Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blast Rocks Second Avenue

Blast at 2nd Ave. Subway Site
on 72nd Street Goes Wrong

Updated, 1/31/2013
A copy of the FDNY Incident Report for this event can be found on this link:
Incident # 1-0383-0

Updated, 9/13/12:
The MTA announced today that the investigation of the August 21st blasting incident has been completed, and that a series of enhanced safety measures and actions have been implemented on the Second Avenue Subway 72nd Street Station Cavern Mining contract.

Blasting will resume first in the station cavern on Friday, September 14th, and will begin the following week at the ancillary shaft where the August 21st incident occurred.

Further details can be found on this link:
Summary Report of Blast #73 Ancillary No. 2
MTA - 9/13/12

Updated, 8/26/12:
Additional images from the scene last Tuesday, including a panorama shot, and an updated listing of news links has been added to the posting.

Updated, 8/23/12:
MTA Chairman and CEO Lhota announced today that work at the 72nd Street station site will resume next Monday, with no blasting planned until the MTA is convinced that its contractors can proceed safely.

Updated, 8/22/12:
Additional information related to the MTA's ongoing investigation of Tuesday's surface explosion can be found at the end of the posting.

Photo Credit: John Wilson
Source: http://www.nydailynews.com

"Second Ave. subway blast sends debris eight stories high"
Reported by Shayna Jacobs , Kerry Burke and Bill Hutchinson
The Daily News - 8/21/12
(Additional dramatic photos of the blast can be viewed by clicking on the image above.)

For this story, a picture is worth a thousand words.

At approximately 12:45 p.m. today a controlled blast at the corner of 72nd Street and Second Avenue sent rock and debris flying into the air above Second Avenue. A FDNY Assistant Chief on the scene said that no one was injured and that damage to adjacent property was minimal.

Various reports indicate that the MTA's contractor, SSK Constructors JV (*), was blasting a section of rock at this location to make room for an escalator well for one of the future entrances to the new 72nd Street station.

(*) SSK Constructors is a joint venture of Schiavone Construction, J.F. Shea Construction, and Kiewit Infrastructure Corp.

The New York Times story on the blast included a report that a resident in the neighborhood said that she did not hear the a warning signal prior to the explosion.  But a source that I talked to late this afternoon told me that his doorman said that he did hear the warning signal before the blast was fired.

MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota released the following statement this evening:
“What happened at the Second Avenue Subway construction site today is completely unacceptable. The MTA is investigating what went wrong and will not resume work at the 72nd Street site until we receive a full explanation for what happened and a plan to make sure it does not happen again.
While I am thankful that no one was injured today, I fully understand why neighbors of the construction site are upset. I am, too. The safety of the community is the MTA’s utmost priority. We will continue working with the community to ensure their concerns are heard and acted upon.”

The Wall Street Journal reported this evening that, "Fire Department officials at the scene initially said they believed that the contractor, SSK Constructors, might have used too much explosive material. But the MTA's chief spokesman, Adam Lisberg, later said there was "no indication" excess explosives caused the accident."

Work at the the MTA's 72nd Street station work site has been suspended pending an investigation.


The following set of images, provide to me by J. Puglisi, a local resident, show the scene on and above the street moments after the blast.

Courtesy of J. Puglisi
72nd Street and 2nd Avenue, NE corner - looking W

Moments after the blast workers quickly work to clear rock and other debris from the street.

Courtesy of J. Puglisi

Courtesy of J. Puglisi

Courtesy of J. Puglisi

Courtesy of J. Puglisi
(Click on the image for a large format panorama view of the scene.)

Courtesy of J. Puglisi

A view of NW corner of 72nd and Second, from above.

Note in particular the red truck near the top of the image, just to the right of the two fire trucks. This is one of the special trucks that is used to transport explosives to the work site each day.

Courtesy of J. Puglisi


And finally, here are two raw videos of the scene on Second Avenue right after the blast:

"Second avenue subway explosion"
By YouTube user carlybaldwinjersey
via YouTube
Video: (0:54)

This video was taken moment after the blast from a point near the SW corner of 72nd and 2nd.  The person holding the camera is looking east. 

"Second Avenue Subway Blast Aftermath"
By Wayne P
Video (1:20)
(Warning: This video contains language that some may find offensive.)

This video was shot from a point near the NE corner of 72nd and 2nd.  The person holding the camera is looking west.

Selected news reports on this story can be found below:

"Blast on Second Avenue Subway Project Shatters Windows Above Ground"
By Andy Newman and Vivian Yee
The New York Times - 8/21/12

Video: "Crews Survey Damage Caused By Second Ave. Subway Blast"
By Tina Redwine
NY1 News - 8/21/12
Video (2:00)

"Deep Blast, Big Mess"
By Ted Mann
The Wall Street Journal - 8/21/12

"Huge Second Avenue Subway Blast Rocks and Rattles Upper East Side"
By DNAinfo Staff
DNAInfo.com - 8/21/12

"Visitor Snaps the Second Ave. Explosion"
The Daily News - 8/21/12
Video (1:40)

An interesting interview with the John Wilson and his wife. Mr. Wilson was the person who shot the dramatic still images of the blast as it happened.

Update: Wed. 8/22/12

Initial Findings Released in 2nd Ave Subway Explosion Investigation
Metropolitan Transportation Authority - 8/22/12

Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, spoke Wednesday afternoon to the press about preliminary findings from the MTA's ongoing investigation into Tuesday's surface explosion at a Second Avenue subway construction site.

Dr. Horodniceanu's statement, and the Q&A with the members of the press, can be viewed on this video link:

NY1 Online: MTA Capital Construction President Speaks On Second Avenue Subway Explosion
NY1 News - 8/22/12
Video (9:58)

Today's selected news reports follow:

"Unsecured Steel Plate Above Subway Blast Site ‘Opened Like a Trapdoor’ "
By Andy Newman
The New York Times - 8/22/12

"Second Ave. Subway Blast Stronger Than Expected, Officials Say"
By DNAInfo Staff
DNAinfo.com - 8/22/12

"Details emerge in 2nd Avenue subway explosion"
By N.J. Burkett
WABC/TV - 8/22/12
Video (2:49)

Update: Sun. 8/26/12

Selected news clips:

Video: Up Close - Second Avenue subway explosion
With Diana Williams/ABC News
WABC/TV - 8/26/12
Video (12:43)

An interview with Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, the President of MTA Capital Construction.

"Work to Resume at Site of Second Ave. Subway Mishap"
By Ted Mann
The Wall Street Journal - 8/23/12

"MTA blames Second Avenue subway explosion on contractor errors"
By Jennifer Fermino, Kirstan Conley and Don Kaplan
The New York Post - 8/23/12

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Video: Blasting Under 2nd Avenue

"Second Avenue Subway - 8/2/2012 Update" (1:27)
By J.P. Chan/Metropolitan Transportation Authority
6/26/12 (posted on YouTube 8/2/12)

Earlier this month, the MTA posted this brief video on their YouTube channel, MTAinfo. The video shows a group of Sandhogs blasting a section of rock as they carve out the cavern for the new 72nd Street Station.

The video is impressive on many levels. First of all, it is very professional in its execution, right down to the dramatic but quite appropriate orchestral music.

Second, while watching the Sandhogs at work, you see a group of them appearing almost relaxed as they perform their jobs. I suppose this relaxed professionalism comes with many years of experience working down in the tunnels.

Third, look carefully -- starting at 1:02 -- and you can see a rather large piece of rock flying towards the camera, right after the blast. I'm told that a piece of rock actually hit the tripod, but not the camera or the lens.

Intrigued by this video, I tracked down J.P. Chan, the filmmaker responsible for creating this fine piece. Here's what I've learned --

The video shoot was set up using five (5) high-definition video cameras - a Sony FS100 (for the Sandhogs), a Sony EX1R on a tripod (for the blast), and three GoPro cameras on Gorillapods.

At the time of the blast the filmmaker was out of harm's way at the far (south) end of the cavern -- where he was shooting video of the Sandhogs.

The camera that was positioned a few dozen yards away from the blast was in an area that the Sandhogs had deemed safe. (This was the camera that shot the footage of the rocks flying towards it.) There was no special protection set up for the camera and, luckily, it was not damaged by the blast.

The three GoPros were placed much closer to the blast. Two of them did record blast footage. However, the video quality was rather poor so that footage was not used in the final video cut. The third GoPro stopped recording when the blast occurred. That unlucky camera was later found buried underneath blasted rocks and dust.

And if you were wondering about the background music... it's a piece called "Gothica 90 am" from a collection of orchestral music loops called "Cinematic Strings".

The filmmaker, J.P. Chan, who works for the MTA by day, is an award-winning indie (independent) filmmaker and playwright.  You can learn more about his work on his web site, jpchan.com.

Longtime viewers of this blog will recall that a small number of unofficial blast videos shot underground have been posted on-line over the past few years. All of them, I suppose, were taken clandestinely by workers who were using their mobile phones.

I'm sure that many New Yorkers are happy to now see the MTA "pulling back the curtain" on this project a bit further, to show all of us what a blast really looks like, up close and personal.

In other news, the MTA released their latest quarterly report on the project this past week.

Quarterly Report - 2Q2012
Second Avenue Subway - Phase I
MTA Capital Construction
35 pages

I had a quick read through the report and found these points to be of interest:
  • The MTA's in-service date for Phase I of the project remains December 31, 2016.
  • The contractor for the 72nd Street station cavern has excavated a total of 156,500 bank cubic yards (85% of the total for the contract) as of 6/29/12.  (My understanding is that the excavation of this station cavern is now basically complete. However, the excavation of the entrances is still ongoing.)
  • It cost the MTA $2.175 million when they made the decision to not blast after 7 o'clock in the evening. This amount was the added cost to have necessary work done earlier in the day so that all blasting could be completed prior to the (new) cutoff time.
  • The rate of OSHA Recordable Incidents (i.e. worker injuries) for the project is well above the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) average of 3.9 incidents per 200,000 work-hours for similar kinds of work. The project's rate is 5.42 incidents per 200,000 work-hours. On the 72nd Street Cavern contract specifically, the OSHA Recordable Incidents number is almost double the BLS average: 7.26 per 200,000 work-hours.

The report also included this updated project schedule:

Integrated Project Schedule Summary
Quarterly Report - 2Q2012
Second Avenue Subway - Phase I
MTA Capital Construction
Page 30

The latest (May 2012) Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) Project Management Oversight Contractor (PMOC) report for the Second Avenue Subway project was recently posted on the FTA web site.  You can find a copy of the report on this link:

PMOC Monthly Report
Second Avenue Subway - Phase I
Urban Engineers
May 2012 - 29 pages

Fair warning, this is a heavy duty report that has been prepared by an engineering consulting company. It contains more technical details about the project than most people would care to know.

According to the report, "The cumulative construction time worked since [the] project inception is 3,657,788 hours." (I personally find it surprising that they can come up with such an exact number. I would have thought it would be fine to round the number to the nearest hundred, or even thousand.)

The report includes lots of useful information, but here's the table of data that I found to be the most interesting:

PMOC Monthly Report, p.27
Second Avenue Subway - Phase I
Urban Engineers, May 2012

FFGA stands for Full Funding Grant Agreement. It is my understanding that the numbers listed in this column comprise the budget that was agreed upon with the FTA when the project started.

The table breaks out the cost of the project using a set of standard categories set by the FTA. Budgeting costs using a set of standard cost categories makes it possible for the FTA to consistently report, estimate and manage large projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

This format also helps people to better understand how the money on this project is being spent.

And finally...

The MTA has recently advertised the "Finishes, Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Systems, Ancillary Buildings and Entrances for the Construction for the New Second Avenue Subway 72nd Street Station." This is the second-to-last contract to be awarded for this phase of the project.

The contract was advertised on 8/2/12 with bids set to be opened on 10/23/12.

Further details can be found on this link:
Solicitation No. 35203 (Contract C-26011)

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

"Below Ground, Blessing a Fresh Tunnel Where Diggers Risk Their Lives"
By Corey Kilgannon
The New York Times - 8/6/12

"Betting on Second Avenue"
By Alessia Pirolo
The Wall Street Journal - 8/5/12

"Residents Call Subway Construction Breeding Ground for Crime"
By Amanda Woods
Eastside OurTown - 8/2/12

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The New York Times Goes Down Under

Updated 8/6/12
With a follow-up piece from the New York Times Magazine blog, The 6th Floor, and information on the "wet scrubber" unit near the 86th Street.


The New York Times ventures underground to report on the progress of the Second Avenue subway.

Photo credit: Richard Barnes for The New York Times
Source: The New York Times web site

This magazine was included with
the Sunday paper on August 5th.

"Tunneling Below Second Avenue"
Kim Tingley for The New York Times
Kim Tingley is an online columnist for OnEarth magazine.

The piece also includes a stunning set of images by the photographer Richard Barnes and a wonderful video essay by Jacob Krupnick.

"Way Down in The Hole"
By Richard Barnes for The New York Times
"The hidden beauty of one of the greatest public-works projects New York City has ever seen: the Second Avenue subway."
Richard Barnes is a recipient of a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship for 2012.

Note that all of the 72nd Street station cavern images in this photo essay were taken seven months ago, in January 2012 between January and May of this year. Excavation of this station cavern is now complete.

During Mr. Barnes' journey underneath Second Avenue, I also was present with my camera.
A comparative set of images to Mr. Barnes' can be seen on this link:
"Secrets Under New York"
The Launch Box

Video: "Inside NYC’s underground wonder" (5:57)
Morning Joe/MSNBC
NBC News
An on-air interview with the photographer Richard Barnes who talks about his experience photographing the subterranean work site deep under Second Avenue.

Video: "The Once and Future Plan to Get New York on Track" (4:40)
Directed and edited by Jacob Krupnick for The New York Times
(I can't seem to get the sizing for the New York Times embed code to work properly. If you wish to view the video I suggest that you click on the hyperlink above.)

The Second Avenue subway is not a new story as just about everyone in New York must know by now. As a matter of fact, the Times has been covering this story for well over eighty years.

One of The New York Times' first pieces on the project can be found on this link:
"100 Miles of Subway in New City Project;
52 of Them in Queens"

The New York Times

Update 8/6/12
The New York Times posted this interesting follow-up piece on their web site this morning:

"Going Underground: Behind the Scenes of Our Second Avenue Subway Cover Shoot"
By Kathy Ryan
The 6th Floor
The New York Times
"The 6th Floor is the blog of The New York Times Magazine, where staff members — editors, designers, writers, photo editors and researchers — share ideas, arguments, curiosities and links."

What follows is a set of recent street level images from the various work zones along Second Avenue.

Saturday, 7/14/12
near the SW corner of 97th Street - looking W

A view of foundation work for Ancillary Building number 2 for the the future 96th Street station. (This is the site of the former Century Lumber Building.)

near the SW corner of 96th Street - looking S

96th Street - looking S

btw. 95th and 96th streets - looking W

The equipment on the table would appear to be for testing concrete.

94th Street, NE corner - looking SE

The water in the foreground is contained in a sediment tank.

Dirty (muddy) water is pumped into the sediment tank where it cascades through a set of baffle chambers, which slow the water flow, allowing the silt to settle at the bottom of the chambers.

The silt is removed and the "clean" water is then discharged into the sewer system.

93rd Street - looking S

This is the former site of the vertical conveyor system that was used when the Tunnel Boring Machine was mining the tunnels in 2010/11.

87th Street - looking S

A view under the north shaft muck system -- which occupies the east half of Second Avenue in this block.

The muck system at this location is used to transport rock and other material from the work site below to the surface.

btw. 86th and 87th streets - looking W

It's not clear to me what the device with the yellow cover is. All I can tell you is that it is made by the company Schauenburg.

It's possible that it is part of the equipment that will be used to remove dust from the air during underground blasting operations.

Update 8/6/12
A reliable source told me today that this device is a "wet scrubber" unit for the north ventilation system.  During blasting operations, air will be extracted from the cavern and sent through the scrubber. The scrubber will treat the air with a fine mist of water to collect dust prior to the exhaust being released into the atmosphere.


A closer view of this device.

btw. 86th and 87th streets - looking W

Another view from under the north muck system.

The bright yellow tube is part of the air handling system for the work site underground.

btw. 86th and 87th streets
Courtesy of MTA Capital Construction

A view looking down into the north shaft.

86th Street, SE corner - looking W

The liquid on the ground looked to me like used cooking oil that had leaked out of one of the boxes that had been left on the corner. The orange signs in the image indicate that both residential and commercial garbage is to be left at this location.

In front of 245 E 84th Street - looking East

This a view, from street level, down into the south shaft for the 86th Street station cavern.

Courtesy of MTA Capital Construction
Inside the South shaft at 84th Street - looking West

A better view of work site inside the south shaft.

In front of 245 E 84th Street - looking E

Another street level view of the south shaft work site.

84th Street, just north of the NW corner - looking W

73rd Street, SE corner

Located in the construction zone, here is another business that couldn't make it.

72nd Street, NW corner - looking E

The future site, on the corner, of Entrance Number 3 for the 72nd Street station.

Lexington Ave/63rd Street station - upper level

A view of the existing Lexington Av/63rd Street station. Note that the 70's era orange tiled wall has now been replaced by a temporary blue wooden wall.

Eventually the temporary wall be be removed - to reveal a 2nd track on the north side of both levels of this station. This new track will be for the Second Avenue subway.

Lexington Ave/63rd Street station - lower level

A small section of the orange wall still remains near the existing elevator in this station.

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

Video: "Inside the 2nd Ave. Subway" (1:09)
By Marvin Scott
WPIX/Channel 11 - 7/30/12

"Hush-Hush: Undercover and Underground at the Second Avenue Subway Site"
By Jessi Rucker
NY Observer - 7/25/12

Video: "Metrofocus: Transforming Transportation" (26:47)
WNET/Thirteen - 7/23/12
"MetroFocus “Transforming Transportation” explores the diverse ways New Yorkers get around the metropolitan area and the large-scale projects that will improve our overburdened transit systems."

"Second Avenue Subway barricades a haven for thugs, neighbors say"
By Kirstan Conley, Kevin Fasick and Jennifer Fermino
New York Post - 7/23/12

Video: "Second Avenue Subway Dust No Longer Visible, But Businesses Still Struggling"
By Tina Redwine
NY1 News - 7/17/12

For SAS Phase I, Federal Funding All In Place
By Benjamin Kabak
2nd. Ave. Sagas - 7/2/12

"$324.6 Million NYC Second Avenue Subway Contract Awarded"
By Amelia Pang
The Epoch Times - 6/25/12