Saturday, April 8, 2017

Bertha Break Through!

Twenty-nine months behind schedule and millions of dollars in the red, the SR99 Alaskan Way viaduct replacement tunnel ground through a five foot concrete headwall, which forms the north portal, on Tuesday April 4, 2017.

Circle captures WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation), flying a drone, documenting SR99 Hitachi Zosen TBM "Bertha" break through moment at 11:26 a.m.


At the time construction began, Bertha's 17.4 m (57 ft) diameter Cutting Head was the largest, and prettiest, cutter head in the world.

Four years later, almost to the date, at the end of 525 boring days, she's showing effects of nearly two mile bore, whilst been de-throned as "worlds largest diameter TBM."  More about that later.

Clearing out the rubble and removing the headwall braces will take up the next week or so. Bertha will then move into the Disassembly Pit, to meet her fate. And it is not a good outcome.


Bertha began her south -to-north 9,270 foot (2,825 meter) journey beneath the viaduct she is replacing, with obligatory speeches by the usual suspects at 3:45 p.m., Saturday July 23, 2013.

The break through at 11:26 a.m. Tuesday April 4, 2017 was handled like a routine affair, largely attended by media and State and Seattle Tunnel Partners employees.

The luke warm  public reception could also be do to the extraordinary cost overruns, and the prickly relationship between WSDOT, Seattle Tunnel Partners, and Hitachi Zosen, following a more than two year delay repairing a major breakdown of the TBM.

Or perhaps because Bertha is no longer the largest Tunnel Boring Machine at work in the World.

More about that later.

Construction of the SR 99 tunnel can be broken down into five activities:

1. Mining, just completed.
2. Disassembly and removal of the tunneling machine.
3. Completion of interior roadway construction.
4. Installation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
5. Testing and commissioning.

The TBM was constructed by Hitachi Zosen in Osaka, Japan. The "keys" turned over to Seattle Tunnel Partners on December 20, 2012.

The machine was packed up in 41 crates and loaded aboard the heavy lift vessel Jumbo Fairpartner.

Fairpartner departed Osaka on March 19, 2013, on a 4,538 NM (84047 km) voyage to Seattle.

She passed me here in Port Townsend on April 2, 2013.

In a contest, school children named her Bertha, in honor of Bertha Landes, former mayor of Seattle.


• Assemble 1. TBM constructed and tested in a dry dock in Osaka.
• During testing, it was revealed there were bearing problems; dismantled and repaired.
• Assemble 2, for testing and commissioning. Keys turned over to Seattle Tunnel Partners.
• De-constructed and packed into 41 crates for shipment to Seattle.
• Assemble 3. Built in Launch Pit, now South Portal. Major breakdown. Rescue pit constructed, and Cutter head assembly retrieved for extensive repairs.
• Assemble 4. Returned to pit and reconnected to boring machine.

At the end of her journey, Bertha will be dis-assembled and recycled.  The machine will take three weeks to push forward to the north end of the vault, followed by four or five months to dismantle the front end.

Nearly all the front-end steel components will be melted and recycled — after being carved into 20-ton pieces light enough to lift by crane and truck away. Virtually none will be reused except for generic parts such as hoses, belts, wires.

“Almost all the parts are not reusable,” said Takashi Hayato, U.S. president of Hitachi Zosen.

Apparently Bertha's construction cars will be dismantled and hauled back through the South Portal.

In some cases, TBM's are buried in situ. Here's an example of a TBM being buried in concrete, following removal of electronics, drive motors, and other salvageable parts.

One of the 11 TMB's used in carving out the Eurochannel Tunnels was stripped and  buried on the French side, while another was sold on eBay for £39,999 or ~49,500 USD. Yet another of the Channel TBM's was gutted, leaving the shell to become part of the tunnel!


Bertha penetrated the South Portal entrance on July 23, 2013, and broke through the North Portal on April 4, 2017.

• 3 years, 8 months, 13 days, or
• 1,352 days.
Minus 817 days lost to repairs or maintenance.
• 525 days, or 17.5 months actual boring time.

Traffic is now expected to pass through the tunnel in 2019. That compares to original scheduled opening of 3rd quarter 2015.


While building the roadways has been going on for some time, completion is set for sometime in. The work is tedious and complex, as shown in this video, provided by WSDOT.

The next phases, finishing interior road ways, installation of electrical, plumbing and ventilation, systems testing and commissioning. are well underway with the North and South Portals taking shape.

Tunnel approaches are created by "cut and cover" tunnel building techniques. This video, provided by WSDOT, explains "cut and cover" development.

Oh, to explain my comment that Bertha "began as the largest diameter bore in the world!" Since Bertha began her journey, a larger diameter TBM has gone into service over in Hong Kong.

On April 15, 2015, while Bertha was in pieces at the Rescue Pit, construction began on a 4.7 km (3 mile) sub-sea twin tube highway tunnel, the Tue-Mun -Chek Lap Kok Link. (TM-CLCK.)

TM-CLCK is part of a massive underwater tunnel - over water viaduct complex, creating a second connection to Lantau Island and the New Hong Kong airport.

Herrenknech AG, a German TBM manufacturing company built a 17.6 m (57.74 ft) diameter, as compared to Bertha's cutter head at 17.4 meters (57.08 feet,) TBM  to bore the twin - parallel tubes  sub-sea highway tunnel, scheduled open for traffic in 2018.


 "Tunneling technology has progressed exponentially from the first tunneling done by prehistoric people seeking to enlarge their caves. All major ancient civilizations developed tunneling methods. In Babylonia, tunnels were used extensively for irrigation; and a brick-lined pedestrian passage some 3,000 feet (900 m) long was built about 2180 to 2160 BC under the Euphrates River to connect the royal palace with the temple." — Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.

Last year (2016) WSDOT flew a drone through the construction zone. (No sound; all you'd hear is the drone motor!)

Click on the "Bertha" tags following, to read the progression of Bertha on this Blog. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Final Voyage of Ro/Ro Sewol

South Korean ferry Sewol (ro/ro) which rolled over and sank in nearly three years ago, with a loss of 304 souls, is leaving her watery grave in the Yellow Sea.

Thursday afternoon Pacific Coast time (3-30-2017), Heavy Lift Vessel Dockwise White Marlin picked up her ground tackle and began moving out of Maenggol Channel, enroute 105 km ( 65 miles) to Mokpo New Port.

There she will be unloaded by an SPMT,  Self-Propelled Modular Trailer, similar to the unit used to transport Seattle Bertha components, still resting upon the 33 lifting beams, into a secure area.

Considered a crime scene (bodies still aboard, with lawsuits pending) and a bio-hazard area (bodily contamination as well as gray water and other spoils,) the vessel will be heavily secured.


March 31, White Marlin arrival at Mokpo New Port.

Events are moving faster than I.  Back story follows.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Plumbing on the Roof!

Canadian National Railways 4299, Prince Rupert Engine Service Area, May 30, 1959. Less than three months old, still has that heady smell of  DuPont Imron and stickers on the tire tread!

I was lucky to catch the GP-9L on her inaugural trip to Prince Rupert. Lack of ditch lights indicate this is the trailing unit on tonight's Time Freight.

As I was lining up my shot, I noticed a pipe on the roof of the machine room, running the length of the unit. I hadn’t paid much attention before this, and failed to notice a lot of the Geeps I had pictures of had that feature. (Gimme a break. I was only 15 years old!)

I now know that pipe is an air line, running from the Denver-Gardner air compressor located in the bow, to the brake system air tanks, located aft inside the short hood! You can see the pipe as well in the "Rare Bird" post on the CNR 4200.

Furthermore, other roads, to provide room for long-range fuel tanks, have repeated this concept.

But what makes this strange is the fact these GP-9L’s were fitted with small 1,000-gallon (Imperial) gallon fuel tanks. As you can see, there is plenty of room under the deck for air tanks.

There is also erroneous information on the 'net that in 1961, the CNR began mounting bells above the dual sealed beam luminary. This is May, 1959. And that's a bell!.

So now I am curious to learn if model railroaders are on to this, and have incorporated this plumbing feature on a model? Let me know in the comments below!

Railroad Stuff: Canadian National Railways 4299, built by General Motors Division, London Ontario, as a 1,750hp, GP-9L, March 1959, serial number A1656. Retired May 14, 1986.

Rebuilt and sold to Société de transport de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal (STCUM,) March 1990 as GP-9u numbered STCUM 1312. In January 1996, commuter train operations transferred to Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) retaining number 1312.

Friday, January 20, 2017

An Odious Presence Looms over the White House

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Two New Buttons.

Two new buttons have been installed in the "right margin" of the Blog:

The first new button enables you to learn for yourself the status of the World's Largest Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) Bertha. She's been totally out of the news, which is good news, and is gaining on the North Portal up at Harrison Street.

The TBM has been shut down for the holidays, and is scheduled to resume mining on January 11th. The "Where in the World is TBM Bertha?" contains a cornucopia of links related to the SR99 Replacement Project. WSDOT has been extremely generous in sharing information to the public.

The bright yellow stacks are the tunnel exhaust outlets from the tunnel ventilation system.  The South Portal building also houses offices of tunnel administration and operations. Also seen in this shot is the "ring yard" where the tunnel ring segments are staged for transport through the new tunnel up to Bertha.  Also seen in this shot is the arches of Centurylink Field, where the Seahawks just beat the Lions, 26-6.

An identical facility is located at the North Portal.

Balloons Over Bertha

From time to time, a cluster of balloons is attached to a street sign, indicating where Bertha is located.

This photo was shot December 14, just before Bertha was shut down for the Holidays. She is an estimated 170 feet (52 meters) below the cluster.

The second new button links to a "Heritage Roster" of Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific Railroad. I've been lugging this roster around for many years, and decided to share it with you.

Students of "The Road" should find it helpful in that it contains a ton of hard to find information relating to the Milwaukee's electric power numbering and renumbering.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas 2016

Twenty-Sixteen! An unwonted year to be sure ...

I was really dreading this Christmas Eve, as my faithful companion of almost 10 years, GingerSnap, passed away right at my feet last Christmas Eve.

Through an inexplicable series of events, triggered by my one and only sister, I became companion of another Papillion.  "Penny" has been with me going on five weeks.

The challenge of taking a photo with no outside assistance

I set up my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 on a tripod, and took several test shots to establish my field of view. Then came the challenge of triggering the camera, with a squirming pooch in hand and a floppy Santa hat, compose myself  and "smile," inside a 10 second envelope!

This was the first shot fired after the rehearsal. Penny licked my face! All the stars and spirits came into instant alignment, and I captured it on a 10 second timer delay!

Penny is an elder lady. We are going through the testing of borders; limits. She is experiencing culture shock, (she had three other critters in her old home,) and she is experiencing strange sounds, surroundings and smells.

I have discovered much about myself I had never paid attention to. I'll leave that up to you to decipher.

With an odious presence beginning to cast his shadow over the land, I was looking for an "uplifting message" to share with you.

I ran across this piece in Trains magazine, which reinforces the Spirit of who we as a people truly are!  (Click the photo to enlarge and read.)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

E-7 Roll Out: Train of Tomorrow

Whist perusing through my modest negative collection, I ran across a handful of photos taken back east, including Boston & Main and New York Central. Notes on the negative envelope indicate they were shot in 1958, but no mention of who snapped the photo.

I have no idea how these came into my possession. I was 15 at the time, and we were living in Prince Rupert. The only thing I can think of was that I must have done a negative swap with someone I met through the advertising section of Trains magazine.

EMD NYC 4034 was an E7A, 2,000 hp (1,491 kW) passenger locomotive:

• Built 3/1949
• SN 6245
• Following NYC PC merger, became PC 4034.

Penn Central went belly-up July 21, 1970. Government formed Conrail to keep passenger and freight moving, but like her sister "B" unit below, doesn't show up on Conrail roster. If you know the disposition of these two units, please share with me.

EMD NYC 4112 was an E7B, 2,000 hp (1,491 kW) passenger locomotive.
• Built 2/1948
• SN 4857
• Following NYC PC merger, became PC 4112. Same fate as 4034.

Train of Tomorrow 

On the brighter side of the E7 story, General Motors went off script, and decided to show the public their new 2,000 hp passenger locomotive, towing the first dome cars to enter rail service.

As the legend goes, a vice president of General Motors was impressed with the view from the cab of an E7. He challenged his technical staff to design a "car with a view." Working with tekkies at Pullman-Standard, the Astra Dome was conceived. 

A souvenir brochure (14 MB .pdf) relates how the concept for the train evolved.  The Astra Dome featured the same heavy laminated window panels, found in warplanes. (See "Preserving the Moon Glow Car," listed in the Addendum, shows how the windows were salvage.)

The cars were semi-permanently coupled, with fairing to emphasize "streamliner of the future," and assigned lyrical names.

• Dome coach named "Star Dust"
• Dome diner named "Sky View"
• Dome sleeper named "Dream Cloud"
• Dome observation lounge named "Moon Glow"

At the head end, General Motors demonstrator locomotive, E7A, EMDX 765. (Shown here in the static display mode, note the discretely placed head protection entering and exiting cab!)

• 2,000 hp (2 x EMD 12V-567A)
• Built 4/19/1947
• SN 4147
• To Union Pacific 988, 4/1950
• UP converted to E8 specifications, 2x EMD 12V-567B, 2,250 hp, (1,678 kW), 1964.
• To Amtrak 417, 5/1971
• Amtrak converted to E9 specifications, 2x EMD 12V-567C, 2,400 hp, (1,790 kW), 1974
• AMTK 417 shows up again in a scrap yard.

Salvaged, sold to a private individual, and now residing at the Danbury Railway Museum in Danbury Connecticut. (There never was a "4096"; the number follows the roster of E's in the New York Central fleet.)

The "Train of Tomorrow" cars and matching locomotive were painted a silverish shade of blue, with stainless steel fluted panels bolted on to give the train an added taste of modernity.

Completed in May, 1947, GM dispatched it on a transcontinental tour, announced to the public with a two page spread in Life Magazine, June 16, 1947.

• The "Train of Tomorrow" began its tour of the US and Canada on June 3, 1947, ending in Chicago October 30, 1949.

• The "Train of Tomorrow" traveled 65,000 mile, covering 28 states.

• An estimated 6 million visitors rode or stood in long lines whilst on static display. I have not been able to verify this; but I ran across a photo of the train with a Pullman-Standard green baggage car attached. This to carry baggage of passengers on some press runs, as no Astra Dome baggage car was conceived!

• General Motor's invested US$1.5M to build the Train of Tomorrow, in 1947. Today, the project would cost GM US$16M plus change. The U.S. dollar saw inflation at an average rate of 3.50% per year between 1947 and 2016.

New Life on the Union Pacific 

The entire "Train of Tomorrow" was purchased by Union Pacific in April 1950. Following re-paint, the locomotive and cars went into service between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington on schedules 457 (northbound) and 458, beginning on June 18, 1950.

The train never received a "name." It was part of the GN, NP passenger pool, and generally consisted of:
•  E7A EMDX 765 renumbered UP988
• Baggage, mail, express cars.
• Five or six 48 seat chair cars.
• Train of Tomorrow domed cars, bearing UP numbers (See Don Strack, Addendum, below.)
• Northbound, a sleeper car from the Chicago to Portland "City of Portland."

Round trip fares:, expressed in 1950's US$:

• Chair cars, $6.84.
• Dome coach "Star Dust," $9.49.
• To ride the dome sleeper (referred to as "suites") $15.65, which also included access to the domed club/observation car, "Moon Glow."

And according to a report in the Oregonian, that was $2.64 less that riding a DC-6 between PDX and SEA.

Of the four original domed cars, only the observation club car "Moon Glow" escaped the cutter' torch. Seen here, having been pillaged by scrap hunters, in Ogden Utah, 2011.

But there is a happy conclusion. The Union Station Foundation in Ogden has established a plan to salvage this priceless piece of railroad history.

• Don Strack,, provides a rich history of each car to its final disposition
• Ric Morgan has written "Train of Tomorrow," considered by many as the "essential" history of the train. Available through Abe's Books and other outlets.
• General Motors "promotional short," shown in movie theaters.
• "Inspection" Train of Tomorrow.
• "Preserving the Moon Glow Car" Domed observation/club car, Train of Tomorrow.
• "Moon Glow Restoration" Removing components to safe storage.
• "Riding Train of Tomorrow" Black and white, no sound, but great views inside Astra Domes!