What future the South Ferry station?


A glimpse of the South Ferry platform shortly after the Sandy floodwaters receded. (Photo via MTA New York City Transit / David Henly)

To repair the South Ferry subway station to its pre-Sandy condition is going to cost a lot. Some — this author for instance — think it may cost too much to do so. Must we spend $600 million on a station we just spent $540 million to construct less than half a decade ago? Still, the MTA isn’t about to give up on the station, and after releasing a funding request breakdown on Monday, MTA officials had more to say about their plans for South Ferry.

Less than two months after the storm, Transit is still hazy on its future plans for South Ferry. The station is expected to be closed for at least another year, and crews are still assessing its condition. Still, as Transit President Tom Prendergast explained during yesterday’s committee meetings, the station may undergo some changes and some improvements. Ted Mann of The Journal had more:

The MTA had previously estimated that it would cost $600 million to fully rebuild South Ferry and the adjoining Whitehall Street station. For the first time Monday, however, Prendergast signaled that work at South Ferry will not necessarily replicate the exact station that sat at the site before the storm.

If the MTA decides that the cost of repairing some parts of the station “aren’t worth that investment or we could use that money elsewhere, we would make that decision along those lines,” Mr. Prendergast said. The twin challenges of rebuilding versus redesigning facilities to better survive future storms can’t be easily separated, he said.

The MTA is not considering eliminating the South Ferry station or moving its footprint. It was rebuilt and expanded in 2009 at a cost of more than $500 million. But some parts of the complex could conceivably be moved elsewhere. One example: the station included a train-dispatch office for the No. 1 line. Such vulnerable equipment could conceivably be moved out of the way of future floods as the MTA decides how to rebuild, Mr. Prendergast said. “If you get a situation where you say, ‘The likelihood of this flooding occurring again is really, really high,’ would you really put this asset back in the same location?” he said.

Not rebuilding the station isn’t an option, and reopening the old five-car South Ferry loop isn’t on the table either. The feds poured $500 million into its construction the first time around and are seemingly prepared to do the same, if not more, this time. Furthermore, the South Ferry station, due to its proximity to the Staten Island ferry, serves as a vital link to Manhattan’s West Side for commuters. It was the 33rd most heavily trafficked station in 2011.

But at the same time, the new South Ferry had flaws. It was built in a flood zone with few protections from a massive, if unexpected, storm surge, and its waterproofing was deficient before Sandy. The MTA can fix these problems by, as The Journal notes, moving key equipment further down the line and repairing inadequate construction work. Whatever the outcome, it’s going to be at least another year, and that in and of itself is something Transit must work to avoid in the future.

Categories : Manhattan

65 Responses to “What future the South Ferry station?”

  1. JB says:

    Wonder if Chambers Street would be a better place for their dispatch office. Its the last place where 1,2,3 all connect before the split. There is an unusual amount of ceiling space above the tracks there as well, maybe they can build some type of platform to house it.

  2. Bolwerk says:

    They could make a bolder offer to the feds. €5B gets you an 11-mile tunnel with four vehicle lanes and two rail tracks between Denmark and Germany. If NYC could just get costs for two tracks down to €500M/mile (~$700M/mile), perhaps the best bang:buck would be just tunneling to hilly Staten Island and putting all that expensive high tech somethingorother over there, leaving a simpler facility in South Ferry.

    • Justin Samuels says:

      Well, there’s no demand from Staten Island for starters for a train connection to the rest of the city. The Nimbys would kill this, and besides, the US government isn’t willing to fund grand infrastructure projects in NY these days. There’s no serious talk yet of funding phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway even, and that says a lot. No new train projects, if you can’t even get that done.

      • Bolwerk says:

        No demand? The tens of thousands of daily ferry users, many delivered to the ferry by rail, says otherwise. I don’t really buy into the grand importance of the SAS. It’s valuable, of course, but there are many cheaper fantasy connections that would be more valuable. They just don’t happen to serve the Upper East Side. What Phase 1 is doing could be achieved with a modest light rail investment.

        As for the NIMBYs, yeah, they’ll ruin almost anything they can. But they should be killed, no coddled.

        • metsgl says:

          Have you ever tried to ride the 6 train uptown around 5pm? It is amazing that 80 years ago they knew the east side needed another subway and there still isn’t one.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Yeah, sure. I’ve been in New York more than 10 minutes. If I live past this weekend’s forecast 666°F warm front, maybe I’ll be around another 60+ years. Or grotesquely longer, in disembodied-head-on-a-hover-platter form.

            What is peak 6 Train throughput? ~23 TPH? I would guess there are fairly cheap ways to at least improve that without new $2B/mile subways. Hell, I would guess it could be wildly improved, if needed.

            I’m not against the SAS, I’m just against it not being better than what it’s going to be.

            • Henry says:

              SAS at the very least should be built at a higher depth and with more than two tracks, but I think their ability to do that is constrained by how deep 63rd St is and the SAS’s use of preexisting tunnels.

              The fact that they’re reusing preexisting tunnels makes it even more confusing as to why it’s so expensive.

        • Maybe tunneling to connect Brooklyn and Staten Island via a possible (R) extension should be in discussion? Tunneling under the Narrows seem logical and feasible than construction along the bay.

    • Phantom says:

      A lot of people like Staten Island because its not built up as the rest of the city is.

      Building a subway that ran into Manhattan would quicky erase anything that makes it distinct. Staten Island would become a lot more high rise.

      I think that most Statrn Islanders would think it an atrocious idea.

      • Someone says:

        Maybe there can just be an R extension to the Staten Island ferry terminal, so travelers from Brooklyn don’t have to take the R to Whitehall St then transfer to the ferry.

        • Henry says:

          Do you mean Staten Island? Because Whitehall is part of the South Ferry complex.

          The R is already a ridiculously long, slow train line, and the ferry is probably time competitive with an R extension even if you account for the half hour frequency.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I think he’s talking about tunneling the R under the Narrows from Brooklyn and then sending it up to the ferry.

            • Someone says:

              I was saying that they should build a new tunnel under the Narrows so R riders in Brooklyn who want to go to Staten Island don’t have to use the ferry at all.

            • Henry says:

              In general though, an R extension would be slower than the ferry.

              • Bolwerk says:

                Not for Brooklynites trying to get to Staten Island, which was apparently his point.

                • John-2 says:

                  When the Fourth Avenue line was built by the city and the BMT south of 59th Street, the provisions were put in to make the line an express at least all the way down to 86th Street, which is why that’s an island platform — the idea was to allow for the option of a express train using a Narrows crossing tunnel with 86th as the last stop in Brooklyn, while the local would terminate at 95th Street, as the R does today (and the Manhattan-bound platforms at 77th and Bay Ridge would be moved 25 or so feet east, so the current local track would become the SI-bound express track).

                  Were that plan to be revived, you could tie in the Staten Island tracks to the express tracks at 59th, and add a fourth line on Fourth Avenue, presumably extending the J/Z service thuough Montague into Brooklyn. The big kerfuffle would come from which would be the second local line, and which terminal would end up with their trains going via the Nassau Loop. Sea Beach and West End riders would howl if they ended up with local service south of DeKalb while Staten Island riders got the express, and as mentioned above, a Narrows crossing which ran local through Brooklyn wouldn’t be any faster than the ferry or the express buses, and one that only went as far north as Delancey Street in Manhattan would really be pointless (though I suppose if the money could be conjured up for a Narrows tunnel, they could find a few spare $$$ to complete Second Ave. south of 63rd, tie at least part of the line into the Nassau Loop and make that the Staten Island route instead of the J/Z).

                  • Someone says:

                    Perhaps the MTA can come up for some spare money to install CBTC and put an additional express line along 4 Ave, going express south of Atlantic Ave. Then when the Second Ave subway or the existing Nassau St subway gets extended to SI, the express line doesn’t have delays.

                    And remember, my original post was about Brooklynites trying to get to Staten Island faster, not Manhattanites wanting to take the super-express train to SI. Note that the R train might still have to be extended to SI as is.

                    • Henry says:

                      As nice as an R extension to Staten Island would be, the MTA just spent money fixing up and upgrading the S79 service. If you extended the R to the SIR you’d essentially be creating a rail line that’s more or less parallel to the S79 SBS. In my experience, S79 and S53 service over the Verrazano isn’t that slow, and average ridership on the two routes is only about 16K on weekdays and 24K on weekends.

                    • Someone says:

                      Yes, that is true for Brooklynites living in Bay Ridge. But for people living in northern, central, or eastern Brooklyn, there is no direct connection to the S79 SBS.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Brooklyn and Queens aren’t built up like the city either, and they manage to keep a much more distinct character than Staten Island’s Nassau/Bergen/Essex County feel. And whatever you could say about some neighborhoods, I don’t think it’s fair to say the North Shore or SIRT corridor aren’t well ready for such a connection.

        Also, I don’t think they can pretend their dependence on autos exists in a box either.

    • Henry says:

      Besides NIMBY opposition, the MTA would also probably have to install turnstiles at all the SIR stations and extend the SIR platforms.

      I think that if we ever found the money (and did subway extensions in Queens and Brooklyn first), it would be worth the expense, but the capacity is only going to be used if DCP upzones the areas around the SIR (and given that they’re reluctant to upzone around existing subway stations, that’s a big “maybe”.)

      • Bolwerk says:

        It doesn’t necessarily have to integrate SIRT into the subway, even with an extension. In fact, maybe it would be desirable to keep SIRT as it is and provide a transfer station, which can have fare control, sending the subway somewhere else. Especially given Phantom’s worry about “character.”

    • Someone says:

      It is only that cheap In Denmark and Germany because the tunnel is in a suburb. Staten Island isn’t necessarily a suburb.

  3. John-2 says:

    Chambers on the uptown platform used to be where the 1 train was ‘held’ anyway — while South Ferry was the last stop downtown, the trains would spend more time stopped at Chambers than they did in the loop before lower South Ferry opened. The MTA could even look at incorporating the dispatch office into the new Cortlandt Street station on the 1 if they want to keep it separate from the 2/3 lines at Chambers, since the project could be incorporated into the pending work in re-establishing that station once the WTC complex is completed.

    • Bolwerk says:

      The more I think about it, the more I don’t see why they should do anything but just get the damn thing working again ASAP. The walk to Rector Street is shorter than the walk many people in Brooklyn, even prime neighborhoods like Williamsburg, have to endure just to get to useful public transportation.

      • John-2 says:

        Too big a ‘tourist-use’ station do to that — make them get off at Rector, and some probably wouldn’t make it past the Battery Tunnel garage without getting hopelessly confused.

        This is actually the easiest station in the system to temporarily replace, because it’s the only station in the system that sits right below a station serving the same location but with a different entry area (and with 1 trains already running through the station). As long as it’s not a permanent replacement, the MTA can probably get an ADA waiver from the feds on upper South Ferry. Then reopen the entrance in the SI Ferry terminal, put the moving platforms and the fare control gates back in, fix the signals on the outer loop to handle passenger service again and just return things to the way they were before January 2009 for several months until lower SF is ready.

        • Jerrold says:

          That’s right.
          That’s exactly what I was saying.

        • Henry says:

          Are the moving platforms actually gone? Cause if they are, I don’t think they’d be that easy to replace or find…

          • John-2 says:

            I would think that as long as there’s still a need for the MTA to operate them at Union Square, re-fabricating them for South Ferry, if the original ones have been tossed out) shouldn’t be that hard (i.e. — while a Union Square metal grill wouldn’t fit at SF, the mechanics used by the ones there and the ones at SF are the same, so the moving parts to the system should be available).

            The main point here is restoring upper SF temporarily, with the cost involved, becomes much more justifiable if the MTA is really looking at a year as a best-case scenario for getting lower SF reopened, based on the upper station being in the Top 10 percent of trafficked stations within the system (though that could be due to the MTA combining SF and Whitehall after January ’09).

            • Someone says:

              The platform extenders were deactivated when the station closed, so re-wiring them would be kind of a hard job.

              • John-2 says:

                It would take work, as would power-washing everything down in the station and reinstalling the fare control area inside the SI Ferry terminal. It all kind of hinges on how long the lower SF station is going to be closed — if the MTA can fix it in under 8-10 months, rehabbing the upper SF stop as a temporary terminal probably isn’t cost-effective despite the fact the station’s in the Top 10 percent of the passenger volume stats. But if the lower station’s timetable to reopening is 12 months or beyond, then looking at the upper station alternative becomes more viable.

                (Though as I posted below, given the $600M rehab price tag, the MTA may not want to let the public know/remember there still is another SF stop, and one which 1 trains are going through every day. If they offer up a temporary alternative, the high cost to fix the new station may create a groundswell of people demanding the MTA not even do the rehab, and just go back to the old stop permanently. The MTA may consider the upper SF option, but not until the Sandy recovery funds check from Washington is in their bank account.)

                • A minor correction: South Ferry isn’t in the top ten of passenger volume. It was 33rd in 2011.

                  • John-2 says:

                    Top 10 percent — I just meant out of the system’s 422 stations, its No. 33 spot puts it in the 90th percentile in terms of volume.

                    • Someone says:

                      The entire complex is in the 90th percentile in terms of passenger volume. We don’t know the numbers for the actual platforms.

                      Besides, the Whitehall St station on the R is open, and even though the R would be very crowded, the Fulton St transit centre is set to open in a few years, which would make it very easy for the passengers from the 2/3 to transfer to the R. Supposing, of course, that the lower SF stays offline until at least 2014.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I’m not saying I’m against them doing something like that, if the feds don’t make it too difficult, but the one thing they should do is focus on getting the system working for the future.

        • Billy G says:

          The present 1 terminal at South Ferry always going to be in a floodplain, it’d be better to have a people-mover conveyor belt on the street surface between a new Rector St. terminus and Whitehall with a full-coverage canopy and would probably also be much cheaper.

          • Henry says:

            I don’t know if that would’ve been helpful, because during Sandy Manhattan was flooded up to Chambers St (at least at street level). Any terminal station for the 1 in Lower Manhattan wouldn’t have anywhere else for the water to go, so the damage would’ve been similar in magnitude.

            Also, how would you have a moving sidewalk on an active street that intersects with other active streets?

      • Someone says:

        Tourists can just transfer to the 2/3 at Chambers and transfer to the 4/5 at Fulton St. The Wall St station and the Bowling Green stations are very close to the Rector St and South Ferry stations, respectively.

  4. Jerrold says:

    Now imagine what the situation will be like in the summer, when the ferry is a popular recreational ride to take, for New Yorkers and visitors alike.
    Coming to think of it, if we are talking about a time period of even more than a year, perhaps they SHOULD consider a temporary re-opening of the old South Ferry “loop”, even though they would have to put in temporary staircases and banks of turnstiles.

  5. D in B says:

    There’s something very corrupt about the MTA telling taxpayers how much money they want. Repairing a new station should not cost MORE than its entire construction!
    Other cities and governments require outside competitive bids for all construction projects. Tradition is the reason NYC allows the MTA to dictate all construction costs. That can be changed and should be.
    Ask the Spanish to bid on managing the rebuilding the NYC subway. They are above all others is cost savings and on-time schedules.
    As a taxpayer, I demand the best bang for my buck and that’s the policy my governmental leaders should demand too.

    • Bolwerk says:

      A few things:

      Outside bidding is fine, but there is nothing wrong with an agency working in-house when doing something it specializing in. In the MTA’s case, it should have a lot of experience laying tracks and signals. Maybe tiling stations or waterproofing require contractors.

      I don’t know, but I’m guessing the MTA is basing these estimates on known going rates, taking into account projected bids and its own in-house costs. I don’t think it’s dictating, I think it’s laying out its needs within the crazy framework it has long worked under.

      Also, I think the bidding process is largely subverted by the regulatory requirements. It is much too onerous.

    • Nathanael says:

      Outside bidding is actually not helpful in NYC. Apparently this has to do with the state’s arcane bidding laws. Only a small, connected mafia of construction companies is even willing to bid, and they’ve gotten used to milking the system with change orders and substandard materials.

    • al says:

      The Spaniards already control several local constriution companies. Schiavone is one.

  6. Someone says:

    Maybe, just maybe, they can manage to get the Cortlandt St station open before the end of the repair work on South Ferry. It would be a lot more convenient if people did not have to transfer to the 2/3 at Chambers, then get off at Park Place and yet still have to walk.

  7. Henry says:

    Out of complete curiosity, what made them think that putting a train-dispatch office in a deep terminal station next to the water was a good idea in the first place?

    SF was built without any foresight and it really showed during Hurricane Sandy.

  8. jsbertram says:

    After the time & labor spent getting the temporary “H” train running in the Rockaways and getting the bus-bridge between the “H” Train and the “A” train running so the Rockaway residents have some subway service for 6 months (or longer), you’d think re-opening the old South Ferry station that was last used by passengers just 3 years ago would be easier to do.

    The 1 Trains have to run through this old loop anyhow, so you’d think that re-activating this old station would be the first item on the check-list while the new South Ferry station is being rebuilt.

    • Nathanael says:

      The folding gap-fillers probably aren’t working. It’s not worth it to get them working. The safety lawsuits alone aren’t worth the trouble of operating the station without them. Even if they were working, the station’s an ADA compliance nightmare and that would cause its own lawsuits.

      They haven’t maintained the old station for 3 years and it had water pouring through it during Sandy.

      Not a workable suggestion.

      • Someone says:

        Of course. Even when there aren’t any major disasters like Sandy in the NYC area, there are still pumps keeping the water out. No wonder it’s unusable.

      • John-2 says:

        A temporary reopening of SF would most likely get an ADA waiver. After all the damage Sandy did on Staten Island, none of the higher-ups in Washington would want the bad public relations that would come from telling people on the borough to pound sand about getting their main subway station back before 2014. A one-year exemption would sail through, as long as it was assured ADA would be fully back when the new station reopened.

        But what may keep the MTA from at least publicly mentioning the idea is the $600M cost of fixing up lower South Ferry. Mention that price tag and the fact that the upper station entrance is sitting unused on the Battery Park side of the ferry terminal, and you’d no doubt end up with a kerfuffle over whether or not lower South Ferry should ever be fixed up. Better just to shut up about it now and hope most people either forget there ever was a loop station, or think the loop station was completely destroyed when new South Ferry opened.

      • Alon Levy says:

        The Union Square gap fillers seem to be working fine.

  9. Nathanael says:

    Prendergast sounds like he’s making smart plans. Move the relocatable stuff, like the dispatch office, ASAP, and make South Ferry a mere station.

  10. Jerrold says:

    “… had water pouring through it during Sandy.”

    So did the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, already reopened.
    So did the Montague St. Tunnel, about to reopen.

    And like somebody else already pointed out, that station has not been totally unused for thrre years. The #1 trains are using it to turn around after the Rector St. stop.

    • Someone says:

      After the Rector St stop, the 1 trains enter a crossover, and reverse onto the other track without entering the loop.

      The MTA probably will not spend another $600,000,000 just to renovate a temporary station for at most 6 months of use. It would be useless to renovate the loop station anyway because the South Ferry terminal station will open before the temporary loop station does.

      • Matthias says:

        The only crossover after Rector St is at the new South Ferry terminal, which is out of commission. Hence the trains are using the loop.

        • Someone says:

          Thats what I thought because I recently got off at Rector and saw the trains stop after a couple hundred feet and reverse.

          Crossover or not, the point is, the reopening of the loop is still out of the question.


  1. […] the PATH (without trains between Hoboken and WTC), but the South Ferry Station is going to require $600 million in repairs, among the $4.7 billion the MTA is asking for for the entire system. To help with some of the major […]

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