World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle

Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

I feel this warrants your attention for two reasons:
1) If you live near Seattle, you can actually go get a look at this massive beast before it starts chewing its way through the city. If you like looking at giant machines (or know someone who does) now's your chance. She's coming into the Port of Seattle, Terminal 46, as you read this and there will be ample opportunities to get a look as the pieces are assembled and moved into the nearby launch pit. The Washington State Department of Transportation has suggestions on places to go to get a good view.
2) If, for some reason, you were looking for a new way to lose massive amounts of time on YouTube, Bertha (and boring machines, in general) can help with that. Here's a cutaway animation explaining how boring machines work. Here's a video of Big Becky, another boring machine, breaking through to the other side of a tunnel at Niagara Falls, Canada. (In fact, boring machine breakthrough videos are, in and of themselves, a mesmerizing genre.) And in this video, you can watch the massively long line of support equipment go by in the wake of a boring machine.


    1. I’d say if something can even bore tunnels it _is_ pretty boring. They aren’t easily bored after all.

    1. Throwing out the non-dramatic elements like Mole-People, Morlocks, Sleestaks and CHUDS; disregarding dull engineering questions such as retrofitting all the earth removing equipment for pulling loose earth straight up and providing energy and support to the boring machine, I’m guessing it would get between 5 or 10 miles down before important stuff starting melting and/or catching on fire.  Stupid upper mantle.

      I like the China answer better though.

      1. Shouldn’t it stop at the center of the Earth, which is also the gravitational center? Going further would require going up again.

        1. I think the center of the earth is tough to tack down; it’s all sort of fantastically hot and molten iron in the outer core, with a solid heavy-metal crunchy inner core.  Delicious!

  1. typing of boring, there’s a “# 3”: this amazing machine will cut a tunnel to carry car/automotive traffic under downtown Seattle (for a toll); so those that want to get us all out of cars, onto bicycles, and public transit understandably hate this whole thing (comparing it to Boston’s “big dig” etc).  And to their credit, they’ve done a pretty impressive job of delaying it.  although it’s in the default nature of Seattle that everything is bogged in endless nattering politics; we call it “the Seattle process”.

    (for me) i just wish “Bertha” was going to stay in operation to give Seattle a proper subway system – but (see above) there’s fat chance of that.

    1. Unfortunately it will most likely actually *increase* in-city street traffic due to cars avoiding the toll, further annoying those of us who are already out of cars onto bicycles and public transit.  It’s boondoggle, IMHO.

      1.  Meanwhile, Seattle’s Metro cut back support in extremis for the most needy a coupla yrs ago and recently announced the proposed death of 65 routes and new limits on many others.

  2. Why do they have to name every big machine Bertha!?!?

    yeahyeahyeah – I know it’s in honor of a former Seattle mayor, but please people…

    (Just grumpy that his nomination for ‘Boneshaker’ was not considered in the naming contest…)

    1. *starts mentally toting up the costs to run boring machine, set roof bolts, hire folks, machine itself, fuel, insurance, variances caused by hardness types of rock and soil. . .brain breaker box flips to prevent overload, resets to default, starts thinking about sex*

      So, in conclusion, they couldn’t drive it across from Japan under the Pacific because they were thinking about sex.

      The end.

    1. Just for show, and yes it will.  (I asked the same question when I visited the plant where they were building the machines to dig Seattle’s light rail tunnel.) 

      I just watched the new machine sail past my office window which looks out over Elliot Bay – days like this it reminds of a Richard Scarry book, all ferries and tugs and fireboats and helicopters and fishing boats and jets from two different airports.

    1. With a 57 foot diameter, you wouldn’t so much come up inside the bank vault as make some real nice green confetti.  Fort Knox, on the other hand. . .

      1. YES! Fort Knox. Brilliant. Your criminal brain is my kind of criminal brain. Plus the Nash Rambler was a great car, my uncle used to collect them.

  3. Until it disappeared underground I travelled past one of the machines used for Crossrail (tunnel east-west under London).  The whole machine was 150m long!  It’s as long as a train, and includes it’s own small railway on the inside to deliver concrete tunnel sections to the cutting face.

    It also has a much better name: Ada, after computer scientist Ada Lovelace.  (See here).

  4. Trivia: named “Bertha” after Bertha Knight Landes, the first female mayor of a major American city. Because when you think of the world’s biggest tunnel robot, it naturally brings to mind ground-breaking women politicians. Or something.

  5. I used to work for Lovat tunnel, a TBM manufacturer in Toronto. It was my first “real” job out of school and I was the go-between bitch between engineering and the guys in the field. When we did a subway job in Toronto, I got to work a few days in the tunnel….AWESOME!!!!!

    Water, mud, rock, giant machinery, heat and NOISE…I still remember the noise.

    I felt like a 6 year old kid

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