Home Second Avenue Subway Report: SAS explosion at 72nd St.

Report: SAS explosion at 72nd St.

by Benjamin Kabak

Updated (3:25 p.m.): According to eyewitness reports and alerts from the city’s emergency management office, Fire Department and EMS workers are on the scene at 72nd St. at 2nd Avenue where a explosion in the Second Ave. Subway station cavern at that site went awry. Bystanders say a blast sent rocky debris flying and may have damaged sidewalks. There were somehow no reported injuries, but East 72n St. is now closed from 1st to 3rd Avenues. The Times had the following report while The Daily News had some very dramatic photos:

An intentional underground explosion on the Second Avenue subway project at 72nd Street broke windows above ground Tuesday afternoon, the authorities said. There were no reported injuries. “We were doing a controlled blast,” said Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, “when clearly something went awry and an explosion was felt at street level.” The blast occurred around 12:45 p.m.

Michael Horodniceanu, president of the M.T.A.’s capital construction division, said that workers had been blasting to clear an escalator wellway from the street to the subway, but that “we do not know why” the blast caused damage up on street level.

Windows were cracked on several floors of the building at the southwest corner of Second and 72nd that houses the Kolb art gallery, including in the gallery itself. Inside it, people could be seen inside cleaning up what looked like debris.

Reporting from the scene, amNew York’s Marc Beja had a bit more:

Apparently, this is not the first time a blast at 72nd St. did not go as planned as the MTA says something similar happened earlier this summer. The MTA, meanwhile, has said construction at 72nd St. has been halted while an investigation into the cause of the accident is underway. Despite some grandstanding by prominent political commentators, this is one of the few serious disruptions to impact a rather complicated problem, and officials seem to be taking it quite seriously.

I’ll try to update as more news comes in. If anyone has any images from the scene, drop me a note.

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Jerrold August 21, 2012 - 2:08 pm

As of 2:00 P.M., it has been announced that traffic flow has resumed on Second Ave. Good news, apparently meaning that the accidental explosion was not as serious as it appeared at first.

Jerrold August 21, 2012 - 2:16 pm


They just said that BUSES are still being diverted.

bgriff August 21, 2012 - 2:48 pm

Screw-ups like this, unfortunately, only make it harder to make the case for the next phases of SAS going forward…

Bolwerk August 21, 2012 - 3:27 pm

Given the construction methods, these things are going to happen.

I always said they should have just done is cut & cover. A few months of inconvenience for each section of Second Ave. seems preferable to me. But someone had a boner for blowing a few extra billion $.

aestrivex August 21, 2012 - 5:16 pm

i agree completely, but it will never happen in the modern era.

Bolwerk August 21, 2012 - 5:50 pm

Then we’ll never get subways affordably again.

R. Graham August 22, 2012 - 12:47 am

They weren’t coming back to being affordable even with cut and cover. The number of utilities lining the streets in comparison to the old days alone make affordable subway construction a dead era.

Bolwerk August 22, 2012 - 9:08 pm

We know that’s not true simply by looking at how other countries manage.

Chet August 21, 2012 - 3:00 pm

All I can say is people should be thankful this isn’t being done via cut and cover.

Then they’d really have something to complain about.

Bolwerk August 21, 2012 - 3:28 pm

If it were done with any approximation of due diligence, what they’d have to complain about is a working subway.

Peter August 21, 2012 - 3:29 pm

You are correct sir. Check out this doozie from 1915.

Jerrold August 21, 2012 - 5:07 pm

Peter, that IS interesting.
So they did at least SOME blasting in those days.
It is always being said that the cut-and-cover construction of the original subways was totally done by men with shovels.

Anyhow, it sure took a lot less time to build a subway a century ago.

Peter August 21, 2012 - 8:53 pm

Oh they definitely used blasting in hard rock. I’d have to look for details, but there was a huge explosion when excavating south of Grand Central on Park. I believe it was set off by someone smoking by a dynamite shack.

Ah found it. 1902. Multiple people killed.

R. Graham August 22, 2012 - 12:51 am

Blasting was used in the Northern Blvd area for East Side Access on the approach to the TBM bored tunnels.

Blasting was used in central park on the 63rd Street tunnel in the 70s.

Cut and cover or TBM there will always be the use of dynamite in subway construction. The only problem with the cut and cover blasting is that the air quality is a lot worse since there are no overhead containment for most of the blast dust.

Josh K August 21, 2012 - 3:11 pm

Wait, so what exactly happened? Everyone is talking about this like it was a botched explosive blast to remove rock, yet the news report says that it was a blown hose from an overloaded high-capacity, high pressure air compressor that blew. Which is it?
One is an accident involving explosives and the other is an accident involving poorly maintained machinery at a site with explosives. There’s a difference.

Benjamin Kabak August 21, 2012 - 3:27 pm

Sounds like this was a botched intentional explosion now.

Chet August 21, 2012 - 4:06 pm

How many explosions has the construction had to date?

How many of them went wrong?

Jerrold August 21, 2012 - 5:02 pm

I hope that everybody correctly picks up the intended meaning of your post, as a rhetorical question.

Chet August 21, 2012 - 5:47 pm

Yes, it is meant that construction has been going on for several years already, and of the hundreds of explosions for the work, I can’t remember one other that went this wrong.

Stephen Smith August 21, 2012 - 6:18 pm

When you’re pinching pennies to the point where you’re only spending a measly $1.7 billion per km of tunnel, these things are bound to happen.

R. Graham August 22, 2012 - 12:53 am

$1.7 billion per km of tunnel is penny pinching? That’s shocking! What would be a more reasonable figure?

Alon Levy August 22, 2012 - 10:31 am

He’s being sarcastic. The point is that this is the most expensive straight-subway (i.e. not commuter rail) project in the world, per kilometer, and they still have accidents.

Benjamin Kabak August 22, 2012 - 10:33 am

Serious question: What does cost have to do with the accidents and do you think it’s possible to eliminate accidents entirely?

Alon Levy August 22, 2012 - 6:36 pm

No, I do not think it’s possible to eliminate accidents entirely.

But, one of the two perennial arguments for why costs are so high is “It was cheap back when there were accidents.” Usually comparisons to either China of today or New York of 1910 abound. (The other argument is labor costs.)

JJ August 22, 2012 - 12:47 pm

penny pinching … over budget by $3 Billion and 4 years already … hello ???

mike d. August 21, 2012 - 7:25 pm

Human error…haha

Spendmore Wastemore August 21, 2012 - 10:48 pm

Big flippin’ d.

Excavating/blasting through thousands of square yards of rock, not including the TBM stuff and a one or two blasts go wrong. Water tunnel 3 has had 23 fatalities already and it’s not finished. Death on the job is part of construction.

Oh, wait, NO ONE died or was crippled in this accident. They’re doing something right if they can have a blast go wrong with no injuries. Overpriced, padded payroll, check, but clearly they did something right about having a margin of safety.

Rick August 21, 2012 - 11:28 pm

There has been at least one death. On January 24, 2011 a pedestrian was killed by a dump truck. It happened on First Avenue, so it was never reported as a SAS accident, but it was. The truck was using a route which was not allowed. After the accident, signs were erected at the loading station on 2nd Avenue to not use the route that killed the woman. Here’s an article on the death. http://www.kreindler.com/Recen.....enue.shtml

There have been dozens of motor vehicle accidents and pedestrians hit because of obstructed sight lines that never get reported or acknowledged being due to the construction, because it does not involve construction equipment or crews. This woman surely died by a truck on a route it was not allowed to be on. The SAS is being built in a mixed use commercial and residential neighborhood, but the activity itself would be, if NYC had the designation, something like heavy use industrial — the safeguards are inadequate. People are indeed going to the hospital and one person has been killed. The site itself is above the national norm for its workers.

There is significant harm to property and life that is occurring. Another travesty of management and the design of the project.

R. Graham August 22, 2012 - 12:56 am

Well played Rick but possibly overplayed. I believe Spendmore was only referring to blasting incidents. Not others like the examples you gave.

Spendmore Wastemore August 22, 2012 - 8:31 pm

Yes, that’s what I meant. I’d be shocked if a project of this size completed with no fatalities at all. As RG has pointed out there’s 2 so far, one being a traffic accident above ground (due in part to breaking rules it seems).

There will always be a few accidents. MTA reports about 150 train/person hits per year with (amazingly) 100 survivors. I don’t really want to see what sort of shape the average survivor is in.
It’s still far safer than the same amount of driving, at least until you pull out something worth stealing.

Hank August 22, 2012 - 2:14 am

In addition to the pedestrian death on First (which I had the distinct misfortune of witnessing), one Sandhog died earlier this year near the 63rd st. station when a loose rock from the ceiling fell on him.

All in all however, this has been a very safe project with few fatalities. They used to measure subway construction in how many men died PER mile… So Spendmore is certainly right on that point.

R. Graham August 22, 2012 - 7:22 pm

But that has nothing to do with SAS as the accurate location of that incident was the station cavern under Grand Central for ESA.

Douglas John Bowen August 22, 2012 - 9:49 am

One local TV station (I think a WCBS, but don’t quote me on that) ran the SAS story SECOND after noting an out-of-control car smashed into a storefront in SoHo (now THAT’s shattered glass); no injuries here, either. The THIRD story was about some shooting up in the Bronx, shades of the Bad Old Days; injuries here, obviously, but fortunately no deaths.

So, by the “moderate” station (WCBS, I think), the SAS “disaster” was second among three “incidents” of the day involving safety in some way. This rail advocate will take that as a better balance on whatever “reality” is than the OMG-panic mongering that’s all too immediate all too often these days. For that, one could turn yesterday to WABC “EyeWitless News,” which briskly declared SAS construction work “will be halted INDEFINITELY.” We’ll see.

Work halted at 72nd St. SAS site, for now :: Second Ave. Sagas August 22, 2012 - 12:02 pm

[…] « Report: SAS explosion at 72nd St. Aug […]

JJ August 22, 2012 - 12:53 pm

Hopefully they can get going on this soon enough without too much NIMBY and political grandstanding getting in the way … but , this being NYC , no way

Work set to resume at 72nd St. SAS site Monday :: Second Ave. Sagas August 24, 2012 - 1:13 am

[…] with safety measures that have been implemented in the aftermath of Tuesday’s explosion, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota announced yesterday that work will begin again on Monday. SSK Contractors […]

Urban Omnibus » The Omnibus Roundup – 2nd Ave Explosion, Park Woes and Means, Ice Rinks, Parking Reports, and the Battle of Brooklyn August 24, 2012 - 3:12 pm

[…] detonation to create an elevator shaft for part of the Second Avenue subway construction went horribly wrong on Tuesday, when the blast misfired and sent chunks of debris flying, billowing thick black smoke eight […]

Someone January 16, 2013 - 8:58 pm

Heh, makes me wonder how many people don’t double-check. 😉

SAS Updates: Photos at 86th, blasting at 72nd, sequester :: Second Ave. Sagas March 5, 2013 - 12:53 pm

[…] Meanwhile, for residents around the 72nd St. area — where giant structures loom over the avenue — a relief from blasting has arrived. The MTA officially proclaimed blasting in the area over as of last Thursday. The final charged was for an elevator entrance at the southeast corner of 72nd St. and 2nd Ave. As you may recall, an explosion went awry in the area last August. […]


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