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,

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