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Machine digs tunnel to Grand Central

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A 200-ton boring machine has reached Grand Central Terminal after eight months, drilling a mile-long tunnel that will be part of the East Side Access project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into the station.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said a second boring machine is expected to complete a parallel tunnel by summer's end.

The twin tunnels run from East 63rd Street and Second Avenue to Grand Central Terminal.

Construction crews will soon begin blasting to excavate a large space beneath Park Avenue between 49th and 51st streets to provide LIRR trains flexibility in using all eight tracks in the new station under Grand Central.

The MTA Capital Construction Co. and the contractor working on the project, Dragados S.A. and Judlau Contracting, have made great effort to minimize the effects of the blasting.

The MTA said the blasting will be imperceptible to most people in the area and that if felt, the noise and vibration may be similar to the muffled thud of a box of books dropped on the floor in another room.

"It's terrific that the progress on the East Side Access project is moving forward steadily," said Elliot Sander, the MTA executive director. "We look forward to inaugurating Long Island Rail Road service into Grand Central — a dream many have shared for generations."

The MTA predicts that 160,000 riders who now go to Penn Station daily will use the LIRR service to Grand Central, saving up to 15 minutes formerly spent transferring to buses or subways to destinations on Manhattan's East Side.

A study in the late 1990s showed that 36 percent of jobs in midtown Manhattan are in walking distance of Penn Station, but nearly 70 percent of jobs are within walking distance of Grand Central Terminal.

The plan for the $6.3 billion project calls for a new LIRR station with eight tracks and four platforms 110 feet below ground level at Grand Central Terminal. Access to the terminal will be by escalators.

The project will provide a new LIRR station in Sunnyside.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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