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Milestone for tunnel linking LIRR, Grand Central


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Milestone for tunnel linking LIRR, Grand Central


One hundred forty feet below Grand Central Terminal, in a muddy, slippery tunnel filled with mind-boggling machinery, a recommendation graffitied onto the wall advises: "Watch your butt."


Truth be told, it includes a word slightly more colorful than "butt," but it's sage advice nonetheless to those who work or even visit that dark and dank place, which will connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central by 2015.


The $7.2 billion project recently reached a milestone when one of two 600-ton-plus tunnel boring machines reached a spot about 150 feet below Park Avenue and 48th Street. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will soon begin blasting out space there for a massive LIRR concourse under Grand Central.


During a tour for the media Thursday, project engineers handed out hard hats and orange vests for the trek down 16 flights of stairs that began around the corner from a vacant lot at East 63rd Street and Second Avenue. That's where the first machine began its journey in October.


At the bottom of those stairs, a doorway leads to the 22-foot-diameter tunnel. Workers in heavy rubber boots step through puddles and muck, around tracks laid for a small construction train that carries them to and from the $10 million, Italian-made boring machine.


On this train, there are no padded seats, automated announcements or conductors. Instead, workers scoot onto long metal benches after hoisting themselves up in the dark. Long, piercing blasts warn workers of its slow approach. They, in turn, wave flashlights to signal where they are.


At the end of the tunnel, they step on a 360-foot-long machine that edges forward like an inchworm, using 45 steel blades to cut through an average of 50 feet of granite each day.


A second, similar machine is expected to catch up in about a month.


The new tunnels connect to two tunnels below the East River used by the F train that will link to the LIRR in Queens. A 4-mile-long conveyor belt carries muck from the tunnel out to Long Island City, where it is carted off to landfills or used in roads, said Joe Trainor, the chief engineer for MTA Capital Construction.


Working in the tunnel is not for the faint of heart, he said, but for those who relish venturing into parts of the city few ever see and completing jobs that will change thousands of commuters' lives, there's nothing else like it.


"This is what we love, and to think we can do it right here in Manhattan is wonderful," Trainor said. "We like to think of it as a challenge. It's exciting to be able to do this work right in your hometown."


Once the project is completed, the LIRR is expected to run up to 24 trains in and out of Grand Central during peak hours.


Video: amny_logo.gif icon_offsite.png - July 17, 2008

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