Video courtesy of Sound Transit Video, on Vimeo

The most difficult portion of Northgate Link construction reached its conclusion today Thursday, as the Tunnel Boring Machine formerly known as Brenda holed through at UW Station, completing the boring of the southbound tube from U-District Station.

Here is Sound Transit’s media release.

Brenda was renamed TBM #1 to avoid confusion with the more plague-ridden Bertha, the world’s largest tunnel boring machine currently crawling under downtown to construct the replacement highway for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Brenda is now a veteran of six tube borings, starting with both tubes between Capitol Hill Station and Westlake Station, then being brought back into commission to dig each of the northbound tubes from Northgate to Roosevelt Station to U-District Station and then to UW Station. After her little sister, Pamela, suffered damage building the southbound tube from Roosevelt Station to U-District Station, Brenda was called back into service to bore the final Northgate Link tube — the southbound tube from U-District Station to UW Station — which she completed today.

Travelers riding Link to or from UW Station may have noticed a lot of dust in the air down at the platform level. That’s because the freshly bored tube, and Brenda, are just north of the platform. If you have asthma or other breathing difficulties, and plan to be using UW Station in the next couple days, I recommend bringing along a breathing mask.

Update: Per Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason, the dust was all cleared by mid-day Friday.

Northgate Link is scheduled to open for service in 2021. Per Sound Transit’s estimates, riders using Northgate Station will enjoy seven-minute rides to Husky Stadium, 14-minute rides to downtown and 47-minute rides to Sea-Tac Airport.

Congratulations go to the Sound Transit engineering department, the contractors, and all the workers who pulled off this engineering feat (twin underground tubes from Westlake to Northgate, passing below the Ship Canal) and did so safely.

Congratulations also go to Brenda, the Tunnel Boring Machine that could. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!

42 Replies to “Northgate Link Tunnel Boring: Mission Accomplished”

  1. 5 months ahead of schedule. Not bad! And that’s with the hiccups suffered. Hopefully this project continues its accelerated pace to completion :)

  2. Are they going to leave her (or at least her cutter head and pressure shield) in the ground until after football season? Because you wouldn’t want construction activity for her extraction to interfere with the ability of fans to attend Husky Football games — first things first after all.

    But congrats. Good job Brenda (and Pamela. and ST for that matter).

    And Bertha is on yet another break….

      1. These guys arranged it so it’s a matter of public record that their wives were boring! That’s not adorable, it’s a master-stroke of spouse-trolling!

    1. Hard to believe nobody took account of tomorrow’s ridership before this warning got issued. Because if nobody did, today’s notification is plaintiffs’ evidence resulting in the loss of ST-3’s whole budget. Unless the 43 and several more U-District routes come back, with every possible ramification.

      Will somebody connected with the project, preferably unofficially, give us the straight story on this? And based on answer, might be good idea to either retract or bold-face the advice about the surgical mask. Wouldn’t do either ridership or transit’s legal defense any good to be handing out these masks at all our stations.

      Not to mention both future ridership and every voter in the region. Word to those who’d better have been wise about this.

      Mark Dublin

      1. While I’m certain that no extraction of TBM equipment will take place on game day (more likely late at night or on a Sunday), The footprint of the crane and associated tools is quite small – may displace a couple of food trucks but easy to walk around. And it has been in place for over a week now.

    2. Extracting the cutter head doesn’t take much more space than they have fenced off now. As long as they aren’t trying to work on game day, I don’t see a reason to wait 5 months. Most of the disassembly will be done at the University district station.

      1. Every little bit of space counts on this. And ultimately the UW will be calling the shots. I suspect they will leave the big diameter bits of her in the ground until after football. And there really isn’t any rush to extract her anyhow..

  3. Can’t wait to ride in these tunnels. And to think sweet thoughts, riding inbound at 5 p.m., about the people on I-5 who will be somewhere around 45th by the time I get downtown.

    1. What are chances of opening Northgate before DSTT has to end bus service? Considering ridership on the 41 and the 550 if these routes go to the surface, every Downtown arterial at rush hour will move same speed as I-5 between Everett and Olympia. Any information appreciated here, Dave.


      1. About zero. There is absolutely no way the stations are going to be ready to go by 2018, even if the tunneling is now finished. U-link tunneling finished around 2012, and it took until 2016 to open, so north Link should be similar.

      2. You do know that the 41 goes to Northgate transit center, correct? I would expect the 41 will go the way of all the other bus routes have in NE Seattle once the light rail goes to Northgate. All the people getting on the 41 now will be still waiting in the tunnel, but for the light rail. I really hope the Sound Transit capacity planners are going to be prepared for the onslaught.

    1. I agree and Sound Transit should put a photo of Brenda on the yet unannounced Rail Operator of the Year plaque hung on the wall at the Operations Maintenance Facility . Since no current operators have apparently qualified (thus no announcement, even after seven years of service), We should celebrate the exemplary performance of the team that operated Brenda. Job well done! (My opinions are my own and do not represent Sound Transit or King County Rail Operations – this tag required to comply with policy regarding social media distributed this week).

      1. Jeff, way I’ve long since learned to deal with pernicious lack of recognition is to limit to less than a dozen the people of the World’s six billion people whose opinion on any subject I care about at all.

        However, I carry personal debts of honor to the maybe six people on Earth from whom I’d rather take a reprimand, preferably angry, verbal and public, than a commendation from the rest of the official world and all its rings and moons put together.

        But amount of caution being forced upon all of us by the existence of “social media” has now overwhelmed my attempts to fight back by never using it.

        Fact that so many terrorists and criminals Twitter in advance all their plans, associates, and targets does prove that giving captured terrorists an account makes torture a waste of time. But last straw is having social media being main source of breaking news- what ever happened to Clark Kent?

        So best move on this one, Jeff, is just put comment in quotes, finished with a dash and my name behind it. Subjects’ reactions will show which list they belong on.


  4. 5 years to go… I wish it could come sooner. Northgate link will be a blessing for transit throughout north seattle.

    1. Only if attendant bus routes are given allocated space to get to the transit center … and safe routes are created to get people to the bus.

      1. Details I’ve seen about Northgate Station show that bus approaches could be better, but that service will definitely take passengers into the station. But here’s what I’m wondering about both the 41 and the 550.

        These routes both carry huge passenger loads. When I-90 work and Convention Center expansion make DSTT bus service impossible, are there any ways to transit passengers to LINK without having to go into Downtown?

        For the north end, for instance, would it help to turn the 41 to the 45th and University Way station? Or have the 67 serve Roosevelt District?


      2. After Link the entire transit center should be redesigned to allow for bus passengers to move to/from Link. The center, for one, should be oriented east/west and not north/south, with unloading below the link platform (and close to the escalators).

      3. @Jack

        Northgate transit center is going away when Northgate link opens. The new transit center will be the base of train station itself.

        The park and ride will be torn down to be replaced by TOD.

  5. So where do they go now? Will they be used on the underground sections between Northgate and Lynnwood or another agency?

    1. There are no tunnel segments north of Northgate, in ST2 or ST3 (someone correct me if I am wrong)
      Tunnel in Bellevue I believe is cut and cover. We will not see Brenda or Pamela used before ST3, if they are still here.

      1. Surely, by the time this tunnel is finally built (2030?), technology will improve, and the machines will become more efficient? One would hope.

    2. The TBMs are the property of the contractor. Brenda’s contractor did the Cap Hill to Westlake tunnel in addition to Northgate Link. Togo and Balto (the ones that dug from H Stadium to Cap Hill) went to another project in another place, they moved along with the contractor.

      Brenda will probably go to JCM’s next contract.

      Would be nice if Mohai bought a piece of Brenda. Her work is as historic and will have made as much of a difference to a Seattleite’s life as anything else exhibited there.

      1. Or donated. Surely there are bits of the machine that are worn down that the contractor needs to replace anyways, such as cutter heads?

      2. Thanks for the idea about Mohai, Baselle. These machines are a very important exhibit for Seattle history. Would be good if they could save enough to show how the mechanism really worked.

        But also good perspective on the use of these exact machines for future tunnels around Seattle, including the Ballard UW one and the second Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. In the years ’til these projects break ground, there will doubtless be much-improved boring equipment.

        Possibly able to handle work presently too slow and expensive. On the Ballard-West Seattle corridor, for instance. Would be interesting to compare present machines with the ones that dug the DSTT thirty years ago. As population and activity expands here, a lot more transit will have no place to go but underground.

        So a lot of alternatives in these pages probably won’t be so contentious when it’s finally time to dig them.


      3. I’ve seen in Europe where they take the cutter head and mount it on a post as a peice of sculpture. It really is impressive. And the expensive parts of the machine are left intact for the next job.

        It should be done.

      4. Bertha’s cutter head is destined to end up in a wall at the SR-99 North Portal. If it gets that far.

  6. I got off at UW station, half expecting smeling dust in the air at the platform but the air seemed fine to me. STs video showed the cutter head got sprayed with a lot of water.

    1. Ya, that bit about breathing difficulties and bringing a mask for the next few days was precious. The Seattle Times couldn’t have spline better..

      Bottom line is you won’t even notice by tonight. No need to worry.

      1. This morning, air at UW Station freshest in the system. Have never been so glad to be proven absurd and over-wrought.

        Sort of a conditioned reflex, though, from years of an attitude shared by government and the governed that we have to accept many intolerable things because that’s just the way it is.

        There’s an age old misconception that working with scarce resources makes Government more resourceful and efficient. Real result is permanent excuse for the lazy. Or usual effect of starvation on a draft horse.

        So thanks for the warning, Brent. Maybe somebody in risk or legal saw that line and went screaming through the roof. Time honored call to action.


  7. I imagine Brenda and a small fleet of her sisters grinding away with never a break, except time in boring machine spas for R & R. And leave to your imagining just where they will be.

  8. Downtown to Northgate was tunneled. Why won’t downtown to Ballard be tunneled the whole way? Is the cost of tunneling so much higher than elevated/surface + bridge? ST will already have the tunnel machines and digging infrastructure in place for the new downtown tunnel. Why not make the tunnel go all the way to Ballard and avoid the increasingly clogged Interbay corridor and contending with ship traffic through Salmon Bay. Do it right the first time: tunnel all the way to Ballard.

    1. As long as the line is fully grade separated, it doesn’t really matter much whether it’s surface-running, elevated, or tunneled. Interbay has enough room to build a grade-separated line mostly on the surface, so it’s simplest to just do that. While it is true that, every once an while, the train will have to wait for a ship canal opening, this will be rare, and when it does happen, the delay will only be a couple of minutes, as the train won’t get stuck in the long line of cars queuing up for the bridge, when it re-opens, the way buses do.

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