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Largest Civic Underground Project in the US Now Under Sunnyside

Under the Sunnyside Yards /Photo ©Patricia Dorfman

March 19, 2011 Staff Report

Elected officials and press got a chance March 18 to see the underground tunnel that will link Grand Central with Long Island–known as East Side Access–when complete.

Attendees climbed six stories down into a Sunnyside Yard pit to see the new tunnel borers, christened “Tess” and “Molina” by I.S. 204  sixth grade contest winners. “Tess” is an acronym for Tunnel Excavation Sunnyside, while “Molina” a play on the word “mole.”

The tunnel borers are about 300 feet long and take out the “slurry, “ the earthy mixture in its path out the the ground. The ground is removed at a rate of an inch a minute, operating 24 hours a day.

Program Manager Andy Thompson of Manchester, England, who also worked on the French English rail tunnel, termed the process, “slurry in, slurry out.”

The borers have been customized for the ground beneath this section of Sunnyside that consists of clay, sand, soil, rock and water– as opposed to bedrock-suited borers used in Manhattan.

Tess and Molina will leave in their path giant interlocking cement rings which will constitute the tunnel edges.

The borers were made in Germany by Herrenknect, shipped here by sea, assembled in New Jersey and carried over land to their Sunnyside Yard underground location. During the round the clock operation, two workers stay inside in a pressurized container, and the operation is controlled by computer, unlike the borers of yesteryear with their steam pressure gauges and calibration by eye.

The borers cost about $20 million each, and are just one facet of the mega project originally estimated to cost $6.3 billion but will now exceed $7.6 billion by completion.

Formerly, East Side Access was to include “Sunnyside Station,” a hub of Amtrak, the MTA, NJ Transit and Long Island Railroad but that part of the plan was removed early on.

Supporters of the project hope the underground rail will make a measurable dent in vehicular travel across the region.

Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, said he hoped that the project would be completed on time and that he would greet those assembled at Grand Central Station in 2016.

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