Engineering Students Visit MTA's East Side Access Project

Civil engineering students visit the MTA East Side Access construction site and learn about the project first-hand from the engineers working on it.

It’s not every day that you get to go underground and see one of the biggest construction sites in New York City. But that’s exactly what 40 junior civil engineering majors did when they visited the East Side Access site, an MTA construction project that will connect the Long Island Rail Road from Queens to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. When completed, the project will add eight new station tunnels to Grand Central and expand the total number of tracks from 67 to 75.

“The experience of going into the East Side Access was amazing,” says Tom Elbrecht ’13. “It’s something we’ve been learning about for three years. We’ve had people come to speak to us about it and we’ve done some research on it, but to go down there and see the tunnels in person and see the sheer size of them was amazing.”

The Moles, a professional organization that represents the heavy construction industry, sponsored the trip. Every April, The Moles host “Students Day” where engineering students and faculty from colleges throughout the local region are invited to tour major construction sites in New York City. Students get to see up close and in person the inner workings of the construction site, as well as meet with personnel from some of the top construction firms in the industry. Past trips have included visiting construction sites at the World Trade Center and JFK Airport.

This year’s trip took students on a guided tour of the tunneling in progress below the rail yards in Sunnyside, Queens. Three civil and environmental engineering faculty members accompanied the student group: Moujalli Hourani, D.Sc., Goli Nossoni, Ph.D. and Anirban De, Ph.D. The group went several stories underground to see a section of the finished tunnel and how it’s supported with several types of steel bracing. The students also got to see the tunnel-boring machine, a massive piece of equipment that is used to excavate the tunnel.

“It was really cool and educational to apply everything we had learned in lecture at the field,” says Ynaliz Then ’13. “We stopped at 11 different stops on-site, and at each stop, there was a field engineer telling us a small recap of what goes on at that section of the project.”

In addition to the hands-on learning experience, the event is also a great networking opportunity that provides students the chance to meet with staff from construction firms.

“As an engineer, this trip really makes you excited to get into the work field because it’s something you’ve been learning about for three or four years,” says Elbrecht. “And you finally get to see it in real life situations.”