Home Second Avenue Subway A launch box and art for a subway in progress

A launch box and art for a subway in progress

by Benjamin Kabak

A glimpse inside the Second Ave. subway tunnel-boring machine launch box. (All photos by Patrick J. Cashin/MTA)

Over the last few years, as MTA construction crews have slowly turned Second Ave. into a battle zone, many New Yorkers have looked upon the decades-long Second Ave. Subway as a fantasy. It is the city’s Moby Dick, and even as Captain Ahab approaches his target, nothing, many argue, is going on. Buildings rumbling from the blasting, but progress, at least above-ground, can sometimes appear nearly non-existent.

This Friday, the MTA unveiled a series of photos from underground. In a few weeks, the Second Ave. subway tunnel-boring machine will be lowered into its launch box, and drilling from 92nd St. south to 63rd St. will begin. The city will be one step closer to a badly-needed subway line when that TBM begins its own trek downtown.

The photos are all available on the MTA’s facebook page, and they’re fairly stunning. Besides the one above of the starter tunnel, the authority has posted numerous glimpses inside the construction shaft, approximately 60 feet below ground. Take a peek:

Here, we can see why work above ground has been slow. The MTA had to shore up support walls in the launch box and relocate numerous unmapped utility lines that have connected the Upper East Side to the city’s water, sewer, gas and electricity systems. This is delicate and important work. Eventually, these utility tunnels will be enclosed after the MTA fills in the launch box area.

In this photo, as Ben from The Launch Box noted, the norther end of the launch box at 95th St. is visible in the distance. One day, this will be a part of the 96th St. station along the Second Ave. Subway.

As workers underground prepare for the TBM, other MTA officials are trying to prepare for a new subway system as well. Just last week, in fact, Arts for Transit put out a Call for Artists for the new areas of the 63rd St. station at Lexington Ave. that will be open to the public in 2016. The Call is available here as a PDF, and the document highlights how the MTA plans to use parts of the current station to integrate SAS service and provide a transfer to the F train.

This station originally opened in 1989, and while two platforms are accessible today to the public, two more are hiding behind temporary walls. Says Arts for Transit, “The new work related to the Second Avenue Project will involve removing the existing platform dividing walls and opening up both upper and lower platforms to create a four-track-station. To serve this enlarged station, the existing upper mezzanine on the east end (which has been left unfinished since construction) will be opened with new finishes. New station entrances will be constructed at the intersection of Third Ave and 63rd Street in Manhattan.”

As the new stations come online, Arts for Transit will leave its mark. The agency says that they will have 3000 feet of wall space in the new mezzanines, and artists may turn in their portfolios this week. Arts for Transit will select some artists later this year, and construction will start 12-18 months later.

One day, it seems, a part of the Second Ave. Subway will open, and New Yorkers will realize a dream deferred for over eight decades. Who knows if Phase II will see the light of day? Who can say if the T will eventually travel from Chatham Square to 125th St. and back? For now, though, progress continues whether we see it or not.

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18 comments

Christopher March 29, 2010 - 2:16 am

The first image reminds me of the incredibly cool (and a little bit spooky) Stockholm Metro System with its dramatically lit stone walls and exposed mechanicals.

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Josh K March 29, 2010 - 4:09 am

The MTA photographer and Ben at TheLaunchBox are both wrong about the second photo. The second photo shown here does not highlight relocated utilities. All of those “pipes” are actually steel bracing for the walls of the launch box. The relocated utilities are all hung from the underside of the road deck, way up at the top of the launch box pit.
If you look at the most recent MTA progress report to CB8 from a few weeks back, it clearly shows how relocated utilities are being dealt with and how the walls are being braced.

The launch box walls require bracing here because of the geology and the foundations of the surrounding buildings. Those buildings are putting a lot of pressure against the walls of the launch box and thus needs bracing to keep the walls from being pushed inward.

I can’t wait to see photos of the TBM’s arrival.

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Scott E March 29, 2010 - 8:03 am

With all of the rain we’ve been getting lately, I can’t help but wonder what it looks like down there this morning, or how much it sets back the schedule. Obviously it’s not waterproofed yet, and I don’t know how well the box is sealed off from the street. But we all know that concrete doesn’t harden well in damp, much less wet, environments. Imagine the precautions taken to keep the TBM (once it begins its work) from becoming trapped in a dead-end tunnel. Fantastic pictures.

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AlexB March 30, 2010 - 2:26 pm

Concrete only hardens in damp and wet conditions. If the air is too dry, water has to be sprayed on it for days or it won’t be strong enough.

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Scott E March 31, 2010 - 8:42 am

Wow. I knew it needed moisture to be formed, but thought it dried to harden. You learn something new every day… thanks!

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Larry Littlefield March 29, 2010 - 10:09 am

I can only hope this project continues even as the city’s public services re-collapse, the way the third water tunnel continued. Somebody has to care about the future.

What has to be done, and soon, is the entire portion up to 125th — so the Lex can be shut down for extended periods as its signals are redone without strandning hundreds of thousands. That’s ther redundency we need, and why the decision to turn down 125th to the Lex/MetroNorth was the right one.

But I hope that a skeleton crew is kept on and the TBMs are kept working south of 63rd, even with no prospect of a subway in the near term. The rubble can be taken out by train via the 63rd Street tunnel. Given how hard it was to get the TBMs in the ground, it would be a crime to just seal them off in concrete and have to do it again someday.

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Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 2:46 am

Phase II is incredibly tempting to get done ASAP, what with all the finished subway tunnel already there. If there is *any* money for expansion everyone in MTA admin will be pushing to put it there, because of the “bang for the buck” factor.

I expect it’ll be broken into a “IIA” and a “IIB”, however, since the final turn to 125th St. and the underground 125th. St. station below Metro-North and below the IRT are undoubtedly much more expensive than the “fill-in” stations between existing tunnels.

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Eric F. March 29, 2010 - 10:11 am

Aesome photos. The first is particularly compelling to me, as you can see the men standing by the cut and equipment to provide scale. And then you can realize that all of this is taking place under the streets of Manhattan, amazing.

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Jerrold March 29, 2010 - 11:09 am

VERY interesting pictures!

By the way, “take a peak” should be “take a peek”.

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Jerrold March 29, 2010 - 5:30 pm

I see it’s fixed now.

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Joe from SI March 29, 2010 - 1:24 pm

Will there be one TBM or two?

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Duke87 March 29, 2010 - 4:28 pm

I believe the intent is to bore the downtown tunnel, back the TBM up back to 96th, and then bore the uptown tunnel (so, one TBM).

Then again, it was a few years ago that I saw this in a presentation. The plan may have changed.

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Think twice March 30, 2010 - 9:42 am

“I believe the intent is to bore the downtown tunnel, back the TBM up back to 96th, and then bore the uptown tunnel…”

I thought the TBM would only go uptown.

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Nabe News: March 29 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle March 29, 2010 - 1:42 pm

[…] look at progress on the Second Avenue subway line.  Expect a completion sometime next century [Second Avenue Sagas […]

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Todd March 29, 2010 - 2:44 pm

Woah. That would be so cool to see up close. They should do tours! They could charge admission and use the money to help fund construction! It’s a win-win. (I’d sign a safety waiver if needed.)

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Tunnel Vision March 29, 2010 - 4:11 pm

[…] Second Avenue Sagas via Curbed. Also on Gothamist. […]

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shrdlu April 4, 2010 - 1:28 pm

It ain’t like mud pies, it involves a chemical reaction that responds to a wide set of variables. In some ways more art than science and an extremely acient art at that.

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The shape of Tunnel Boring Machines to come :: Second Ave. Sagas April 9, 2010 - 12:05 am

[…] last week, the MTA took us all for a visual trip inside the Second Ave. Subway launch box. With the starter tunnels nearly complete, the Capital Construction crews will soon lower the […]

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