Abandoned Engineering (2016–…): Season 2, Episode 8 - Lost Highway in the Rainforest - full transcript

What is the history of a man made island, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, on the Hudson River which was closed in 1954. Also investigated, a long lost highway in the Brazilian jungle, and a forgotten bunker system in the F...

A brutal Soviet fortress
overlooking the baltic sea.

You could expect to lose yourself
in those cold, horrible walls.

An extensive bunker system built

in the extreme altitude
of the French alps.

Why would anyone build something
like this so high up in the mountains?

A deserted jungle
highway that leads nowhere.

If I was wandering around
the rainforests in Brazil,

I think the very last thing
I would expect to see

is a massive piece of concrete.

And a little-known complex
at the heart of the American

immigration story.

To say that this
place is atmospheric

would be an understatement.

It's really creepy.

Once, they were some of the most

advanced structures
and facilities on the planet,

at the cutting edge of
design and construction.

Today, they stand abandoned,
contaminated and sometimes deadly.

But who built them and how?

And why were they abandoned?

Near the southeast coast of Brazil,
amongst the mountainous peaks

of the serra do mar, is
an imposing structure.

Emerging out of the morning mist
and reaching across the rainforest

is what appears to be a
huge section of highway.

It's misty. There
is clouds rolling in

and, when you focus, all of a sudden
you see this huge concrete structure

and it's just growing up out of
the jungle and then disappears.

It's as though a giant
just picked up a huge

concrete piece of lego
and dropped it there.

See, if I was wandering
around the rainforests in Brazil,

I think the very last thing
I would expect to see

is a massive piece of concrete.

And forget just a massive
piece of concrete but an actual

abandoned piece of flyover.
That would be really, really bizarre.

Who built this domineering
flyover on the side of a mountain?

And where does it lead?

In the 1950s, the Brazilian
government began constructing

a trans-coastal highway.

Known as the br-101 freeway,

it would eventually form
Brazil's longest highway,

stretching nearly 3,000
miles north to south.

Yet this segment of the 101
appears to be deep in the jungle,

far from the stunning
beaches of Brazil's east coast.

Brazilian engineer Newton Jose
cavalieri knows the freeway well.

(Speaks foreign language)

This section was left unbuilt.

But in the 1970s, Brazil's
military government invested

heavily in massive
infrastructure projects

and plans to bridge this
mountainous strip were renewed.

The original plan was to take
the freeway over the mountains.

Now, that had all sorts
of inherent challenges

so they looked
for an alternative.

Through the jungle?

That's gonna be difficult.

But how about over
the top of the jungle?

They decided to follow
existing dirt roads built by

the state-owned petrobras oil
company to maintain their oil pipeline

that ran through the jungle.

In the midst of an economic boom,
known as the 'Brazilian miracle',

engineers forged the
most direct route possible

with the help of
tunnels and viaducts.

And one of the key pieces of this
ambitious highway puzzle was this,

the petrobras viaduct.

(Important music)

It would help to bypass
over 30 miles of coastal road

that looped around
the peninsula.

You can imagine how
difficult this was to construct.

First of all,
you're in a jungle.

It's inhospitable, it's hot, it's
humid, there's trees and insects.

Despite the challenges of building
a viaduct that was over 130ft tall

and 1,000ft long in
these harsh conditions,

Brazil's military government
had good reason for investing

in this jungle highway.

It was linked to their
nuclear ambitions.

To advance their
nuclear capabilities,

they began building reactors and
this section of highway became vital.

(Speaks foreign language)

As Brazil entered
the atomic age,

they needed an escape route
to the south of Rio de Janeiro,

in case of nuclear disaster.

So the br-101 had to
be completed before

the nuclear reactor went online.

Various teams worked along
the route on different sections,

some faster than others,
but all faced an array

of engineering challenges whilst
also in a race against the clock.

So, when you're trying
to build quite a complex

road network and that might
have tunnels, it might have

flat pieces of road and it
also might have these flyovers,

what you want to do really is to
do the most complex pieces first.

They're the most expensive.

They're gonna take the longest
and they need the most amount

of investment in
order to get them built.

So it's a good idea to get
the hard bits finished first

and then what you can do later,
more easily, is just to join the dots.

So that's the kind of
typical way that you would

build something, even though
it sounds really counterintuitive.

(Speaks foreign language)

There are a lot of things that
can make your life very difficult.

That can start from the
ground being quite wet,

having lots of
roots of trees there.

You're thinking about,

"how do I bring the material to
that location to actually build it?"

How are you gonna
get cranes there?

And then if it's hot and
humid, to add to that,

that makes things
even more difficult.

Despite the precarious
working conditions,

jungle humidity does have
one engineering benefit.

So, strangely enough, the one thing
you don't really need to worry about

is the concrete going off
because you've got the humidity

there and actually, having
quite a humid environment

means that the concrete cures
better and it gains its strength

really nicely and uniformly
across its whole body.

However, this
supposedly key component

of the freeway system
would never fulfil its purpose.

With the nuclear plant
suffering construction delays

and defects well into the 1980s,

the Brazilian economy was slowing,
exacerbated by a global oil crisis.

With funds dwindling,
the freeway was scrapped

and left standing
where it remains today.

Demolishing a viaduct can
actually be more expensive

than the construction cost
itself and so, many times,

it's easier to leave a
structure like that in place.

The petrobras viaduct is a
sad reflection of poor planning

at a time when Brazil's economic
miracle came to a shuddering halt,

replaced by turmoil and crisis.

Never linking up with the
angra nuclear power plant,

it was simply left to be
consumed by the jungle.

Today, this concrete freeway
is rooted to the rainforest floor

and is rarely visited.

The petrobras viaduct just
imposed itself on this jungle.

So I think it's somewhat
ironic but completely fitting

that nature is now consuming
it back from whence it came.

And I think that's a fitting end to
something that probably shouldn't

have been there
in the first place.

In Europe, on the coast
of Estonia's capital city,

Tallinn, is a structure
with a very dark past.

Spread over 180,000 square feet,

this ominous
three-storey fortress,

battered and salt -
sprayed by the sea,

once housed thousands of people.

The really peculiar thing

is this triangular-shape
masonic-looking sort of structure

that protrudes from the centre
of it and it just defies explanation.

Then when you get close up
to the site, you realise, "hang on!

What's all this
barbed wire about?"

Inside the building,

miles of winding corridors pass
hundreds of empty, rotting cells.

You walk along the halls
and you're instantly struck by

how cold and
stark this place is.

It was never constructed to give
whoever it was that inhabited it

any sense of comfort.

Why was this stark facility
constructed in Tallinn?

And who was imprisoned here?

(Serious music)


Russia's long domination of
Estonia stretches back to 1700

and the great northern war.

Over the centuries, Estonia,
on the edge of the baltic sea,

provided an excellent strategic
location for Russia's military

and intelligence services

and provided their Navy
with access to baltic waters,

close to its European enemies.

After Joseph Stalin's rise to
power, the ussr increasingly expected

the baltic states to bow
down to the communist regime.

Opposition was
often brutally crushed.

(People screaming)

Ussr was this huge
controlling monolith.

There was no opposition allowed.

If you were a leader of some of
those baltic states like Estonia,

there was only one thing
that was gonna happen to you.

You would be
locked away in prison,

pretty much the key
would be thrown away.

This former Russian naval
sea fortress was built in 1840.

But in 1919, it was turned
into what would become

one of the most dangerous
institutions in the communist world.

Patarei prison.

Patarei prison was a
branch of the kgb in Moscow.

It was the hell of the most
ruthless intelligence agency

in the world.

Patarei gained a fearsome
reputation as a place of terror.

Anyone who resisted Russian
expansion would likely end up here.

Curator Martin andreller

is an expert on what life was
like for prisoners inside these walls.

This was the place and synonym

for the communist terror
that was made in Estonia.

How many prisoners the
Soviets kept here, we don't know.

But in the cells, there were
around 80 persons per one cell.

You would have one toilet
and cold water by design.

You'd have a blanket, that's it.

The whole intent was to
dehumanise you, to make you feel

as though you're not worth
anything better than this.

It was a nasty place.

Former prime ministers,

politicians, diplomats, they
were also held here in patarei.

And all the routes towards
Siberia or towards the graves

started from this building.

Patarei was used as a staging post,
a place where thousands of prisoners

and forced labourers would stay

whilst en route to the gulags in
Siberia thousands of miles away.

The Soviets were willing to
deport thousands and thousands

of Estonians to Siberia
just for being Estonian.

And the conditions
in patarei were severe.

(Serious music)

Patarei was a way of bringing
the frozen hell of Siberia,

the ruthless
exploitation of Moscow,

right into the
centre of Tallinn.

Yet this inhumane
Soviet treatment

of prisoners would ultimately
contribute to its downfall.

Methods of physical and
psychological torture employed

at the prison and elsewhere

led to a deep-seated hatred amongst
Estonians for all things Russian.

And it ignited strong resistance
against their old enemy

from a group called
the forest brothers.

We first find the
phrase, 'forest brothers',

in the baltic region around the
time of the Russian revolution,

around 1905, and supposedly
it comes from school teachers

and peasants taking
refuge in the forest,

hiding against the
occupation by Russia.

It turns into a real
political movement

where partisans of
all the baltic states are

willing to fight for their lives
against the Russian occupation.

Following the Soviet invasion
during world war ii, as many as 50,000

forest brothers across Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania took up arms

and employed guerrilla tactics
to resist and disrupt Soviet forces.

You don't even have
to take to the forest

with a gun in your hand
to be sent off to Siberia.

So when they get genuine
insurgence into their hands,

the Soviet security
services are horrible to them.

They're cruel, they're
ruthless and they try their best -

the kgb does - to make it impossible
to continue to oppose Soviet rule.

In patarei prison,
there have been

numbers and numbers
of famous prisoners.

One of the leaders of the
Estonian partisan movement

against the Soviet
regime, 'ants the terrible',

as it was his nickname,

was also kept here in
patarei before his execution

in the start of 1950s
by the Soviets.

Numerous members of the
forest brothers partisan movement

ended up here, condemned to
a life of a solitary confinement.

The Soviets were
excellent at manipulating

uncertainty in order to
divorce prisoners from reality.

They took away
your sense of time

by taking away natural light.

They took away your
sense of biological time

by feeding you at
irregular intervals.

You could expect to lose yourself
in those cold, horrible walls.

During the cold war, there's a
real interest in any groups who were

resisting that Soviet rule,
and the forest brothers were

secretly getting support
from both MI6 and the CIA.

Each of which had a vested
interest in the forest brothers' success

'cause they wanted to see

Russia and communism
stopped in its tracks.

But the design of the prison meant
that only three escape attempts

were ever made from
patarei and all ended in failure.

Alongside the presence
of the much-feared kgb,

this was one of the most
secure sites in Europe.

Of course, it was
very hard to get out.

The walls itself is based
around a naval fortress.

They were very thick, over 2m.

And of course, the systems
of the internal security,

all the doors and so on, so it
was basically not possible to do

that if you didn't have the inside
help from the prison guards.

Otherwise, you couldn't get out.

The last execution at
patarei took place in 1991,

the same year that the
Soviet union collapsed.

The Russians may have
left, but patarei continued

to function as a
prison until 2002.

This building, soaked in tragedy,
lies derelict and abandoned.

A dark reminder
of a haunted past.

You can go and really see
what that Soviet oppression

was all about for anyone
who was imprisoned there.

It's almost an opportunity today
to still look behind the iron curtain.

Its future, however,
looks brighter.

Plans are afoot to regenerate the
complex, potentially as a museum

dedicated to the memory of those
who suffered inside these walls.

Off the coast of New York City,
at the mouth of the Hudson river,

is a gateway to america.

But not the one
you might expect.

In the shadow of lady Liberty lies
a 28-acre manmade landmass...

Scattered with 22 red
brick buildings that contain

a deadly past.

To say that this place is atmospheric
would be an understatement.

It's really creepy.

There's vines growing on the
walls, there's bars on the windows.

All you can hear is dead silence

and the occasional, sort of,
seabird crying in the distance.

It's no wonder it brings about

images of horror movies and
experiments kind of gone wrong.

The collection of decaying
buildings that you see

looks almost military, as if
it was to house a Garrison

of troops ready to
defend the coast.

Dappled light and sea-air
stream through the large windows

of this dilapidated complex.

Yet it sheds little light
on its original purpose.

If you were to find yourself
walking down the corridors

of this place, you would ask
yourself, "what's going on?"

These huge, iron-clad doors
with these sealed tight sort of locks.

"Is this a prison?
What is this place?"

Why was it necessary to
create a new landmass?

And what was the purpose
of this sprawling complex?

In 1892, Ellis island opened
its first immigration station.

700 immigrants passed through
its doors on the first day alone,

as people came from
all corners of the globe.

In total, the 12 million immigrants
who would pass through New York

were taken to Ellis island
to clear immigration checks.

They brought different cultures,
languages and much-needed labour.

But that wasn't all they
were bringing with them.

America had opened its doors

and that sounds great but
the dark side, the flip side,

the concern that no-one
really probably thought through

is that you're welcoming disease
from all over the rest of the world.

There were no shots, there
were no antibiotics you could

give people as they
walked through the door.

You had no idea what
they were bringing with them

and this created the
need for a hospital.

This was Ellis island
immigration hospital,

america's first line of
defence against disease,

and one of the largest public
health hospitals in us history.

Its job was to stop a dangerous
outbreak of disease from spreading

across the country.

People have this image of
immigrants coming through

Ellis island into the us in
this kind of hellish, scary

facility, Ellis island.
And it probably was

somewhat scary for
people. But in some ways,

it was also very
enlightened and very modern.

An absolute state-of-the-art
hospital that had huge capacity,

highly trained staff.

John mcinnes of
save Ellis island

works to preserve
this historic facility.

This hospital opened up and
employed the most modern

medical practices
that existed in its day.

It was purposely designed to
protect the people who worked here,

the people of the United
States and the other immigrants.

This cutting-edge medical
facility was so vast it required

its very own purpose-built island,
separate to the immigration centre.

Back in the day, when
you arrived at Ellis island,

you were greeted with a
security check and a health check.

It forced the health
community to grow its expertise,

to test for things, to learn,
to become more proficient

and it was really the Genesis of
the American healthcare industry.

In 1898, construction
began on island number two,

which would increase the
total mass to over 15 acres.

But how do you build an
island in a body of water?

We're taking inspiration from
the ancient Roman engineers.

So, what they used to do,
which was quite cunning,

is to create two rings
made out of timber logs,

and then pack the little space
between these two rings with Clay,

pump the water
out from the middle,

and then you've got a
dry space in which to work.

Labourers filled the watertight
framework of the island with rubble

from the newly excavated
New York subway.

On the new island base, six
dedicated hospital structures were built

at a cost of over $23
million in today's money.

By 1901, the hospital was processing
huge numbers of immigrants.

Most of us get nervous today
going through airport security.

But that's nothing compared to

the anxiety that immigrants
felt as they arrived at Ellis island.

We've been on planes for hours.

They've been on boats
for weeks in dire conditions

and they don't
speak the language.

You can imagine the
anxiety, the confusion

and the tension on both sides.

In 1907, over a million immigrants
passed through Ellis island.

And the medical complex
was overwhelmed.

To isolate and control contagious
diseases, they built a third island,

200ft across the water.

The hospital buildings were located
on separate islands for good reason.

It was in response to
the prevailing germ theory,

the belief that germs could
not travel across a body of water.

One of the reasons
Ellis island was built

on an island in the first
place is because it isolated

the complex from the rest of
the north American population.

If there was some kind of
epidemic or disease, it could be held

on that island and wouldn't
immediately be spreading

through the rest
of the population.

Consisting of 17 separate buildings,
all dedicated to specific illnesses,

the contagious disease
hospital could seal off

each individual section, preventing
the spread of deadly infection.

You could be brought to a ward
like this. This large, open room.

It's all gonna be likely men, just
like you. You're gonna be here.

Beds are gonna be between each
of the windows, surrounding the area.

Now, this room is
actually a design theory

of Florence
nightingale's from 1860.

She thought there was something
in the air called 'bad air miasma'.

So she had this theory of
getting it out of the room.

And what you see is actually
engineers putting it at work.

Three sides of fresh air
and sunlight coming through.

These large windows,
they're gonna be open

about 18 inches throughout
the year, to allow the bad air out.

And then she has
something unique in design,

this coving that you'll
see around the ceilings.

That's gonna
facilitate the flow of air,

allow the air to travel up the
walls, collect the bad air out,

come out the other side, go out the
window the other side of the room.

An advanced theory in 1860.

This was the age of
tuberculosis and cholera

so disease control
was Paramount.

The onsite industrial
laundry processed

3,000 towels and sheets daily.

There was even a giant steel
chamber, called an autoclave,

that used high-pressure
steam to disinfect mattresses.

Doctors and nurses
went to great lengths

to prevent cross-contamination.

And the room's gonna be locked

and people are gonna be
here for about three weeks

while they're being treated
for their infectious disease.

With few antibiotics available, it
was simply a case of waiting to see

if the patients got
better or worse.

It must have been
a scary process.

You were threatened with being
sent back home if you didn't recover.

The good news is, the
vast majority of them did.

Only about 1% of the
passengers were returned

to their home countries
because of illness.

Ultimately, Ellis island's
medical facility was a success.

But modern technology,

along with advancements in
medicine, ironically outstripped

the island's once
high-tech facilities

and it was forced to close down.

After the hospital closes
its doors for immigrants,

the island continues to be used by
the FBI, which is quite interesting.

And then as a
prisoner of war facility.

So it had some functional
use after it closed down

as an immigration hospital.

But ultimately, it would
close its doors for good.

In 1954, Ellis island and
its hospital were abandoned.

Once bursting at the seams,
this medical institution lay empty

and derelict.

But today, thanks to the
save Ellis island foundation,

the hospital is being restored

and has reopened for
so-called hard-hat tours.

Immigration centre is a
popular tourist attraction.

They come in droves.
But what they don't see

is the hospital right nearby.

And the hospital, you
know, it should be thought of

as every bit as important
as the immigration centre

'cause this is where the legacy
of American healthcare can

really be celebrated.

Over 6,000ft up
in the French alps

are a series of deserted
and mysterious structures.

What race of
beings built this vast

encampment, so
much of it underground?

It's like something
out of tolkien,

you know, something the
dwarves would have built.

A maze of dark,
desolate corridors

leads into the deepest recesses
of these mountain peaks.

Why would anyone build

something like this so
high up in the mountains?

Why build these bizarre alpine
structures in this barren location,

only to leave them abandoned?

In the 1930s, Nazi Germany was
threatening expansionist policies.

With world war I
fresh in the memory,

France set about protecting
their borders from the old enemy.

They built a set of
defensive fortifications,

now infamous as
the maginot line.

It was a labyrinth of fortification
above and below ground,

considered at the time the
ultimate in military defence.


The idea of the maginot line is,
it's not just one wall or one line.

It's a defence in depth.

So you have anti-tank
barricades, sections of barbed wire,

you have lookouts.

It's not like the
great wall of China.

It's more like a
system of defences

that's layered over
the whole border area.

You should always consider
defence in your strategy. It's like boxing.

You don't just punch. You protect
yourself, as well as punching.

Their idea was basically, "let's
build up all the infrastructure

we need to defend our country.

So if the Germans come,
this time we'll be ready."

But Germany was not
France's only enemy.

They faced a new threat from another
fascist force allied to the Germans.

Benito Mussolini's Italy.

The French are very mistrustful
of the Italians in any case.

They have long
considered the possibility

that these two great mediterranean
nations may get into a war.

Who's going to trust Mussolini?

(Dramatic music)

As tensions with Mussolini's
Italy start to escalate in the 1930s,

the French develop
further fortifications

along the alpine line,

along France's
mountainous border with Italy.

Just four miles from
the Italian border,

along the crest of these mountains,
is the highest and most impressive

alpine fortress on this line.

(Dramatic music)

It's called ouvrage restefond.

Even a relatively small outpost
in this mountainous landscape

could play a vital
defensive role.

An alpine fortress could control
passes with artillery and make it

difficult or impossible, even
under the best summer conditions,

for Mussolini's army to come
through the passes into France.

Construction began on
ouvrage restefond in 1931.

But miles from anywhere,
access and supply proved

a logistical nightmare.

Forts are dug and drilled into
the ground going right down,

in many cases right
down into bedrock.

French engineers had tremendous
difficulty with the logistics

of moving heavy equipment
and concrete up into the alps.

Despite these challenges,

they were built to withstand
heavy bombardment.

They're made of reinforced
concrete. Reinforced concrete means

it's concrete poured
over a lattice of steel bars.

So those things could
take incredible punishment

without caving in.

And in these brutal
high-altitude conditions,

how would they effectively
man and defend this position,

isolated for extended
periods of time?

These fortresses had
to be self-contained.

They needed their own
power, water supply.

They had to have everything
they needed to sustain

hundreds or even as
many as 1,000 troops

through brutal alpine winters
and periods of minimal supply.

So food, hospitals, bunk
rooms, everything you would need

but all underground, all protected
from bombing, from artillery.

The ventilation systems was
able to vent, not only to protect

the occupants from gas attack,
but also from the diesel exhaust

from their own generators
and from the gasses coming out

of their own artillery pieces.

France's worst
fears were realised

in June 1940 when Nazi Germany
and fascist Italy joined forces.


They formed what became
known as the pact of steel.

The French troops were marched
into their modern caves to wait

for the Nazi blitz to smash
itself against the maginot line.


With this Nazi blitz
now on the verge

of overwhelming Western Europe,
France was forced to divert military

resources to the battlefronts,
away from this alpine region,

leaving it largely undefended and
manned by inexperienced troops.

The maginot line is designed
to efficiently use poorly trained

conscripts who only have
a short period of service,

by putting them into positions
where all they have to do

is perform one simple task.

And all of those soldiers,
augmented by the technology

of the maginot line itself,
are able to defend France.

Yet it's clear today that
the network of bunkers here

in France's highest maginot
fortress was never fully completed.

While the maginot line is built,
well over a decade in construction,

parts are still being built, of
course, as the war breaks out.

Could this partially complete
line of defences withstand

the German advance?

And a potentially
imminent attack from Italy?

On 10 June, 1940,
Mussolini, looking to cash in

on their imminent defeat to
Germany, invaded France.

The Italian army
had a lot of alpini,

alpine soldiers, who
were trained in exactly

the kind of warfare you need to get
into France through the mountains.

The passes through these
otherwise impregnable mountains

were the main route into France
for the invading Italian army.

So the French defenders knew
exactly where to aim their guns.

You can't underestimate how
powerful even a small fortress can be

in denying alpine roads to
a modern mechanised army.

Everything had to be engineered

so that they could
have overlapping fire.

They could aim their guns from
several different angles at once,

onto an area where
the enemy might come.

The gaping voids in these
crumbling fortifications

once held an array of machine
guns, mortars and heavy artillery.

Now the only reminders

of its armaments are their
protective dome shells.

The domes that cover each of
the machine gun emplacements

are thick steel.

Even German 88mm guns had

difficulty penetrating

the steel domes on top of
those maginot line fortifications.

These alpine fortresses succeeded
in halting the Italian onslaught.

The fortifications
held out quite nicely.

The invading Italians will
suffer a genuine humiliation.

Relative handful of French
forces will throw back

the overwhelming
forces of Mussolini,

largely due to these
very effective fortifications.

But French success
was short-lived.

Their spectacular victory
against the Italians was all in vain.

After just 46 days of fighting,

the German war machine forced
France to surrender on the 25 June, 1940.

Germany's Italian allies
could now flow through

the partially constructed
alpine defences.

If the French had
managed to build

restefond as powerfully
as it was designed,

it could very well have stopped

a lot of Italian combat
power getting into France.

No longer useful to the French
and never repurposed by invading

fascist forces, ouvrage restefond
was left deserted in the mountains.

Today, the remains of
these defensive fortifications

carved into the mountainside serve
as a monument to this global conflict.

Ouvrage restefond is a testament

to French engineering
skill and military technology.

Creating something
that has the staying power

to remain there for decades, and
it will remain there for centuries,

is very special. It's a
kind of engineering magic.

(Serious music)

Now abandoned, they were
once on the cutting edge

of human engineering.

Within these decaying structures
are the echoes of history.

They speak of war and terror

but also of exploration
and human endeavour.

Captioned by
ai-media ai-media. TV