during the period that they are relocated.

Also, if the MTA wants to make this as painless as possible they could offer accommodation to the affected people at The Marmara Manhattan Hotel (which is a long-term stay hotel) located at the corner of 94th Street and Second Avenue.


btw. 92nd & 93rd Streets - looking NE

This image and the one that follows show the vertical conveyor that is still under construction on the east side of 2nd Avenue between 92nd & 93rd Streets.

The vertical conveyor system on this project is manufactured by the Finish company Metso.

near the SE corner of 93rd Street - looking SW

92nd Street - looking NE

A picture of various wheelbarrows on the work site.


Here's a summary of the blasting that occurred at the TBM launch box location in the evening during the past week:

Monday, 3/22 - 1 blast at 8:15 p.m. and a 2nd blast at 8:50 p.m.

Tuesday 3/23 - 1 blast at 8:03 p.m.

Wednesday 3/24 - 1 blast at 8:30 p.m.

Thursday 3/25 - 1 blast at 8:05 p.m.

Friday 3/26 - 1 blast at 7:50 p.m.

On Friday 3/26/10, Community Board 8 passed along a notice (via e-mail) from the MTA regarding the blasting of the starter tunnels. Part of the text of this notice is shown below:
"Controlled blasting to excavate two starter tunnels at the south end of the Second Avenue Subway Launch Box, in preparation for the arrival of the Tunnel Boring Machine, began in early March and is scheduled to be completed by mid-April. Controlled blasting is a well established excavation technique that has been used at many of our projects in Manhattan.

You may have noticed that the blasts are slightly louder and longer in duration compared to the launch box blasts and this is due to the confined area of the starter tunnels. In addition, because of the time it takes to prepare for each blast, the blasts are occurring later in the day at approximately 8 PM. Note, blasting is permitted to take place during the approved Second Ave Subway working hours of 7 AM to 10 PM, although, every effort has been made to limit blasting to daylight hours."

For reasons that I cannot explain, this notice was circulated a few weeks after the blasting of the starter tunnels began. I could imagine that the notice is being released now because of the number of people that are calling to inquire about the starter tunnel blasting.

As a resident of the area, I must say that I was more than a little surprised with the statement that the blasts would be "slightly louder" than the blasts that occurred earlier.

I've heard many of the blasts over the past few months and the blasting that is going on now is not "slightly" louder; it is considerably louder than the earlier blasts. (Some I'm sure will say that this is an understatement on my part.)

Anyone wishing to see how loud these blasts are should watch the video that I made of the starter tunnel blast that took place on 3/19/10. (FYI - I've recently noticed that others have now posted their own videos of various 2nd Avenue subway starter tunnel blasts on the YouTube web site.)

One last point on the blasting . . .

I can't prove it, but my feeling is that the blasting that is taking place now, for the starter tunnels, is about as loud as the sound that is made when a bolt of lighting strikes very near to your building. i.e. when the sound made by the thunder comes right at the same time as the flash. The only difference is that sound of these blasts goes on for a few seconds and the sound of the thunder fades away rather fast.

The blasting is expected to be over in a few weeks and then hopefully those of us who live in the 90s will not have to hear the sound of the blasting whistle again on this project.


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

UES residents ousted due to Second Avenue Subway construction
The Real Deal - 3/22/10

"2nd Ave. Subway dig sends tenants packin' "
By Rebecca Harshbarger and Tom Namako
NY Post - 3/23/10

"MTA's construction of 2nd Ave. subway forcing New Yorkers from six buildings to move out"
By Nikki Dowling and Oren Yaniv
NY Daily News - 3/23/10

Living in the Upper East Side’s blast zone

2nd. Ave. Sagas - 3/23/10

"Subway work impacts apartment residents" (2:26)
By Tim Fleisher
WABC-TV/DT New York - 3/23/10

"2nd Ave Subway Construction Forcing out Tenants" (1:51)
By Adam Siff
WNBC-TV - 3/23/10

"Second Avenue Subway Problems" (2:07)
By Ti-Hua Chang - 3/23/10

"Serrano Outraged at Ongoing Disruptions to Second Avenue Residents and Businesses"
Office of Senator José M. Serrano (press release) - 3/24/10

The futureNYCSubway: 2nd Avenue Subway History
By Andrew Lynch
Vanshnookenraggen (a blog) - 3/24/10
An excellent overview of the history of the project.


A Footnote

It has occurred to me that it is not that easy to figure out how to contact me via this blog. (Until now the only way to do this was to click on the "View my complete profile" tab and then click on the "email" contact tab - or post a comment.)

To make it easier I've decided to post an e-mail address on the blog. This address is TheLaunchBoxBLOG AT (I didn't use the @ sign here in an effort to reduce the chance that this address will attract spam e-mail.)

If you wish to contact me with feedback, comments, a tips, suggestions, etc. please go ahead and drop me a note.

I give you my word that any correspondence that I receive will remain completely confidential.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blasting on Second Avenue

"Blasting on Second Avenue" (1:25) - 3/19/10
East 92nd & 2nd Avenue, SW corner - looking NE
3/19/2010 - 8:45 PM EDT

After listening to the blasting that has been taking place inside the Second Avenue subway Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) launch box [from my apartment] for the past few months I decided that it was time that I make an attempt at recording an actual blast.

Friday evening March 19th was a perfect evening to venture out and watch a blast. The sky was clear and the temperature was a balmy 70 degrees. But most importantly, the red truck with the explosives was at the site - which was a sure sign that there would be a blast tonight.

I setup my tripod and camera on the SW corner of East 92nd and Second Avenue at about 7:15 PM. I decided to use a tripod for this recording so that the camera would "feel" the rumbling of the ground - and of course so that it would remain steady.

I chose this location because from this spot I had clear view of the warning horn that the workers sound to signal that a blast is imminent.

So I just stood there and waited.

Most passersby didn't pay much attention to my camera and tripod. In New York City you see things like this all the time.

A few people stopped and asked what I was up to, and I was more than happy to answer their questions, while keeping a close eye on the location near the warning horn.

Then at about 8:35 PM a group of about 15 workers started to collect around the spot where the warning horn is set up. Some were making cell phone calls - maybe calling city officials, the FDNY, or 3-1-1 to alert them that a blast was imminent.

I turned on my camera and waited for the blast.

Workers moved into position to stop traffic and pedestrians in the area, and then came the first long wail from the horn.

Traffic was stopped and a few pedestrians slowed their pace to see what was going on.

The horn sounded two more time and then almost immediately I could hear a noise that sounded like hundreds of firecrackers going off.

Then about a second later came the sound of a hundred or more loud explosions that seemed to move in a wave down the avenue.

A few people in the area cheered, and by the time the dust settled the event was over.


I know that there are more than a few people who live near the blasting zone at the launch box who are not happy that the blasting is now taking place in the evening.

Dan Rivoli wrote about this in his article "Change in Subway Blasting Rattles East Siders" (Our Town, 3/17/10). The MTA spokesman quoted in this article said that no blasting had taken place after 8 PM, which as of last Friday (March 19th) is no longer the case.

And Lisa Lawrence, a mother who lives in the area, posted a piece called "Diggers" on her blog Upper East Side Moms last week. In her posting she talks at length about the effect that the blasting has had on her family.

So the blasting inside the launch box will continue for a few more weeks and then it will be done. Then (finally) they will start assembling the tunnel boring machine so they can start boring the first tunnel.

An Update: 3/22/10
I spoke with an MTA representative this afternoon about the blasting. She told me that excavation of the launch box (to a depth of about 75 feet) is now complete.

What they are blasting at the moment are the two starter tunnels for the tunnel boring machine (TBM). Each of the starter tunnels will be about 40 - 50 feet long and and 22 feet in diameter, from what I gather.

The TBM is scheduled to start the first drive in May 2010.


All of the pictures that follow were taken on Saturday, 3/20/10.

near the SE corner of 92nd - looking W

About a week ago workers started to assemble the superstructure for the vertical conveyor. (I've heard some people refer to this thing as the "muck-tower.")

This machine (as shown in the diagram below) will bring the rocks and debris, from the tunnel boring, to the surface so that they can be trucked away.

Source: S3 Tunnel Constructors presentation to the Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force on 1/26/10 - p.20


btw. 95th & 96th streets - looking NE

In this block on Saturday two crews were performing a process known as "soil grouting" in an effort to strengthen the ground and to make it more water resistant.

From what I understand of the process, they drill into the ground (using the machine shown above.) Then they inject some sort of cement based product into the hole and finally they remove the steel tube that they used to drill the hole.

Work on this day was being performed by workers from Tully Construction and the firm Moretrench. (Tully Construction is one of the joint venture companies on Contract 2A).

Much more information on the process can be found on this link: Grouting Methods.

This is a closeup of the front-end of the German made drilling rig (a KLEMM Bohrtechnik Model KR 803-2) that is doing the work.

96th - looking E

btw. 95th & 96th - looking E


btw. 96th and 97th - looking S

A set of very large concrete blocks appeared at this location sometime during the past week. At the moment I'm not sure what they're going to be used for.

97th, NE corner - looking SW

And another shot of the old Century Lumber yard location, the future home of the 96th Street Station Ancillary Building No. 2. (shown below)

Source: Presentation by MTA Capital Construction to the Community Board 8 Second Avenue Subway Task Force - 10/28/08 - p. 6


In other news, the New York State Assembly once again passed two bills that are meant to help the small businesses in the work zone that have been affected by the construction.

Bill A6137: "Establishes an economic grant program for the Second Avenue Subway construction project area; appropriates funds therefor" was passed by the Assembly on 3/10/10.

Bill A3939: "Creates real property tax abatement for certain commercial properties located within the Second Avenue Subway project" was passed by the Assembly on 3/17/10, and

Both bills were delivered to the Senate for action.


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

Monthly Project Report - Second Avenue Subway (*)
MTA Capital Construction - 3/22/10

March 2010 Capital Program Oversight Committee Report (*)
Second Avenue Subway
A report prepared by McKissack+Delcan, the MTA's Independent Engineer

Second Ave. residents bemoan blasting
2nd Ave. Sagas - 3/18/10

Change in Subway Blasting Rattles East Siders
By Dan Rivoli
Our Town - 3/17/10

"Bill to Help 2nd Ave. Biz"
By Dan Rivoli
OurTown - 3/17/10

First Avenue/Second Avenue Select Bus Service
New York City Transit / NYC Department of Transportation
Presentation made to CB8 Transportation Committee

(*) These reports are part of very large pdf files on the MTA's web site. They may take some time to load, depending on the speed of your connection to the Internet. I would recommend downloading these links rather than trying to open them.

Fire at 1751 Second Avenue

What follows is a posting about the two-alarm fire that occurred at the Knickerbocker Plaza apartment building at 1751 Second Avenue on Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2010.

This posting has nothing to do with the construction of the Second Avenue subway.


Update - 3/9/2012
There was yet another two-alarm fire in Knickerbocker Plaza last night. NBC's report of the blaze can be found on this link: "19 hurt after fire in 40-story building on NYC's Second Avenue".

Update - 4/25/2010
A copy of the 8-page Fire Department New York (FDNY) Incident Report for this fire has now been added to this posting.

Update - 8/29/2010
A copy of the FDNY Fire Marshal's report for this incident has now been added to this posting.


On Saturday afternoon at about 5:15 PM I was in my apartment on 92nd Street when I heard the sound of multiple fire trucks that were clearly in a hurry.

I walked to my window and looked north towards Second Avenue and what I saw was a gathering crowd starring up at the Knickerbocker Plaza apartment building in the west side of the avenue.

I grabbed my camera and ran to the corner to watch and record the unfolding drama.

SE corner of East 92nd & Second Avenue - looking W

The fire, clearly visible in this photo, is in apartment 14J of this 40-story high-rise apartment building.

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) sources [on the Internet] reported that the first alarm was struck at 5:15 PM with multiple reports of "smoke coming from the 12th or 13 floor" of the building located at 1751 Second Avenue.

FDNY radio transmitted a Code 10-77 (High-rise multiple dwelling fire) soon after the first trucks arrived on the scene. The initial response to a Code 10-77 fire is 5 engines, 5 ladders, 3 battalion chiefs, 1 deputy, 1 rescue, 1 squad, the Special Operations battalion chief, and a safety coordinator.

The crane in the foreground is part of the Second Avenue subway construction project.

Second Avenue btw. 91st & 92nd - looking W

A second alarm was struck by the commander of FDNY Battalion 10 at 5:25 PM.

Shortly thereafter FDNY radio reported that the fire had spread to the 15th floor of the building and Attack Level A was being implemented. (FDNY Attack Level A is the highest threat/greatest protection, for a fire/rescue situation. This would include SCBA [self contained breathing apparatus], turnout coat and pants, boots, gloves, and a heavy helmet.)

A fire at 1751 Second Avenue - 3/20/10
via YouTube

With the building's standpipes now fully charged with water, the FDNY is shown here attacking the fire from the inside with high pressure hoses.

FDNY radio reported that the fire was "knocked down" at 5:36 PM.

near the NE corner of 92nd & Second Avenue - looking SW

WABC-TV/DT reported that nine people were injured, one seriously, in the fire.

This is the second 2-alarm fire to occur in this building in less than a year. The previous major fire was on June 17, 2009 on the 9th floor of the building.


"Still no cause of UES high-rise fire" (video)
WABC-TV/DT New York - 3/21/10
Includes 2 viewer submitted videos of the fire. Both videos were taken while hanging out the window of the burning building.

FDNY Manhattan 10-77 Box 1219 Fire in a High Rise Scanner Audio (8:19)

"What's the Deal With Standpipes?" (1:55)
By Andrew Siff WNBC-TV New York - 2/4/10


The Fire Department New York (FDNY) Incident Report (copy appended below) for this fire states that, "it is believed the fire started in a power strip located on the floor by the A/C [air conditioner]."

FDNY Incident Report - 1751 Second Avenue - 3/20/2010 :: FDNY Fire Marshal's Report - 1751 Second Avenue - 3/20/2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 14, 2010

I ventured out on Sunday afternoon, into the wind and rain, to see if there had been any damage due to the Nor'easter that past through over the weekend. I also knew that it was time for a new posting, now that over three weeks has passed.

83rd - looking S

(I like how the orange construction signs reflect in the pool of standing water.)

near 71st - looking N

near 84th - looking N

I assume that the construction fence (shown above) was pushed over by high winds on Saturday night.

near the SE corner of 83rd - looking NW

72nd - looking N

In this shot, and the one below, you see the steel cover that has been built on top of the access shaft that is under construction near 72nd Street. The cover, I assume, is to keep debris (rock in particular) from flying up as they blast out the rock below.

btw. 72nd and 73rd - looking NW

btw. 72nd and 73rd

In this image you see a nice close up image of a set of blasting mats.

73rd - looking S

btw. 86th and 87th - looking S

between 86th and 87th - looking N
(a dog's eye view of the construction)

93rd - looking W

Umbrellas stuck in the fence.

SE corner of 94th - looking W

Six new concrete deck slabs.

btw. 94th & 95th - looking W

This machine is either coming or going -- meaning that it's either sitting here because it's waiting to be lowered to the surface below, or it's waiting to be removed from the launch box site.

It's also possible that it will be used for the construction north of 95th Street - but if that were the case I would not expect to see it sitting here, since the dividing line between the work zones (Contract 1 and Contract 2A) is 95th Street.

btw. 93rd and 94th - looking W

A small pile of Manhattan bedrock from the blasting zone below the decking.

btw. 95th and 96th - looking E

Another example of fencing that was blown over during the storm.

btw. 96th & 97th - looking E

At this location contractors have been welding large section of pipe together.

NW corner of 97th

A set of ball valves, manufactured in Italy by the firm Valvitalia, waiting to be installed. These would appear to be for use on high pressure gas lines.

One could ask the question -- why was it not possible to purchase these valves from an American manufacturer?

the NE corner of 97th

And finally, one can see that the end is near for the old Century Lumber yard building.


1752 Second Avenue (btw. 91st & 92nd)

This shop, which has been vacant since September 2008,
re-opened in early March as Vintage on 2nd.


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

"Officials: MTA will handle 'fragile' 2nd avenue buildings with care"
amNewYork - 2/24/10

"Delays on Second Avenue Subway Side Project Closes E. 95th Street for Another Month"
DNAinfo - 2/23/10

More stimulus funds for SAS (and ESA)
2nd. Ave. Sagas - 3/9/10

The stores on Second Avenue between 82nd Street and 88th Street are open during construction
MTA SubTalk (a poster)


A footnote:
My apologies for the delay since my lasting posting in February. My day job, and some vacation time, have distracted me over the past few weeks.

With the warmer weather I expect to return to a more regular schedule of postings.