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Something's Happening Under Broad Street

It resembles a subterranean cave excavation.

Teams of work crews labor with lights atop their helmets and special equipment - manned and unmanned - at the ready; the sound of engines whirring, and the faint sight of glowing safety vests moving methodically in the darkness amidst dust and debris.

However, these crews aren't on an archeological dig, but beneath one of busiest arteries in Center City Philadelphia - Broad Street.

For the past six months, crews have descended approximately two stories beneath the road surface to perform necessary improvements on Girard and Spring Garden stations along on the Broad Street Line.

Working underground in this environment during the overnight hours is truly a sensory experience. Time all but stops, and movement is relegated to the area immediately around them as crews rely on their unique equipment to get the job at hand completed.

"Fortunately we have the use of very specific tools to help us accomplish our work," said Project Manager Jack McElwee.

Behind protective barriers, jack-hammers, rivet-busters, an automated 'robo-hammer,' and a versatile high-rail platform vehicle have been enlisted to aggressively remove deteriorated elements of the stations.

Currently, several phases of the project are being completed, including the repair of the ceiling and walls.

"I always marvel at the early construction as we peel back layers and layers old steel, lattice work, old terra cotta, and building products that are no longer used," said Construction Specialist Tony Froio.

Most recently tracks providing local service to the stations have been blocked during scheduled evening and overnight hours while workers are hoisted above the track to repair and remove damaged areas of ceiling. The historic Art-Deco tiling of the early 1920s will be maintained as much as possible to retain the character of the station; however modern enhancements are also being implemented.

"We haven't found any time capsules yet - but who knows?" Froio said.

Bob McNabb has nearly 23 years in the field under his belt, but admits this project is just a little bit different.

"Ten to fifteen workers are scheduled at any given time because these are still functioning stations," McNabb said. "Although they were fairly convenient for commuters when originally constructed, no thought was given to the disabled passenger."

"The old construction was just not user-friendly," McNabb added. "That's going to change. We are also going to turn back the clock and reopen two mezzanines - people haven't experienced those in many years."

As Project Manager McElwee stood at a make-shift work station reviewing the progress of construction he remarked, "The coordination of this work is very important as we keep both stations open for riders. When it's completed by the end of 2011, we believe our commuters will find them more convenient, safe, and attractive."

Lowering his voice, McElwee added, "This is really an exciting project!"

Workers are elevated atop a high-rail platform vehicle to complete ceiling repairs.

The unmanned 'robo-hammer' tears down deteriorated staircases.

Construction Specialist Tony Froio inspects station tile.

Project Manager Jack McElwee consults with Bob McNabb on station progress.

Historic tiling will be salvaged and reused at the stations.