A rain-proof subway system

By · Published in 2009


In August 2007, a torrential rain storm knocked out nearly the entire New York subway system for hours. With the underground floods came a bunch of alarming developments. The MTA’s website couldn’t withstand the onslaught of visitors; their emergency alert system for service advisories was non-existent; and their anti-flood measures were ineffective at best and mostly useless. Over the last few years, the MTA has beefed up its website infrastructure and now provides near-real-time text alerts. The flood prevention was the last to come, but it’s finally in place and working.

According to Pete Donohue, the MTA completed a $31-million flood-prevention program. The highlight of this effort was a move to raise 1500 streetlevel grates a few inches off the ground. Instead of funneling rainwater underground and onto subway tracks and platforms, the waters are now siphoned to flood drains.

While New Yorkers saw the second-wettest June on record, weather-related subway delays are down significantly. For that, the agency deserves praise. Twenty-two months after a crippling storm, the system is ready for nature’s wrath.

New York City Transit is quite pleased with the performance of the grates. Paul Fleuranges sent me the above picture (which you can click to enlarge) and added a note about their use particularly on June 18 when the city received 1.84 inches of rain. “There’s no doubt given the amount of rain we’ve had this month, and the propensity of Hillside to flood out, we would have had serious problems if not for the grates,” he said.

13 Responses to “A rain-proof subway system”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    It’s good that the MTA is implementing these measures, but they have yet to be tested. The problem two years ago was not how much rain there was in one day, but how much there was in one hour.

  2. petey says:

    i like the design.

  3. Ed says:

    The trains in my commute actually mostly ran on time last month. I was fully expecting a repeat of 2007 and was pleasantly surprised.

  4. Kai says:

    I just wonder how long it will take those “lids” in the photo to leak at their base though…

  5. Apparently, the ones with built-in bike racks didn’t make the cut. I’ve seen a lot of the plain models, but none of the models with racks.

  6. Working Class says:

    These things are hideous eye sores so they better work perfectly!

  7. I think they look great and love that they are significantly higher than a couple of inches.

  8. Juan Felipe says:

    I have seen these myself and they look aesthetically pleasing. However, doesn’t the water flood into the system at station entrances if the water creeps over the curb anyway?

    • Juan Felipe, I’m pretty sure they’re working on that too: installing concrete platforms – basically an extra step – at the tops of the stairs to keep the water out.

      • Nathanael says:

        This is a particularly tricky problem; while that’s fine to do for staircase entrances, you have to do something much fancier for elevator and ramp entrances.

  9. SD says:

    I was part of the ventilation work that led to these raised gratings. However, I wasnt involved in the design of the raised gratings itself.


  1. […] would also double as street furniture. By July of 2009, the $31 million flood-prevention plan was fully in place with grates along Sutphin and Queens Boulevards among other areas susceptible to […]

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