Home MTA Absurdity New South Ferry station springs a leak

New South Ferry station springs a leak

by Benjamin Kabak

A Train Departs

The walls of the new South Ferry station, shown here in December 2008, have sprung a leak. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As the MTA Inspector General yesterday took the authority to task for glossing over its contracting evaluation guidelines, today, we see a prime example of work gone wrong underground. The new South Ferry terminal on the 1 line — a $527 million that has been open for less than a year — has sprung a leak, and according to reports, shoddy waterproofing by the project’s contractors as well as some design failures on behalf of the MTA are to blame.

According to amNew York’s Heather Haddon, the station is already showing an age well beyond its years, and her piece has a photo prove it. She reports of water-stained platform and mezzanine walls as well as tiles falling after the grouting has been corroded. Bad engineering, she says, is to blame. Reports Haddon:

The contractor, Schiavone Construction of Secaucus, botched the waterproofing for the station, which is located deep under the water table, according to the MTA’s independent engineer. For its part, Schiavone claimed that the MTA had flubbed the project’s design. An independent dispute board ruled last year that both parties were at fault and must share costs for the remediation…

Schiavone did not return a request for comment. Next month, the MTA will grout and add new tiles to the station with $3 million, which came from the contractor as part of the settlement, agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. The grouting should cure the problem, he said…

But the leaking could continue, as workers will basically fill in joint cracks instead of reengineering the station with better waterproofing technology, Henderson said.

Ortiz further clarified the agency’s approach to this problem to me in an email this afternoon. “We are monitoring the level of seasonal infiltration and will begin any necessary repairs in March during scheduled General Orders to avoid utilizing funds from the settlement for the diversions and to limit the impact on service,” he said.

For the MTA, water damage has been a source of aesthetic issues at numerous stations throughout the system. The walls on the downtown 2/5 platform, for instance, at 149th St./Grand Concourse station have long carried the scars of damage from water dripping out of corroded platforms. In other areas, wall tilings bulge from the pressure of bad waterproofing. Here, a $527 million project that was delayed due to a gap between the trains and the platform and has been plagued with some problems is the latest to carry those scars. Even the newest crown jewels can’t escape the problems of system more than 100 years old.

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E. Aron February 3, 2010 - 1:38 pm

It’s interesting to see what $527M buys the MTA.

Side note – are those concrete rail ties?

Other side note – that last paragraph is a nice IRAC or BaRAC or however you learned it.

Jerrold February 3, 2010 - 2:18 pm

I am trying to understand this post.
Are concrete rail ties supposed to be inferior, or what?
WHAT are IRAC and BaRAC?

E. Aron February 3, 2010 - 2:45 pm

I doubt that concrete rail ties are inferior. I think they’re necessary for high speed rail, so I would be surprised to find them on subway tracks. If you look down at subway tracks, they have wooden rail ties. I haven’t been to South Ferry in years, so I was wondering if this is the future of all tracks.

irac and barac are methods for writing in law school.

Mike February 3, 2010 - 3:08 pm

They have been using concrete ties for the last 7-8 years. They are all over the system now most notable along the A line in the Rockaways.

Aaron February 3, 2010 - 3:08 pm

People are starting to prefer them because they last longer, are more stable, and don’t require as much maintenance. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen them used by a subway before, though. Los Angeles, to my memory, doesn’t use ties at all on the subway/LRT lines, the rails are secured to the track bed by parallel concrete “beams,” but that could be a seismic thing for all I know.

Alon Levy February 3, 2010 - 9:37 pm

These aren’t real ties. The rails are laid on concrete slab, without cross-ties as with conventional ballasted rail. Even in the older tunnels, the rails are laid on slab, but they’re fastened to it with wooden ties instead of concrete.

The reason this is used is that ballast needs to be deep to provide enough stability. On surface rail it’s much cheaper to build than slab track, but in a tunnel, slab track reduces the amount of excavation necessary, which reduces costs. Slab track is also easier to maintain and stabler.

While high-speed rail has to have concrete ties, either with or without ballast, it’s common to build low-speed rail with concrete ties as well outside North America. As with slab track construction, concrete ties are more expensive to build but cheaper to maintain.

Nathanael December 24, 2010 - 7:05 am

Whether or not concrete ties are cheaper to maintain than wood ties actually depends on climate, but in most climates they are cheaper. I’m trying to remember which climate is the other way ’round, it’s one which is really easy on wood and really really hard on concrete. Was it salt marshes?….

Scott E February 3, 2010 - 2:18 pm

This problem will always exist when you separate the designer from the builder: one will point fingers at the other. If I asked for a house built of sand, and it disappeared in the first rain, that’s my own fault, not the builder’s.

I’m not saying the designer is necessarily at fault in this case, but I do think the practical field experiences of the laborers should be held in higher-regard than the desk-jockeys doing the design. Or better yet, make the project a design-build, then there’s no finger pointing.

Aaron February 3, 2010 - 2:57 pm

As a practical matter, the designers should also be supervising during the building process to make sure that the construction is progressing correctly and also to spot any unforeseen problems (though a leaking tunnel can’t exactly be described as unforeseen with a straight face, as anyone who has ever dug a tunnel in the Northeast should know), and the builder’s on-site staff should also be spot-checking for any problems in application that the designers may have not taken into account; after all, if in the process of construction the contractors looked at an element and said “Wow, this is probably going to leak if we build it this way,” they would be obliged to return to their contracting agency and say “We should do this differently.” Given the fact that the two should be supervising each other, I suspect the splitting of costs here is eminently reasonable.

Having said that, things built underground leak. I mean, without knowing more and without engineering training, I couldn’t say whether or not this was negligence or just par for the course, but this one may yet be filed under “these things just happen.”

Design-build, by the way, just means that the design phase happens concurrently with construction. It’s a scheduling tool, not a distribution-of-liability tool.

Redbird February 3, 2010 - 3:25 pm

Design-build is not just a scheduling tool. It is, as other posters have mentioned, a contract delivery method in which one entity is responsible for design and construction of a facility. In most cases a contractor hires a designer onto their team to undertake the design. This process is often used to put design risk onto the contractor–as the contractor and designer must now coordinate internally–and to allow fast-track construction (some construction can begin for all design work complete). However, you run the risk of the contractor “leaning” on the designer to do get things done quickly and more cost effectively.

Also, on all public work jobs there are independent inspectors (whose companies bill public agencies on an hourly basis–often upwards of $50-100 an hour) for full-time inspection services so there should have been an additional set of eyes.

Josh K February 3, 2010 - 6:11 pm

First off, water-proofing is really, really, hard. My mentor, a licensed PE in NY with decades of experience, has resigned himself to the fact that water will always find a way in; and this is medium voltage (<15kV) power distribution manholes we were designing.

Design-Build isn't allowed for large public projects in NY state. Large publicly funded construction projects must use lowest bidder. It's really stupid, but the really scummy contractors pour tons of money into Albany to keep it that way.

So instead of qualifying to bid, these folks bid to qualify. It sucks and it drives agency in house design teams insane. At least once a week, I'd engage in a 10 minute "venting" session with a co-worker.

Mad Park February 3, 2010 - 2:28 pm

Too bad, but not surprising – we have a few (fortunately) minor leaks in our brand new subway tunnels under Beacon Hill in Seattle, too.

pete February 3, 2010 - 2:46 pm

This is what happens when you hire the mob.

Kid Twist February 3, 2010 - 2:52 pm

You beat me to it:

One of six major construction officials indicted … was Anthony Delvescovo, director of tunnel operations for Schiavone Construction Co. of Secaucus, N.J. The company has dozens of government contracts worth billions, including the extension of a subway line and a new city water tunnel.


Aaron February 3, 2010 - 2:58 pm

Oh. I almost want to delete my above comment – my statements were premised on the fact that everyone involved was on the up-and-up, as most of my experience as a transit advocate has been on the West Coast (I’ve lived in NYC but didn’t get involved in advocacy until I moved west).

Nathanael December 24, 2010 - 7:06 am

That NYS law about contracting is quite a problem, isn’t it?

No way to disqualify the crooks.

Peter February 4, 2010 - 8:57 am

I think the words “pathetic” and “typical” are apt. The connection between the #6 train and the E/V at 53rd Street has had water problems since the day it opened and though I haven’t been by there in a while, I think the escalator worked for 3 days before it broke.

I took pics of a staircase closed for repair at the newly opened Cortland Street station . Broken not 2 months after opening, and five years of construction. A staircase. Pathetic. Typical.

petey February 4, 2010 - 10:29 am

“The connection between the #6 train and the E/V at 53rd Street has had water problems since the day it opened”
and you beat me to it. right now, at the point where the connector opens onto the 6 platform is a big, persistent drip that is being sopped up by stacks of freebie morning papers. yes, it’s pathetic.

At capital construction, is it bloat or not enough resources? :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog February 9, 2010 - 1:28 am

[…] The South Ferry Terminal opened 14 months late and with engineering difficulties that continue to this very day. The smooth sailing that Kalikow predicted in 2003 hasn’t come to […]

At South Ferry, a new station with old problems :: Second Ave. Sagas June 1, 2012 - 11:04 am

[…] the past few years, we’ve heard of water damage impacting the station and poor water-proofing on behalf of the MTA’s contractors. This week, The Tribeca Tribune […]


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