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Workers grind away and mark milestone in huge LIRR project


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Workers grind away and mark milestone in huge LIRR project



July 18th 2008



Zalcman for News

View inside East Side access tunnel at 63rd St. and 2nd Ave. When done in 2015,

it will let LIRR riders get to Grand Central.


Some construction workers operate bulldozers or cranes; Anthony Spinoso pilots a 360-foot-long rig that eats granite for breakfast ... and lunch and dinner.


The rig is a tunnel boring machine (TBM), a 640-ton behemoth with a front grill fitted with 45 circular steel blades - each as big as a car tire.


"It's pretty incredible," Spinoso conceded Thursday at the TBM's controls some 15 stories below Manhattan's blacktop.


Spinoso is part of a contingent of sandhogs working on the MTA's Long Island Rail Road extension to Grand Central Terminal.


They recently reached the area beneath the historic hub, having bored their way through some of the hardest rock in the world from an existing East River tube at 63rd St. and Second Ave.


It's a milestone in a project that in 2015 will shorten the trip for thousands of Long Island Rail Road commuters with East Side offices. Other benefits will ripple across the transit system, said Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Elliot Sander.



JR/News[/float]Because some LIRR commuters won't have to transfer to the subways at Penn Station on the West Side of Manhattan, some subway lines will be less crowded. Changes to LIRR operations at Penn will allow Metro-North to run trains to the West Side from towns north of the city, he said.


"The arrival of the first tunnel boring machine at Grand Central is a giant step," Sander said.


A second TBM is carving a parallel tunnel toward Grand Central under which a second LIRR terminal will be created.


Two construction firms working as a team began tunneling in October, but there's no sign of the activity aboveground. Muck isn't trucked out of Manhattan but is moved along 4 miles of conveyors to eastern Queens through the lower level of the 63rd St. tunnel. F-line subway trains use the upper level.


Operators like Spinoso have to work eight different controls for various maneuvers, including bracing the machine against rock walls to create the forward thrust. Dozens of meters must be monitored.


But for all of their punch, the TBMs are a smooth, relatively easy ride, according to TBM engineer Edward Kennedy. Vibrations are minimal. The computer system shuts the rig down if conditions aren't right.


Bluntly put, he said: "It's pretty hard to screw things up."

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