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History of Subaqueous Tunneling in New York City by Andrew Cushing and Nik Sokol

History of Subaqueous Tunneling in New York City by Andrew Cushing and Nik Sokol

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Andrew Cushing on Nov 29, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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History of Subaqueous Tunneling in New York CityByAndrew G. Cushing, P.E.
Ove Arup and Partners, New York, NY 
andNikolas K. Sokol, P.G.
The City Reliquary Museum, Brooklyn, NY Ove Arup and Partners, New York, NY “By courage, skill and patience this tunnel is to-day un fait accompli, and Ravenswood is onewith New York” – Charles M. Jacobs, Chief Engineer, East River Gas Tunnel, 1894
Prior to 1883, ferries provided the only access to Manhattan Island. The opening of the BrooklynBridge in that year resulted in a dramatic increase in horse-drawn and railway traffic to an alreadydensely-populated lower Manhattan, and it soon became clear that a vast and reliable network of rapid transit and utilities would be required to maintain New York as a livable city, capable of sustained growth. With surface space already greatly limited, New York City sensibly chose theunderground option for infrastructure expansion.After four years of construction, the opening of the first New York City Subway line in 1904 wasthe most notable event in the development of rapid transit in the metropolitan New York area.However, the quest to build railways underground in New York actually pre-dates the BrooklynBridge, with efforts to link Manhattan Island to New Jersey via a subaqueous tunnel under theHudson River dating back to 1874. The steep learning curve of subaqueous tunneling had begun,but it was not until twenty years later that in 1894 the oft forgotten East River Gas Tunnel becamethe first subaqueous connection into Manhattan (Jacobs, 1894).Today New York City hosts perhaps the greatest collection of subaqueous tunnels in the world;41 have been advanced into Manhattan through the sediment which underlay the Hudson, Eastand Harlem Rivers (Bickel et al, 1995). The intent of this paper is to introduce the reader to theengineering and technical aspects associated with some of these historical subaqueous tunnelingachievements in New York City. First, a summary of the key technical advances in subaqueoustunneling, namely the tunneling shield and the concept of compressed air, is provided. A seriesof early case histories of such tunneling for railways in the New York area are discussed. Finally,links between methods used during the early days of tunneling in New York to those used in thepresent day will be explored.
1. Key Technical Advances in Early Subaqueous Tunneling1.1 Tunneling Shield
Early tunnel projects were in many ways experimental engineering projects, often resulting inscores of casualties. The advent of the tunneling shield was perhaps the most significanttechnological advance in the long history of tunneling. A tunneling shield is a temporaryprotective ground support structure used in the excavation of tunnels through soil that is too soft
or fluid to remain stable during the time it takes to line the tunnel with a permanent support ringof brick masonry, concrete, cast iron, or steel. Sir Marc Isambard Brunel developed the firstsuccessful tunneling shield in the United Kingdom and in 1818 patented it with ThomasCochrane. Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel used it to excavate the first modern-daysubaqueous tunnel under the River Thames between Wapping and Rotherhithe in the City of London. Construction of the Thames Tunnel commenced in 1825, and was finally completed in1843 after a series of technical and financial setbacks. To permit workers to manually excavatethe soil in front of the shield, Brunel's tunneling shield was characterized by a rectangular cross-section, and had three platform levels, as shown in Figure 1. As the excavation progressed, thetunnel was lined with a ring of brick masonry behind the shield. The shield was advanced forwardincrementally with the aid of manual jacks which reacted against the completed masonry liningsituated behind the shield. Originally intended to serve pedestrian traffic, the Thames Tunnel waslater converted to carry railway traffic and is now part of the East London Line of the LondonUnderground.Figure 1. Construction of the Thames Tunnel in London Using Brunel’s Shield (IllustratedLondon News, date unknown; Digitized by www.wikipedia.org)Brunel's original tunnel shield design was significantly improved by the work of Peter W. Barlowand James Henry Greathead in the course of the construction of the Tower Subway under theRiver Thames in the City of London, which started in 1869. The most critical innovation of theBarlow-Greathead shield design was that it had a circular cross-section, which simplified theconstruction of the permanent lining, and was better able to support the weight of the surroundingsoil by taking advantage of the structural strength of an arch. Also, the selfweight of the shieldwas significantly less than Brunel's, making it much easier to drive forward.
The Barlow-Greathead Shield consisted of a wrought iron sleeve with the same diameter, 7 feet 3inches, as the tunnel. As the excavation progressed, it was driven ahead by hand-operated screw jacks to act both as a ring-shaped cutter and protection for the workmen. It was 4 feet 9 incheslong, 0.5 inches thick, and weighed approximately 2 tons. The shield was constructed with aslight taper at the front to reduce the friction of the surrounding clay, and the front of the cylinderwas stiffened by a cast-iron ring bolted to it; behind which was a diaphragm, or bulkhead, with ahatchway through which the workers could pass to the tunnel face. Figure 2 shows a lithographof the Tower Subway construction with a Barlow-Greathead Shield.The Tower Subway opened in 1870, and was later converted to serve as a multi-purpose utilityconduit. It still serves this capacity today. After the completion of the Tower Subway, JamesHenry Greathead served as chief engineer for the design and construction of the City & SouthLondon Railway under the River Thames between Stockwell and King William Street Stations.This section of railway, which opened to the public in 1890, is now part of the LondonUnderground's Northern Line and has the distinction of being the world's first deep-level tuberailway. Figure 3 shows the construction of the British Museum Station (now abandoned) on theCentral Line of the London Underground with a Barlow-Greathead Shield (circa 1898).Figure 2. Construction of the Tower Subway Using a Barlow-Greathead Shield(London Transport Museum)

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