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.