The past weekend came and went with little fanfare, but for New York City, June 1 should have raised a few eyebrows. Down south in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Saturday marked the start of the hurricane season, and the first tropical depression that could warrant a name is brewing in the Gulf. New York City celebrated the start of the season by reopening the A train over the Jamaica Bay crossing and crossing its fingers that no storm would take aim at our city this summer.
For the MTA, last week’s reopening of the A train and regular service to the Rockaways was a milestone to celebrate, but it’s not time to rest on the laurels of that work. It may be easy for an armchair quarterback to look at the subway system and appreciate its return to a completed state barely seven months since Sandy arrived. With the old South Ferry loop recommissioned and Rockaway service restored, things are back to normal, right? At least, that’s how it appears on the subway map.
Of course, that’s far from the truth. On the one hand, the MTA hasn’t even addressed hardening the system in any significant manner. Parts of the Broad Channel crossing were rebuilt to withstand storm surges, but otherwise, every single part of the subway system that was vulnerable last October is still vulnerable this June. The MTA has begun to assess various solutions including tunnel plugs and removable floodwall paneling, but it’s a long ways away from implementing a fix.
On the other hand, the system isn’t really repaired. While service has been restored, components that were inundated with floodwaters are corroding at a rapid clip, and signal and switch problems are on the rise. This weekend, we received another glimpse at the future ahead of us as the MTA announced an upcoming bidding process for work in the Montague Tube. The R train’s connection from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn suffered extensive flooding and is one of the few tubes that will have to undergo a near-top-to-bottom makeover.
In the documents [pdf], the MTA offered up the following assessment:
Work includes the demolition of existing duct banks; removal & disposal of existing tunnel lighting, conduits, wiring, fixtures, ballast & receptacles; construction of new duct banks; installation of new Power & Communications cables in the new duct banks; reconstruction of circuit breaker houses CBH # 82, CBH # 83 & CBH # 91; rehabilitation of two substations (Montague Furman Substation & Broadway-Park Row Substation); new tunnel lighting including fixtures, wiring, & conduit; replacing isolation dampers & wiring for the fan plant; replacement of three submersible pumps & new AC/DC lighting at the pump rooms; track work including new rails & plates; installation of new 8” dry discharge line in both tubes; painting & lead abatement.
Needless to say, none of that is good news for riders who depend upon the R train for their daily commutes. MTA officials haven’t yet confirmed the extent of the work or any potential service outages, but I’ve heard long-term rerouting may come into play. On the bright side, the R train through Montague St. is one of the least-used East River subway crossings, and with the 4 and 5 trains via the Joralemon St. tunnel just downstream, riders enjoy plenty of redundant (and faster) service.
This work and the outages won’t be limited to the R train. The L train’s 14th St. tunnel suffered extensive damage, and the G train’s tube underneath Newtown Creek did as well. And now we’re in that hurricane season again with our fingers crossed that nothing will hit the area that could roll back the recovery progress already in the books. It takes time to rebuild and fortify the system, but time isn’t necessarily on our side.