2nd avenue subway
new york
October 9, 2013

The Second Avenue Subway


Shelby: It seems like new buildings are always popping up around New York City. But a subway line? Well, that requires just a little more planning. Maggie Rulli is going underground to show you guys a construction site few people have ever seen.

Maggie: As the world’s population continues to soar to a predicted 9.6 billion people by 2050, space above ground is running out. So now, engineers are looking down, to a whole new world of construction right below our feet.

Julie Freitas: The only place to go is down.

Maggie: But how exactly does something get built all the way down there? I geared up…

I’m ready!

…And took the plunge…

Is it like dragons and monsters down here? Are we that far deep? Yes? Yeah?

…Beneath the streets of one of the most densely populated areas in the nation.

Construction on the new Second Avenue subway line in New York City’s Upper East Side neighborhood has often been called one of the most challenging public works projects in the country.

So, we are about 100 feet below the surface right now and this entire cavern is up to 6 stories high, hundreds of yards wide. Some of the subway tunnels can actually fit around 55,000 elephants inside – that is how big it is! It is really just an incredible thing to be down here.

This $4.5 billion development is adding on to New York’s already impressive underground transportation system. The nearly one-hundred-year-old subway system is the busiest in the U.S. and the seventh most traveled in the world. Laid end-to-end, the transit tracks would stretch all the way from New York City to Chicago.

Michael Horodniceanu: A city like New York will never be able to exist and flourish and develop unless it has a good transit system.

Maggie: And to build Manhattan’s first new subway line in eighty years, things often had to get blown up.

To build these massive caverns, they had to do more than 450 blasts, each time using 2,200 pounds of explosives. So, you do the math. It is a whole lot of power!

But sometimes construction needs to be a bit more precise. So they rely on other heavy-duty resources.

To build these massive tunnels, you have got to get some pretty big equipment. Some of the stuff they use can weigh more than 450 tons and actually have to be assembled down below ground. And the star of the show? The tunnel boring machine. An impressive two-and-a-half blocks long, this machine is as powerful as twelve jumbo jets! And it is used to drill through solid bedrock. And it is that bedrock that then supports the tunnels in New York.

Why is all of this not falling on us right now?

Horodniceanu: Because the rock is very solid and it’s self-sustaining.

Maggie: So the rock it what is saving our lives right now?

Horodniceanu: Right now, the rock is, yes.

Maggie: But drilling through solid rock isn’t the only challenge of underground construction. Already below ground lies the miles and miles of electrical wires, plumbing pipes, and other services that the people living above ground rely on. So the drilling and explosions must be carefully planned out so that they don’t disrupt this important infrastructure or unsettle the people and buildings on the ground above.

A team of scientists work together to overcome all of these challenges. Geologist Julie Freitas says there are plenty of ways to prepare for a career in underground construction.

Julie: Definitely science classes. If you like geology, obviously stay with geology. But you can do engineering, you can look into planning, electrical engineering or plumbing design, transit…

Maggie: And it is a career that just might help change the world.

Horodniceanu: We ought to leave behind a better world than the one we find. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to leave behind something that other generations will be able to enjoy. It can impact and change the world a little for the better. Right?

Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.

Shelby: To see even more from Maggie’s underground tour, check out her blog post over at


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