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