Last Down-town Tunnel Holed Through (1917)

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Public Service Record · Vol. IV, No. 7, July, 1917.

Last Down-Town Tunnel Holed Through.

The south headings of the Whitehall-Montague Street Tunnel underneath the East River were "holed through" on June 20 [1917], by a blast "fired" by Chairman Oscar S, Straus. Inasmuch as the connection of these two headings underneath the river marked the completion of the most difficult of the tasks in connection with the construction of the two new downtown rapid transit tunnels, a special feature was made of the occasion, in which members and officials of the Commission participated with the Flinn-O'Rourke Construction Company and its engineers and workers. A temporary platform was erected near the shaft-house of the Montague Street work at Furman and Montague Streets, Brooklyn.

This platform was decorated with bunting and above it hung a great sign indicating the progress made on the two downtown tunnels as compared with the progress record on the Pennsylvania Tunnels and the Battery Tunnel of the First Subway.

Officials Present. The final blast was fired from an electrical switch attached to the rear of the platform, from which wires lead through the shaft into the tunnel and to a point far out under the East River where all had been made ready several hours before. About the platform were grouped, besides Chairman Straus, Commissioners Henry W. Hodge, Travis H. Whitney and Charles S. Hervey; Secretary James B. Walker; Chief Engineer Daniel L. Turner; Engineer of Subway Construction Robert Ridgway; Deputy Engineer of Subway Construction Sverre Dahm, Tunnel Engineer Clifford M. Holland; Resident Tunnel Engineers J. B. Snow and D. W. Cole; and Captain C. Raymond Hulsart, a former Resident Engineer of the Commission on the East River work and now an officer in the United States Engineer Corps. The contracting company was represented by George H. Flitin, President; Major J. F. O'Rourke, Vice-President and Chief Engineer; W. A. Flinn, Treasurer; and Michael L. Quinn and Leroy Tallman, Superintendents. Representing the operating company were W. S. Menden, Vice-President and Chief Engineer of the New York Municipal Railway Corporation; and J. J. Dempsey, Superintendent of the New York Consolidated Railroad Company.

President Flinn acted as master of ceremonies, in introducing Chairman Straus he stated that the progress on the Whitehall-Montague Street Tunnel represented, to the best of his belief, double the progress made on any other East River tunnel work. He called attention to the sign above the platform which stated that a record of 95 feet and 4 inches of progress in a consecutive six-day period had been made in one of the tubes. He dwelt upon the fact that owing to recent advances in the art of tunnel construction there had been no fatality from the once dreaded compressed air illness commonly called "bends", during the work of constructing the Whitehall-Montague Street Tunnel, and only one death due to this disease on the Old Slip-Clark Street Tunnel work forming a part of the same general contract. This result had been achieved, he pointed out, under a high air pressure and despite the fact that there had been a grand total of 800,000 decompressions which is the technical name of the process of bringing engineers, workmen and other employees out from the compressed air of the tunnel area.

Chairman's Speech. As he pushed down the electric switch making the connection, Chairman Straus said: "I now make the connection marking the completion of the bore of this great tunnel. I conceive it a high privilege and honor to perform this act which means so much for the comfort of the people of the city. This tunnel will form another transportation link tying together the two greatest boroughs of New York."

The Chairman also referred to the world war and to America's part in it, regretting that the event in which he was participating, so eminently and so typically a work of peace, could not have occured in a period of world peace rather than of general warfare.

"The cause of liberty and of democracy throughout the world is at issue in this great contest," declared the Chairman. "Our nation is bending its every energy not only for the welfare of our own people, but for the liberty-loving people of the world. Our nation is in this war not only to protect democratic liberty here, but in all lands.

"In carrying out this tunnel work the contractor has built up a corps of men splendid in their service and experience. The country will have use for that service and experience within a very short time. I doubt not that these men who have here done so great a work will turn their energies not only to the protection of their own liberties, but toward the assurance of liberty for their children and their childrens' children."

Co-operation in Effort. Mr. Flinn, in introducing Chief Engineer Turner, referred to the hearty co-operation which had existed on the work not only between the Commission and the Contractor, but also between the Commission's engineers and the working force of the Contractor. Mr. Turner said: "This is a momentous occasion in the transit history of the city. The Dual Subway System includes two great four-track trunk line subways linking together the Boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Two tracks for each of these trunk lines have already been provided-the Joralemon Street tunnels, now being operated by the Interborough, and two of the Manhattan Bridge tracks operated by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. To complete the two trunk lines, the Dual plan provided four tunnels from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn-two tunnels to Clark Street and two to Montague Street. The two Clark Street Tunnels have been joined together, and also one of the Montague Street tunnels. The south Montague Street Tunnel, the only one remaining, is to be holed through to-day thereby completing the two trunk lines which will provide the first rapid transit express service connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan.

Largest Project. "To you, Mr. Flinn, to Mr. O'Rourke, and also to Mr, Quinn, and to Mr. Tallman, last but not least. I believe I do not misstate the case when I say that the completion of these four tunnels by you marks the practical completion of the largest under-river tunnel project which has yet been undertaken by one contractor in this country, if not in the world. In the aggregate, these four tunnels, with their land approaches, are over six miles long, and they include over five miles of shield tunnel work. They will cost the City approximately $17,000,000. Such work is recognized as the most hazardous of all construction work. You have prosecuted it and brought it to a satisfactory conclusion with a minimum of casualties. Your record in this respect is unprecedented. There have been 800,000 decompressions, with air pressures reaching as high as 37.5 pounds, yet there has been only one death due to compressed air sickness. Less than 200 cases of bends have been reported. Although on the average as many as 2100 men have been employed daily, but 22 men have been killed due to accidents during the whole period of the work. This is an indication of the precautions which you have taken for the protection and safety of your men, and it merits the highest commendation.

New Record Made. "Your tunnel progress also has established a new record. You have accomplished 95 feet of completed tunnel in six working days, which is nearly double the progress attained in the City's first East River tunnels, the Joralemon Street Tunnels. But the most striking feat of all is the result you have secured with your tunneling methods under the streets of Brooklyn where you have prosecuted your work with a minimum of disturbance of overlying property. Our tunnel experts tell me that this feature of your work marks the greatest advance in the art of tunneling which has been made in the last 10 years. All of these results have been secured because of the great care which you and your men have exercised at every step in the conduct of the work, and also because of the willingness of you and your men at all times to co-operate to the fullest extent with the engineers of the Commission charged with the supervision over the work. This spirit of co-operation has been thoroughly appreciated by us. It is such team-play as this which always accomplishes results.

"Your men, who have actually done this wonderful work for you, are truly soldiers of construction. Instead of being the men behind the guns, where many of us will be needed so soon, they have been the men before the shields. To them you and we owe the chief credit for this magnificent accomplishment. I congratulate you and them from my heart.

Achievement Praised. "To those of the Commission and of the Engineering Department, upon whom, with the Contractor, the largest responsibility for this great task has rested, I mean the men of the Tunnel Division, your Chief, Mr. Holland, Dr. Levy, who has aided and advised you at all times, and the one whom you all love, Mr. Ridgway, I want to say that all of us are very proud of your achievement. You must remember, however, that the work of the engineer is essentially one of service to his fellows. He labors mostly for the community. All about us in our great city, on the surface, in the sky above us, or in the earth beneath us, everywhere there are evidences of his handiwork, monuments of his building. These monuments, and a consciousness of duty well performed, are his chief rewards. And after all, what greater monuments have any men had, or could any men have builded to them than these?

"This project was commenced by Chairman McCall on October 13, 1914, when ground was broken at the foot of Whitehall Street in Manhattan. Chairman Straus, now after a working period of 32 months, the Contractor and the Engineering Department of the Commission are delighted to accord to you the privilege of firing the last shot which will "hole through" the last tunnel and thereby complete this momentous work."

Connection Made. The speech-making closed with a few words of felicitation from Tunnel Engineer Holland. Word was flashed up from the tunnel by telephone to the waiting gathering that the blast through the 8 feet of rock which had intervened between the two headings had been highly successful and that the meeting of the two headings was, from an engineer's standpoint, a perfect one. Applause greeted this announcement by Mr. Turner.

Thereupon the party descended to the bottom of the tunnel shaft, inspected the working of the air locks at the entrance to the tunnels and then walked through a partially completed portion of the land section of the tunnel underneath Montague Street.

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