A Catholic priest descended 55 feet into a hole beneath Grand Central Terminal on Monday to pray for the safe completion of a new MTA tunnel to address crowding on the 7 train platform.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” the Rev. Brendan Fitzgerald recited while pouring holy water into the pit. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Fitzgerald performed the ceremony as the MTA marks the halfway point of a $115 million project to make life a little easier for 7 train riders. Crews are building a new walkway and entrance from the line’s platform at Grand Central Terminal up to 42nd Street, fit with staircases and escalators. Fans of the New York Mets who catch the 7 train at Grand Central are likely familiar with the crowded hallways, escalators leading to the platform.
Fitzgerald is a pastor at St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx, but also works as the chaplain for Sandhogs Local 147, the union of workers who have dug out tunnels across New York City for more than a century.
“There’s a dignity in working, putting all of our talents to the good use of the Lord,” said Fitzgerald, who wore a union hoodie over his priest gown. “They’re putting their health and their strength into the betterment of society.”
After he gave his blessing, the tunneling began.
The sandhogs — who over the last year dug out the newly blessed shaft — began drilling and blasting horizontally through the bedrock beneath 42nd Street. They’ll eventually reach a wall above the 7 train platform.
Currently, passengers can see a blue wooden box on the platform where the new stairway will be located.
Kevin Asson, 34, handled a drill resembling a massive harpoon that blasted quarter-sized holes into the bedrock. Its noise was deafening.
“You gotta hold on tight. because if you don’t hold the tightest, take you flying,” said Asson, who’s worked as a Sandhog for 15 years.
The holes Asson drilled will be filled with dynamite to blast the rock to kingdom come, but the workers said the underground explosions will be relatively quiet.
“They’re using a low explosive dynamite on this particular site,” said Local 147 business manager Richard Fitzsimmons.
MTA officials said the project will be finished by the end of the year — and will help reduce crowds at one of the city’s busiest subway stations. The agency estimates Grand Central Terminal handles 25 million subway and commuter railroad riders every year.
“I think with the added staircase down on the platform, you’ll have much more comfortable circulation through Grand Central,” said Matthew Zettwoch, the MTA’s vice president of construction and development. “Not only with new escalators, you’ll have new wayfinding, better messaging, new lighting, in addition to wider staircases down on both ends of the platform.”
Zettwoch said the MTA won’t need to suspend 7 train service for the construction of the actual tunnel — but noted the agency plans some closures of the line to repaint and repair areas of the platform.
But the Sandhogs have plenty of drilling — and blasting — to do before that work is complete.