Tunnel Machine Is Seriously Fucked


This is so bad it's just plain rotten. Bleaugh. And no free shipping on returns, either.
They are still not addressing a key question: What is causing the high temperatures? Yes, the seals are leaking, but that could be because it's overheating and creating too much internal pressure. Or the broken seals allowed all the lubricant to escape and their resulting friction is causing the heat. If so, what damage has been done to the bearing. I can't imagine you can fix that without taking the machine apart.

Regardless, the broken seal is just one part of the problem and probably a much smaller problem than the one they didn't address.

Ah, Boston's Big Dig moved west, as predicted.
I imagine that the bearings are shot. That is why it overheated. I would be stupid to make the bearings too difficult to replace. Bearings wear out. It should be a planned maintenance. It may be somewhat time consuming, but it shouldn't be a huge issue. Hitachi is a smart company that builds lots of TBMs.
Quick, where can the DOT get 10,000 gallons of WD-40?
You know, saying I told you so isn't going to give me any satisfaction when I'm paying for these fucking overruns.
It would be stupid to make the bearings too difficult to replace. And based on what we've seen of this machine and its maker so far, do we have any reason to suspect them capable of stupidity?

(Yes. We are so fucked.)
@6 WD-40 is a solvent, it breaks down lubricant.
The bored tunnel project from the get go has been one big fraudulent mess. Someone should call Chris Gregoire and ask her some hard questions. Or how about calling some of those Seattle Council members who rammed it down Seattle's throat, and ask them some hard questions. Richard Conlin, have anything to say? Or how about you, Greg Nickels? It is time to pull the plug on this mess and go back to the surface street option. Time to cut your losses, Seattle. Stop throwing good money after bad.
Maybe we shouldn't have sprung for the world's largest tunnel boring machine for a project that couldn't pay for itself and didn't make sense even if nothing had gone wrong.

Stop the project, and come up with a comprehensive surface and transit plan to replace it.
There is no way to replace the main bearings without dismantling the machine -- which you can't do when it's in the tunnel. You probably have to dig a massive pit in front of it to "drive onto" or take off Bertha's previously bright green face and back out the rest of the machine to the original staging pit.
Since when do you not want to sound like chicken little about the tunnel, Dom? Whenever I see a tunnel update, I like to click through to the WSDOT links, read what they say, and then come back and read your interpretation. Usually it's something along the lines of "huh, sounds like they hit a setback and they're being suspiciously PR-casual about it" versus "OH GOD THE SKY IS FALLING WE'RE ALL DOOOOOOOOMED." I know you're really excited for the whole thing to fail, but Jesus Christ, you don't have to throw an end of the world party every time someone down there farts. Let's wait and see how this actually plays out before we jump up and down and say I told you so. There's plenty of time.

Surface street anyone?

@12 do you know for a fact that you can't replace the bearing without removing the machine? That would be majorly stupid. While I'm completely unimpressed with the intelligence of STP, Hitachi is a pretty smart company. I would bet that they have planned on needing to replace the bearings at some point. STP may not have figured it into their cost or schedule (I would bet they didn't). Plus you cannot back it out, even if you take the cutting head off. The rest of the first section is still bigger than the hole with the liners in place.
They're reporting finding sand in the grease that leaked out of the bearing seal. If this main bearing is like pretty much any other main bearing on the planet, sand in it's lubricating grease means it's scored and probably toast. And contra @5, it doesn't sound like this bearing was designed to be routinely (if ever) replaced.
This project will end up bankrupting both Seattle and the state. Money for public education? Fahgetaboutit! The city and state are literally throwing money into a pit. What a joke. And this is just the start. Let's say they solve all the current issues (in a year, or two, or three...) but they're just at the beginning of the digging. Lots more opportunities for problems to arise.

Meanwhile the clock keeps ticking till the next earthquake. Remember how the guv and council members insisted the city had to move on the tunnel project NOW because of all the precious time being lost and what a catastrophe it would be if the viaduct were to collapse in an earthquake cause Seattle couldn't come to agreement on the tunnel option? Didn't Richard Conlin throw up a slide at a council meeting of a collapsed viaduct in Oakland that killed 42 people? His point was that time for debate was over, the city needs to dig the tunnel now, cause look what might happen if we wait any longer. It was a cheap stunt but ok, now what, city council? Can you afford to wait any longer on replacing the viaduct? I thought time was running out til the next big one.
@5: per Seattle Times: "The main bearing is a $5 million part that took 10 months for drill-maker Hitachi-Zosen to design and build, according to contractor documents. It would be exceedingly difficult to replace major components, if that’s necessary, near the front of the 330-foot-long machine."

That doesn't say they'd have to dig down and dismantle, but it also means this is far from planned/anticipated.
@18 was really directed at the comment in 15...although same commenter as 5...
There's high pressures down there. If the bearing seal was broken all that dirty water might have got in. Would make it very risky to start digging under the city with a suspect bearing.
So the machine overheats because the lube is gone, it can't be repaired in situ, and it can't back up. That about covers everything, doesn't it: done.
10 months to design and build isn't that long. Since it is already designed and the tooling should still be available, it shouldn't take too long to build another. I don't imagine it will be easy to replace, but I still will be surprised if it is a massive undertaking. As an engineer you need to design for serviceability. If failure of an element means the machine is stuck, never to move again, you design in a way to service it. Bearings are wear items. Even with lubrication you have to figure there will be wear.
@22 ten months to build--assuming the tooling is still ready to go. Figure up to a month of test. Figure up to a month to ship it over here (and hope the boat doesn't sink). Another month to install, test, re-test, and test some more, if we're lucky.

Assuming it's a worst-case scenario and they need to start building this epic replacement part tomorrow, guess what? Bertha will move again no earlier than maybe February 1, 2015, as a best case scenario.

If you were a Seattle City Council incumbent that defended this tunnel alongside Richard Conlin, guess what? This albatross is now a 2015 election cycle albatross around your neck.
@22: I don't know where you get your faith from, but I think you're being naive on this one. We'll see.

Bertha's what, about 1/9th of the way to the end? If they were anticipating multiple bearing failures, which you seem to be implying, then you'd think replacement would have been built into the design. All indications so far point to bearing replacement being unexpected. Again, time will tell, but I wouldn't bet on this one if I were you.
What about that magic 1000ft mark we heard about recently?

Hitachi is smart - they designed something to fail right after it was out of warranty (essentially), while still getting their money for it.
Tunnel boring machines are designed to move in only one direction - forward. Because of the need to reinforce the bored surface with concrete cladding in order to prevent cave-in or major shifting of the substrate, it's impossible to back the machine out once those are in-place. And these things aren't designed to be dismantled once they're in situ.

Imagine trying to disassemble a 300 foot-long, 57 foot-wide, 7000 ton machine in an underground tunnel nearly 200 feet beneath the surface of the earth and then move all those components 1,000 feet to the only exit without causing even more damage. And even if you COULD accomplish this phenomenal feat, it's not like Hitachi has a bunch of off-the-shelf parts in-stock to replace what's broken; Bertha itself is a one-of-a-kind, custom-built machine, which may share some common parts with other machines of similar size, but again, it's not like there are many of those floating around either.

Even if dismantling Bertha is a viable option, it's going to be a long, messy, delicate, and very, very expensive operation, and will put the entire project months, if not years, behind schedule, at an atronomical cost to taxpayers. And of course, if it can't be disassembled, then the entire project is put in jeopardy, which means not only most of what's been spent to-date has been wasted, but we'll have to spend more years and more billions of dollars figuring out an alternative before the Viaduct collapses in the next "big one".

Any way you look at it, we're well and truly fucked...
Who's gonna pay for this? What? Oh no! Oh no way,man I'm seriously outta here!
Maybe the Seahawks could have a giant garage sale and retire the debt! $100 for this Wilson t-shirt anyone?
Hah hah
Replacement of the seal is just as labor intensive as replacing the bearing. If you remove the cutter face (which has to be done in either case), it's probably best to replace thd bearing too just in case.
Hah hah
Replacing the seal or replacing the bearing both require removal of the cutter face. Since we don't know if the bearing is fucked (odds are it is), might as well do both while the head is off. We'll have to destroy the underground in pioneer sq. to get to it.
It's funny how the dot doesn't think that the jagged steel shreds of the steel pipe could have damaged the rubber bearing seal. I guess they got to keep up appearances to throw away our tax dollars.
The statements from the WSDOT continue to be a bit bizarre.

Bertha Knight Landes spins in her grave as the machine named for her bankrupts the city she once led.
Strange and costly things happen when one enters
How could anyone have foreseen running into dirt underground?
Unfortunately for STP and others, they can't hide around, waiting for some special date to go by (like a ballot measure or vote in the legislature) before disclosing terrible news.
It's almost like something related the the cutter head drive unit had been out of alignment and could have caused a poor seal at the bearings before.


The mammoth Highway 99 tunnel machine will start its journey under Seattle a few weeks late, after workers at the Japanese assembly site found damage to the rotary drive that spins the cutter head.

Instead of a June 3 launch, the boring machine will embark from Sodo to South Lake Union sometime this summer, said Chris Dixon, project manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners.

“It doesn’t affect the overall schedule, as far as completion and turning it over to traffic in December 2015,” Dixon said Wednesday.

Testing was to be finished Dec. 25. As of this week, Hitachi-Zosen crews in Osaka are disassembling and diagnosing the drive system.

The world-record 57½-foot-diameter drill must be reassembled and retested before shipment to Terminal 46 in Seattle.

Workers had heard sounds indicating a problem, which went away, before a completion ceremony Dec. 20, said Dixon.

Shortly after, the team discovered some parts were one-fifth of an inch out of alignment, he said.
Too coincidental that hit pipe then got hot immediately.
Dot will say otherwise - just like the pontoon cracks were all their fault.
Really gotta find a job in Denver and get out of this city. Help!
@4: I trust our newly elected governor and mayor are seriously considering that option. If they are not, they are not serving the public interest.
Meh. Lots of Seattle civil projects have been "the end of the world" and yet here we are....

Henry Yesler sued the city over the street alignment, and bankrupted it. It had to de-incorporate. We're still here.

The town caught fire and burned to the ground because the (private) water department couldn't supply the hydrants. We're still here.

The dam on the Cedar River watershed destroyed the town on Moncton. We're still here.

The first Gorge Dam had a water hammer. We're still here.

Diablo Dam was in operation five years before it generated any electricity. We're still here.

The brand-new Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed into the sound. We're still here.,

The I-90 bridge sank. We're still here.

The Hood Canal bridge sank. We're still here.

Unclench the pearls. Untwist the panties. Enjoy the show. We'll survive.
@41: You're right Catalina. A refreshing dose of history shows how short sighted this cold water throwing (which I just did) can be.

(If only they had not torn down the infamous Denny Hotel during the Denny regrade - but I digress.)
Oh please one way or another this tunnel is getting built and all of us know that.

Perhaps. But the cost to do it just went up by a substantial amount.
Really, who could have predicted that something completely unexpected would pop up mid-project and risk the whole turd of a build? Who could have foreseen that?
WHY am I seeing Homer and the guys from The Simpsons at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant (DANGER! DON'T TOUCH THE RED BUTTON!) here, while Montgomery Burns is laughing his bony, profit-lusting ass off?
Is it just me?
re @46: No, I'm not trying to be a wiseass here. I think I may have watched too many Simpsons episodes.
The news of this has caught me totally off guard.
Mayor McGuinn was right all along.
wake me up if Catalina starts panicking.
2006 Stranger Slogs show Vic Grey was downright prescient.
What can we do with the tunnel as it is? Skateboard park? I wonder how bands would sound in there? Stuck Tunnel digging machine museum? At least its close to the Underground Tour!
Am I the only one who read that as "Time Machine Is Seriously Fucked?"
From Wikipedia:

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the U.S. and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests,[2][3] and one death.[4] The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 1998[5] at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006).[6] However, the project was completed only in December 2007, at a cost of over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars, meaning a cost overrun of about 190%)[6] as of 2006.[7] The Boston Globe estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion, including interest, and that it will not be paid off until 2038.

But, as a former Boston resident, it was worth it. People don't remember how f'in awful the Central Artery was, but I do.
@43 Says who? They just started and look at all the problems they're having. At this rate, it'll take fifty years and the wealth of the Pharoes. (And they had slaves.) It doesn't matter how badly the civic leaders and the special interests who've sold themselves for this want the tunnel to be built. Wishing doesn't get dirt out. If the machine breaks down for good, that's it. Right now, nothing I've seen gives me confidence that this won't happen, that it'll all come out alright. But it's just as they say that the more you invest yourself in a hopeless situation or mistake, the harder it is to admit to it and face reality. The civic leadership would like to keep pushing this until the entire city goes down the hole.

Catalina, thanks for the lovely history lesson, but this isn't Diablo Dam or Henry Yesler or the Great Fire of 1889. This is 2014. We're getting screwed *right now*. Learning from history doesn't mean that we have to take a passive approach to everything and let disaster happen to us over and over again. Sure, we'll probably still be here. We'll just be so seriously bankrupt that our city won't be good for anything. We'll just take it out of the schools, the cops, the general maintenance, the future investments on the population that will never happen. It's a different world than 1889 and we're a different city. You can't compare the two.

@54 I don't know about Boston's Big Dig, but this project, if completed (ha!), would not carry more traffic than the Viaduct that's being replaced and, unlike the latter, it won't have a Downtown exit. And it doesn't connect directly to I-5. It's ridiculous. I don't know that the citizens stuck with the bill will feel that getting from I-90 by West Seattle to South Lake Union, while skipping Downtown, was worth the astronomical boondoggle.
@55: Your dire financial prediction for Seattle is unlikely. To pay for the cost overruns, dear sweet Senator Murray or dear sweet Senator Cantwell will probably add a pork rider on an unrelated bill about food safety or something so that it will pass in the House.
They have to pull it up! This blog is gonna get wild- why is the
spare bearing in Europe? Six months from we'll see if they can
manage the water pressure.
The City Council has just brought in Dr. Quartermass, a pit expert from London, with a great deal of prior experience in these unfortunate situations.

...While digging a new subway line in London, a construction crew discovers first: a skeleton, then what they think is an old World War II German missle. Upon closer examination the "missle" appears to be not of this earth. An ancient Martian spaceship is unearthed in London, and proves to have powerful psychic effects...

Floater dear, I do think you're being more than a bit overwrought, but I'll play along with your Cherynobol-esque assessment for a moment, and ask you this: what exactly should we do? Write letters? Attend city council meetings? Have a bake sale?
What a bunch of drama queens! Big Bertha will be fixed, the tunnel will be completed with cost over runs (as expected) and we will all forget this incident in a couple of years. Much like the horrible Presidents we have had in the past (republicans rely on the short term memory of voters) The tunnel will be operational and the sea wall will be completed on time and Ivar's acres of Clams will have a great summer of tourists.
The caption under the picture should read:
"Now, how do we pull this thing out again"?
Fortunately, by statute, only Seattle taxpayers are stuck paying for the cost overruns. The cost overruns that were not going to happen. Have fun.
Fortunately, there is one small glimmer here. By legislative statute, ONLY Seattle taxpayers will pay for ALL of the ("won't ever happen because we have a contingency fund and are sharing potential cost overruns") cost overruns. They voted in the representatives who brought this expensive elephant to Washington and stuck every Washington taxpayer with the original cost guestimate which screwed all but is fixed for the rest of the state. They suckered you in and you bit, what this text on WDOT's site change when you Seattle taxpayers get the bill. From WDOT site - " We signed a design-build contract with Seattle Tunnel Partners in January 2011. Design-build combines project design and construction in a single contract.

More than 90 percent of the design-build work will be performed for a fixed price. The remaining amount includes work such as building repairs along the tunnel route, unplanned repairs to the tunneling machine and work stoppages due to differing site conditions. For these items, we established risk sharing with the design-builder.

We have set aside $205 million for known and unknown risks during tunnel construction. This amounts to 15 percent of the design-build contract, which falls well within industry standards."

The "partners" will be giving some of the original overpriced contract back is all. But watch the costs spiral and hit you folks hard. So you sew, so shall you reap. Enjoy it Seattlites, you brought it, you own it.

Have fun!
Yes, indeed, have fun you sorry liberal Seattlites! You get to go bankrupt a bit faster than the rest of this country!
Yeah, well wait until we stop shipping all those tax dollars out of Seattle and King County to your subsidized rural asses, then we'll see who's laughing. Oh wait, you still need someplace to sell those extractive goods you pathetically call an economy. Guess we'll have to work something out.
I wonder how many fingers it would take to count the number of people who know how to troubleshoot and fix these machines. If I was betting my guess would be not that many.
@60 longwayhome: One can only hope.

Actually, I was (at least trying to) make light of the photo of the tunneling crew. It reminded me of a scene straight out of The Simpsons.
Rrrrgggh! Make that @67 "...at least trying to make light", without the parentheses.
My brain, as usual, seems to be ahead of my fingers and keyboard.
Fortunately, by statute, only Seattle taxpayers are stuck paying for the cost overruns. The cost overruns that were not going to happen. Have fun.
y tuong kinh doanh |
mua o to cu |
tieu duong |
@54: Per 69, the Big Bore is funded much differently than the Big Dig. That difference could be a back breaker for Seattle, if not the state. Here's the nut of it:

For the Big Dig, Teddy K. largely nationalized the cost, getting the Feds to cover 85% of the tab. After a decade of ballooning costs, Congress finally put its foot down at $8.5Bn. That still covered about half of the total bill. Massachusetts state is on the hook for the other half, which comes to around $550MM/year in debt service (ultimately about $1500 per state resident). Boston doesn't pay disproportionately.

By contrast, the Big Bore has a fixed $700MM from the Feds. Moreover, the project financing bill limits the state's commitment to $2.8Bn. "Property owners in the Seattle area" are on the hook for the rest. And even if that provision is challenged, nobody's proposing real alternatives. (Murray's "Don't worry" is a non-starter.) WA doesn't have the political clout to demand a Federal bailout, and the reps of everywhere-but-Seattle will surely fight new tax burdens with only arcane, abstract benefits for their constituents.

What we need at this point is current, accurate costing numbers from the DOT, data that will ground public discourse and show us what we can (and can't) expect. Knowing that half the total project budget has been spent and we've dug only 1/10 of the route isn't very helpful, since project costs are front-loaded. I think it would be more interesting to know:

1. How much does each day of NOT digging cost us?
2. If our monthly costs, excepting materials, are more-or-less constant, even though we're not actually digging, what are we paying for? Are we still getting full value for those service costs?
2. How much have unscheduled parts and services (e.g., excavation, drill repair) cost us?
3. Are we inevitably over budget yet? If not, what's our margin now? If so, what are the cost-saving options for making up he shortfall?
4. What would it cost to stop all construction activity now, except drill repair, until the drill is moving forward at 100% again? Would that cost us more or less than proceeding as if the tunnel were still viable?

Research sources:

https://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/rs9f/pe/… (PPT)
http://books.google.com/books?id=9WyVi11… (Megaproject Management: Lessons on Risk and Project Management from the Big Dig)
Yet another WSDOT boondoggle, complete with the usual obfuscation, and now with CYA "messaging" by none other than former deputy mayor Tim Ceis's lobbying firm. Why doesn't someone in Olympia come clean and stay ahead of the news rather than hide behind it?

"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!"

"Why don't you do something to HELP me!?"

"Why don't you keep your big mouth shut?!"

Fill in the speakers names. Surprise.