Work crews prep the TBM cutterhead. (All photos via Ben Heckscher/The Launch Box)
Throughout the week, various parts of the tunnel boring machine that will soon start to dig out the Second Ave. Subway tunnel from 96th St. to 63rd St. have arrived at Second Ave. Last night, at approximately 9:30 p.m., the centerpiece arrived as the cutterhead, the part of the machine that will do the heavy lifting arrived.
For the project, this arrival was largely a symbolic one. After all, digging out the tunnels is relatively easy and inexpensive. Building out the stations and the infrastructure that supports the subway are the two expensive and time-consuming aspects of the project. Still, for a subway route with a such a long and tortured history, just the arrival of the TBM cutterhead is enough for a celebration.
A few weeks ago, I profiled the TBM the MTA will use underneath Second Ave. This particular machine is a 30-year-old veteran that most recently dug out the Fall River CSO in Massachusetts. It last churned beneath the streets of New York when it burrowed its way through the 63rd St. tunnel and has been reconditioned to be “like new.”
I couldn’t make it up to the Upper East Side last night for the drop, but Ben Heckscher from The Launch Box was on hand for the big moment. He published a comprehensive photo timeline with commentary. He notes that, as you can see in the photo at right, the cutterhead is missing the cutter disks. Those will be installed in the launch box. The cutterhead too has been painted yellow and marked with giant black Qs to demarcate how the TBM will be extending the Q train north from 57th St. underneath Second Ave. Despite the upcoming service changes, the MTA still intends for the Q to service Phases I and II of the Second Ave. Subway.
By 10 p.m., the cutterhead had been dropped below street level, and the crowds with their cameras dispersed for the night. The ceremony was over, and the hard work — assembling the TBM and starting the digging — will beg in earnest. One day, our subway line will arrive.
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In other Second Ave. Subway news, the MTA this week released its latest quarterly update on the project. The full report — available as a PDF by clicking on the image at right — covers the last quarter of 2009, and as expected, the MTA still believes the Second Ave. Subway will be in revenue service by December 2016.
The most interesting slide from the report is the timeline on page 16. While some of the execution dates for the contracts have been pushed back, the authority doesn’t believe these delays will impact the overall completion of the project. In general, construction on the actual station structures at 96th, 86th and 72nd Sts. won’t commence until late 2011 at the earliest, and utility relocation and demolition continues apace.
The 63rd St. station, however, is due for more immediate upgrades. According to the MTA’s timeline, the design process wrapped up last week, and work on the station will begin this December. This will include the destruction of a temporary wall that seals off the now-unused tunnel that will one day provide a stop for the northbound Q trains and a transfer to the F. The unused portions of this station are visible on this track map.
Service on the Second Ave. Subway may still be over five years away, but it’s seemingly going to happen this time around. Can the fourth time be the charm?