Home L Train Shutdown A deep dive into Gov. Cuomo’s move to force the MTA to abandon the L train shutdown

A deep dive into Gov. Cuomo’s move to force the MTA to abandon the L train shutdown

by Benjamin Kabak

Governor Andrew Cuomo and his team of experts toured the L train tunnel last month. On Thursday, he torpedoed three years of careful planning.

After an impromptu tour of the L train tunnel last month and three weeks of consultations with engineering professors from Columbia and Cornell Universities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the MTA to cancel the impending 15-month shutdown of the L train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Instead, the scope of the necessary repairs will seemingly be reduced, and per Cuomo’s orders, the remaining work will proceed on a 15-20 month schedule that maintains regular weekday L train service and relies on single-tracking (and 20-minute headways) during nights and throughout the weekend.

It’s a drastic shift in scheduling and scope, and while tentatively welcomed by Brooklyn residents on the precipice of a 15-month transit nightmare, it threw years of careful planning by the MTA and NYC DOT as well as tireless work by advocates fighting for a transit-first redesign of New York City streets into disarray, all just three months before the shutdown was to begin. At its core, the move is quintessential King Cuomo. Sounding very Trumpian, Cuomo, who ended his press conference by saying, “No, I am not in charge of the MTA,” spent over an hour on Thursday touting his “panel of the best experts we could find” and came up with a plan in three weeks that remains underdeveloped and untested. At best, it will kick the can down the road; at worst, it will fail, costing precious time and even more money. No matter what, everyone involved with the L train shutdown I’ve spoken with today agreed that at some point in the near future, whether it be 10 or 20 or 30 years down the road, the MTA will have to rebuild the L train’s 14th Street tunnel.

Cuomo’s plan isn’t well developed. The MTA had published hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of studies, presentations, reports and analysis regarding the L train shutdown. The governor has hosted one rambling, long press conference and issued a thousand-word press release on his new plan. The governor who has spent years sucking up the oxygen in the room claiming he doesn’t control the MTA swooped in at the last minute to unilaterally impose new plans on the MTA. He did this without consulting anyone involved in planning the work or the community groups on the ground working to ensure a mitigation as smooth as possible. This is Cuomo, in control, with only his own ideas and no one else’s guiding him.

We don’t know when the work will start in earnest, what the cost will be, how it’s being scoped, or what mitigation is required. We don’t know what’s to become of plans for a 14th St. transitway, bike lanes throughout Manhattan or a bus bridge over the Williamsburg Bridge, all of which had significant value to a transit-oriented future for NYC in their own rights. We know outlines and aspirations, and I’ll try to distill them down in this post, raising questions at the end. There’s more to be said over the next few days as I arrange my thoughts on this topic, but it’s fair to say Cuomo, without any community outreach and no warning to the MTA Board, changed the conversation in one fell swoop today. Whether it’s for the better remains to be seen.

What is Governor Cuomo’s new plan to repair the L train tunnel?

At a high level, Cuomo’s plans appear simple because the details haven’t been fleshed out yet, and the main thrust of the work involves the ducts. The bulk of the work necessitating a full-time shutdown of the L train focused around the so-called bench wall that carries cables through the tunnel and serves as an emergency exit pathway. Because of saltwater intrusion, the MTA planned to chip out and rebuild the entirety of four bench walls in the two tunnels. Instead, under the new approach, the MTA will use a rack wall to run new cabling and other required systems through the Canarsie Tunnel above ground level. This is generally how cables are fed through tunnels in other cities, and the bench wall remains a relic of the early days of NYC subway construction.

Mary Boyce, Dean of Engineering at Columbia University and one of Cuomo’s experts, spoke at length about the plan to “rack” cables on the side of the tunnel while abandoning old cables in the benchwall and leaving the benchwall in place unless structurally unsound.

We are recommending that the cables be wrapped. So the majority of the cables, the power cables, the communications cables, control cables that power the train, the pump, the fans, that these be wrapped along the walls on one side. This leaves the other walls free for egress and access. We’ve looked at many challenges with actually doing this and different ways to actually wrap these cables, and we have found that it does indeed seem to be possible. We will also place the negative return on the track bed. So what this is essentially doing is decoupling the cable system from the benchwall. These are two different functions. We are able to execute all of the functions of the cables without them being in the benchwalls. So we do not give up or sacrifice any functionality of the system.

An important thing that we have to address is making sure that the fire retardancy is still possible for these cables, so the cables must be jacketed and they’re jacketed with a low smoke zero-halogen fireproof material. This is a proven technology, it has been used in these newer designs and newer modern tunnel systems. It’s also used in aircraft. So what happens with these jacket cables is that, yes there’s some sort of thermoplastic or thermostat, but they have an inorganic filler so they char in the presence of heat or fire, so there’s no outgassing and they actually become even better insulated. So this is another key feature of being able to wrap these cables on the wall and not embed them in the benchwall. This also very importantly means that we can abandon all the old cables in the benchwall. We do not need to remove them and replace them, we just leave them there. So if a benchwall is still structurally sound, we do not need to destroy it, remove the cables and rebuild it. This is a very key factor, okay, because it significantly reduces demolition and construction, and we feel probably has a cost implication as well.

And what about the benchwall, which serves not only as a cabling conduit but as an emergency walkway in the event a tunnel evacuation is required? Lance Collins, Dean of Engineering at Cornell University, offered his take on this vital piece of tunnel infrastructure:

There’s benchwall, that’s going to, in some sense, be stable and remain. There’s benchwall that’s been compromised to some degree, but not significantly. That we think we can reinforce using something called ‘fiber reinforced polymer’ – so it’s essentially a mixture of epoxy and fiber to wrap around. This will last for decades, for a long period of time. It’s not a quick fix. It’s technology that’s been widely used in bridges, in buildings, so we’re simply applying it in a very different application here.

And then there’s a third category which is benchwall that really is just not structurally sound that has to ultimately be demolished and removed. Then the question becomes, how do we know what’s what and so we’re going to use a state-of-the-art ultrasound technology to evaluate the entire length of the benchwall and figure out, you know, which parts of the benchwall are in which categories and act accordingly to either leave it as it is or to reinforce it as needed, or remove it as needed. And what’s important is that the benchwall is really serving the primary purposes – it’s back to its primary purpose which is access and egress. It’s no longer serving any role with respect to the cabling, so that’s the only element we have to ensure in terms of functionality that we have retained.

To study this retained benchwall that the MTA had planned, until yesterday, to fully replace, Cuomo’s team will implement fiber optic sensors. These sensors, Collins said, “will be able to pick up small changes and deformations in the benchwall in advance of failure. So that if there were something that eventually is going to fail, we will know that in advance and be able to send in a team to go in and do whatever is necessary: reinforce that section as needed in advance of the actual failure.” The new walkway, Collins stated, will be “just fiber glass, steel,” promising a “relatively simple installation.”

Why didn’t anyone come up with this sooner?

This seems to be one of the key questions on everyone’s minds. Related is the question about Cuomo’s involvement: Why didn’t the governor address this issue years ago? Either he was asleep at the wheel or the MTA was asleep at the wheel. Either he’s imposing something upon the MTA that its in-house team does not feel will adequately address the scope of work required to repair the L train for decades (as the MTA successfully did with the Montague St. tunnel) or Cuomo is seeking quick political wins to gain positive coverage while kicking the real can down the road by a decade or two when he will, as he loves to remind audiences, be dead. I don’t yet have a good answer here, but I do know a lot of people inside the MTA are very unhappy about the governor’s approach. (For what it’s worth, John O’Grady, whom I interviewed at the Transit Museum back in 2015 retired or was pushed out of Capital Construction last week.)

What’s the actual state of the L train tunnel?

Now we’re getting into the tricky questions. For years, everything the MTA has said about the L train tunnel led to a need for a rebuild. The agency quickly wiped the L train shutdown pages from its website on Thursday, but both the Google Cache and Wayback Machine never forget. The following image highlighted the need to replace more than just the duct banks:

I’d also urge you to take a look at this video of the Canarsie Tube the MTA posted in 2016 (embedded below). Particularly, note the bench wall at the 57-second mark and the concrete between the railway ties at around the 2:59 mark. In multiple places, you can spot brackets holding up the bench wall, and those who were close to the original assessments of the Canarsie Tunnel tell me that Cuomo’s move to use polymer will result in more work and more disruptions in a few decades rather than a rebuild a la Montague which would have ensured five decades of continued use.

For his part, Cuomo promised the tunnel was now perfectly OK. “The major structural elements of the tunnel are fine. There is no structural integrity issue for the tunnel itself. So people worry, is the tunnel going to have any significant issues? No. The structure of the tunnel is fine.”

The videos seem to tell a different story, and it’s not exactly clear how the MTA plans to address trackbed repair – the other major driver of a full-time shutdown. Boyce, in her comments, hedged. “The upgrades to the pump system and the rail can occur in tandem, she said. “These were planned and they can occur in tandem with the cable and benchwall work. So there’s no compromising on those upgrades. And we see a dramatic reduction in what we refer to as the non-value-added project scope. So we don’t reduce the scope, but we eliminate those parts of the scope that had no value.”

How will mitigation proceed?

Without a better sense of scope, it’s premature to know what mitigation is required or when. Most politicians and advocates have bemoaned Cuomo’s attempts at circumventing a careful process and urge the MTA to involve all community groups in presenting updated options, including guaranteeing sufficient mitigation plans. Interim MTA Chair Fernando Ferrer noted that G, M and 7 trains will still see added service (though the 7 train upgrades are due primarily to CBTC).

As I mentioned, the future of the other mitigation work is foggy. This is worth a separate post later on so I’ll come back to this.

How long will this take?

Who knows?! Cuomo kept saying his experts think the work can be completed with 15-20 months of 20-headways every night and throughout the weekend, but he wouldn’t guarantee it. “It’s a silly question to ask am I going to promise on a construction schedule for an agency,” he said. So there you have it: No promises this will be finished in the same amount of time as the planned shutdown. We don’t know how much it will cost either, other than “less than a full shutdown.”

What about those other projects?

Will the MTA still be able to conduct extensive work at Union Square to improve platform access?

The MTA was planning to piggyback significant work onto the L train shutdown. Without trains running constantly, the agency could build a new entrance to the 1st Ave. station at Ave. A, replete with elevators, add ADA accessibility features to other stations along the L in Manhattan, widen and rebuild staircases at Union Square, and implement badly-needed power capacity upgrades to ensure more trains could run per hour. The agency says all of these projects will continue, but it’s not clear how Cuomo’s meddling interferes with this work. Can these projects be finished without substantial disruption to the limited service? Will it take longer than 15-20 months to complete this work? And how can the agency close staircases at Union Square while operating heavily overburdened L service? These are questions Cuomo and the MTA could not answer on Thursday but must be addressed soon.

Should we trust anyone here?

Not in the least. Although the MTA earned the benefit of the doubt by rebuilding the Montague St. Tunnel and has a good track record on completing Sandy-related repairs, the agency has not been able to manage large-scale projects or implement outside-the-box thinking. The governor, meanwhile, has shown no willingness to participate in careful and deliberate community outreach processes, and despite his statement yesterday that “I educated myself to the best extent possible,” the governor has spent barely a month on the L train shutdown. His past record of meddling with transit led to cost overruns on the Second Ave. Subway and a New Tappan Zee Bridge without the transit options advocates desired (or a clear sense of costs). I could spend another 600 words writing on this topic, but there is, simply put, little reason to trust this process right now without substantially more detailed answers to a variety of questions.

Why now?

This too is an open question. To step in at the last minute with a radically different approach based only on the ideas of a few consultants is very much in line with Cuomo’s governing strategy, but as I keep saying, it leaves much to be desired from a procedural perspective. I’ll try to explore this further as well.

Final Thoughts

This post is heavy on the skepticism and for good reason, and I didn’t even get to discuss Andy Byford’s apparent resigned acceptance of this approach and his near-total absence from today’s press conference. There’s just so many moving parts here.

Despite the belief that NYC DOT’s mitigation plan wasn’t going to be sufficient for Day One, the MTA and DOT had spent years collaborating on plans for a very disruptive shutdown, working to get political buy-in at every level of the community. Cuomo has shred every ounce of goodwill that may have existed for a project that we just can’t assess yet. Maybe this is the way to reform MTA thinking and MTA practices. Maybe this will work. But maybe this is Cuomo shooting for the stars (or at least 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), and maybe we shouldn’t be rushing into vital infrastructure repairs using unproven technologies without testing them on non-critical infrastructure first. Maybe in 10 years or 15 years, we’ll be back here facing optical sensors no one at the MTA bothered to maintain and a collapsing bench wall that leads to a derailment in L train service (as happened to the G train).

Maybe we’ll get to go through this all over again when someone else is Governor. One way or another, Gov. Cuomo, in trying to be the hero, showed extreme disregard for the travails of Brooklyn and Manhattan and the communities gearing up for the L train shutdown. It might be better this way; it might be worse. We all deserve to know more about the details of the plan, how it will work, and why Cuomo waited so long (or the MTA never followed this route) in the first place. Too much time and effort went into considerable deliberations for Cuomo to impose his will at the last minute without careful planning, outreach and analysis.

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68 comments

paulb January 4, 2019 - 6:42 am

It’s not mainstream to think this, but I believe that while there would have been confusion at the beginning, after a couple weeks of shutdown L train users would have settled on alternatives and gone on with life, and in 15 months or even a little less the city would have had a solid rehab of the tunnel and the new amenities. Plus a precedent for doing necessary work on other subway lines around the city. This plan looks to me like a kludge.

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Lou Stoolz January 4, 2019 - 9:39 am

How imperative are these repairs if 5 years after the storm they haven’t started yet?

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Larry Littlefield January 4, 2019 - 9:48 am

Now that the MTA has maxed out the credit card, and things might actually have to be paid for, by your measure do we really need an MTA Capital Plan at all?

Can’t they just keep patching until large parts of the system need to be shut down, and then fix things then (after Generation Greed is gone)?

Is maintenance really necessary — from the point of view of those born in 1957 or earlier, who will be retiring and moving to Florida?

What has this generation done over and over again, on every issue, whether they call themselves “progressives” or “conservatives”? Destroy the common future to benefit themselves.

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MJ Drage January 4, 2019 - 11:51 am

Excuse me! As someone born BEFORE 1957 and retired, I’m not moving to Florida or anywhere else. As to the Generation Greed comment, I won’t lower myself to a reply. The problem with the MTA, other than its existence, are the out-of-towners who get hired and don’t understand the City. Maintenance is a word they don’t understand. I live in Queens and the #7 has been under signal repair for OVER 20 years! Things were better BEFORE the merger. And for you who don’t know what I’m speaking about, there used to be 3 separate systems (IRT, BMT, IND) and numerous bus lines. All ran just fine before March 1, 1968. Thank you sooo much State Legislature.

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Jesus January 4, 2019 - 12:50 pm

Thank you!! Someone had to speak up! The youth today are so entitled it’s ridiculous. Back when I was commuting around we didn’t have these fancy trains. We used something called our feet back then! The Generation Spoiled could learn a thing or two about the sacrifices my generation had to deal with. The last thing we need to do is crucify Cuomo over this as it’s never been that effective in the past. I’ll be damned if I’m moving to Florida, get off my lawn and out of my city if you don’t agree with MJ and myself! Amen.

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Park Slope January 4, 2019 - 1:52 pm

“All ran just fine before March 1, 1968.”

At the cost of significant deferred maintenance to the system.

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Thomas Schmidt January 5, 2019 - 12:36 pm

You’re actually backing up his generation greed argument. 1968 was when the great centralization happened, creating all those well-paid managerial jobs. A shift in focus away from paying a lot to the people who actually deliver transit services, and towards the people who manage public relations.

Those people at the top have been more concerned with their own sinecures than maintaining the system for the little people. That’s Larry’s argument. And apparently yours.

Btw, what was the Social Security tax rate you paid at your first job? Check here:
http://www.milefoot.com/math/b.....s/fica.htm
Someone working in 1961 paid a MAXIMUM of $144. According to the inflation calculator here:
https://westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi
That would be about $1200 in 2017. Actual maximum FICA taxation in 2017? $9730 including Medicare on the SS maximum, a more than 8-fold increase in taxation, taken from younger, poorer working people and transferred to the wealthiest segment of the population.

What do you call that?

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Adirondacker12800 January 5, 2019 - 1:24 pm

Medicine? People didn’t pay Medicare taxes in 1961 because there wasn’t any Medicare. Since they have Medicare these days they live longer and collect more benefits. It’s a pity Grandma didn’t die younger, your taxes would be lower. And if you are paying the maximum OASDI, congratulations, we should all have such problems.

Thomas Schmidt January 5, 2019 - 10:11 pm

Ok, good. You did not reject the argument about the maximum amount of social security tax but did engage in a bunch of hand waving about grandma dying.

Now, what would YOU call taxing young people at much higher rates than the current recipients paid in their youths? Especially considering the wealth differentials between those two groups?

Not talking for Larry, but I think that that forms a part of his analysis.

SEAN January 5, 2019 - 10:17 pm

Youths? What’s a youth.

Thomas Schmidt January 7, 2019 - 12:26 am

Interesting grammatical confection I came up with there. What exactly is a yute, also? Thanks for the gentle chiding

SEAN January 11, 2019 - 5:15 pm

It’s all in good fun, besides “My cousin Vinny” has some great quotable lines that when you see one you just respond in kind. “You blend.”

Adirondacker12800 January 5, 2019 - 11:06 pm

If young people are gonna whine about how much is costs to keep granny in her own house, granny is gonna wanna have a chat about how much of her Social Security check goes to property taxes for schools.

Thomas Schmidt January 7, 2019 - 12:25 am

I’m not young.

And you don’t like honestly evaluating generational wealth transfers.

We each have our problems.

Being old and paying property taxes when living only on Social Security in NY State isn’t really one of them:
https://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/publications/orpts/senior.pdf

Adirondacker12800 January 7, 2019 - 2:27 am

What the alternative to paying OASDI and Medicare taxes? Having grandma take your job so she can afford the premiums on a health insurance plan for 75 year olds?

Thomas Schmidt January 7, 2019 - 11:34 am

https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/07/01/484325664/babies-of-color-are-now-the-majority-census-says

Currently, about 1/3rd of people working are non-white. Starting in 2016, a majority of US babies are non-white. Meanwhile, SS and Medicare recipients reflect the demographics of 65 years ago, when the USA was 90% white. So the current system proposes to tax poorer, younger people of color to transfer wealth and assets to older, wealthier white people.

My guess is those young people are going to vote to change this as soon as the large Boom generation loses its voting strength.

I’ll assume you either plan to die before that happens, or will start working on a fairer distribution of societal wealth now.

Adirondacker12800 January 7, 2019 - 2:21 pm

Currently, about 1/3rd of people working are non-white.

So? The got the jobs they have because someone fed, clothed, housed and educated them enough that they could hold jobs. Most of them will get old someday. And many of them will depend on Medicare and Medicaid to pay their medical expenses. What’s the alternative, send Abuela out begging so she can buy her high blood pressure medicine?

Older and Wiser January 7, 2019 - 4:49 pm

Sorry, but the wealth transfer that has been overwhelmingly the most damaging to the younger generation is the inexorable ongoing concentrating of both wealth and attendant high incomes in the hands of super rich families, aka the non-wage pass-through trust-fund aristocrats.

The wages of ordinary workers used to make up the bulk of America’s aggregate personal income. That’s why fica taxes on ordinary workers’ wages were once more than adequate to keep the old age safety net solvent.

Even today, if fica taxation was made applicable to all levels of income, and most especially, all TYPES of income, instead of just wages, it would extend solvency into the 22nd century, and lo and behold, also enable a drastic lowering of the actual percentage rate of the fica tax itself.

Waldo January 4, 2019 - 10:56 am

MTA could have (and should have) closed the tunnel after they assessed the damage from Sandy. However, with very few other alternatives for L riders/alternatives that take careful planning, they didn’t. The R was easy since there are plenty of alternatives nearby. With the CBTC signaling in the 14th st tunnels, it was also easy to keep trains running through a crumbled tunnel (R had to be closed as the fixed-block signals in Montague were going haywire and creating delays daily after Sandy, while CBTC on the L worked like Sandy didn’t pass through). MTA has pushed the tunnel rebuild so far into the future. They were just about to get the work done, and in swoops in Coumo.

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Londonbus January 4, 2019 - 10:32 am

Evidence from London is that total blockades, whilst painful are the way to go. You do associated major works. You also get access to infrastucture that is hard to maintain.

From across the pond this doesn’t look like a good move.

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Waldo January 4, 2019 - 11:04 am

This is what people fail to understand, and it is also highly ingrained in the USA. When work needs to be done, try your best to not mess up weekday commuters, but depending on the area, you have free range to mess with weekend and late night commuters. Weekend and late night commuters use the same exact system as weekday ones, but weekday schedules must not be messed with. Also, some weekday commuters have a sense of entitlement here where they say “When I’m not using the subways that’s when it should be maintained.”

Whether Northern Brooklyn and Manhattan riders of the L like it or not, the tunnel needs to be closed for work. Hell, all of the East River tunnels that had Sandy water in them should have been closed for full rebuilds, but this is NYC where if you complain about maintenance very loudly, it will get done on a dragged out schedule that will cost exponentially more instead a full shutdown.

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CPA TRAIN January 4, 2019 - 11:46 am

it is not about what is ingrained……..it is about logic

*a large part of weekend riders are taking discretionary trips – entertainment, shopping etc that can be done elsewhere

*traffic is lighter on the weekends so using cars/ubers for the full trip or to go to alternative rail lines is not as much of a penalty for the user or those who already using your new alternate routes

*day users are going to workplaces that are not that flexible

……………so yes weekend work is the desired way to get the job done if possible

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crlewis January 4, 2019 - 4:24 pm

*Low-income riders are disproportionately more likely to work late-nights and weekends instead of the typical 9-5. People are quick to forget that the L serves low-income parts of Bushwick, East New York and Canarsie, not just upper-middle class Williamsburg residents. And low-income riders are less likely to hail an Uber/find a transit alternative.

*The L has had larger ridership on weekends than on weekdays at certain points.

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sonicboy678 January 4, 2019 - 6:53 pm

Incidentally, most actually supported the full closure of this tube.

That said, full closures aren’t always feasible, as shown by the Brooklyn IRT (even better IRT operations would have only been able to take some of the edge off of that).

Even so, I would definitely push for full closures of segments in order to make substantial improvements, so long as maintenance facilities are available for anything that ends up temporarily isolated (such as the makeshift one at Fresh Pond Yard while work was being done on the Myrtle Avenue Line).

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SEAN January 5, 2019 - 9:57 pm

Exactly. A full shutdown maybe annoying, but better to deal with this now than bit by bit construction over several years. Think of the idea of ripping off a band aid.

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Stephen Bauman January 4, 2019 - 11:35 am

(Although the MTA earned the benefit of the doubt by rebuilding the Montague St. Tunnel…as the MTA successfully did with the Montague St. tunnel)

The Montague St tunnel repair design and implementation was so successful that trains no longer have clearance to operate through its Nassau St connection.

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Al January 4, 2019 - 12:14 pm

I thought that order was only limited to R32s and R42s? Not that it matters much since 1. Not many other fleet types can use the connection and 2. It hasn’t seen revenue service since 2010.

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Stephen Bauman January 4, 2019 - 5:23 pm

There was no restriction on R32’s and R42’s before the MTA’s rehab. The restriction came about because of the rehab. It wasn’t a “feature”. It was a design or implementation snafu and a measure of the MTA’s competence in tunnel rehabilitation.

The connection’s importance should not deflect that the Montague St rehab should be viewed as an example of the MTA’s failure and not its success.

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sonicboy678 January 4, 2019 - 6:58 pm

Yet those cars aren’t stored at either Coney Island or Jamaica, not to mention that the design sensibilities on the upper halves of their bodies haven’t been sported on any (non-IRT) rolling stock since the R44s were introduced, or that those cars are already on their way out.

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sonicboy678 January 5, 2019 - 2:09 am

I should also mention that this crap about Montague is nowhere near as offensive as every 75-foot car in the subway system, as their inherent design flaws have limited their effectiveness since their introduction (in fact, the amount of track they’re banned from is far greater than that of the R32s and R42s, not to mention that there were so many ordered).

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Stephen Bauman January 5, 2019 - 7:52 am

If I enumerated the bad engineering, and operational decisions made by NYCT and its predecessors, I could fill a library.

In this instance I’ve confined myself to a single proposition, stated by Mr. Kabak. Did the Montague Tunnel rehab demonstrate competence? Mr. Kabak believes it did because it appears to be functioning and was delivered ahead of schedule.

I don’t because there were clearance problems with certain car models that did not exist before the tunnels were rehabbed. This was not planned but the result of shortcomings in how the project was engineered and implemented and how NYCT reacted after the problem was discovered.

Scheduling changes hid these problems and transformed a scandal into a “success”.

I’m fully aware of the problems resulting from the MTA’s decision to use 75 ft long cars. This was a slightly different type of failing. It was known that the 75 footers could not navigate in certain areas before the purchase.

A closer example in showing how the MTA hides its failures concerns the R110B’s. It also is relevant to today’s crowding on the Canarsie Line. The R110B’s were 67 feet long, the length of the BRT-BMT’s original steel cars. It was discovered they could not negotiate one of the Canarsie Line’s turns, after they were delivered. (Calculating tunnel clearances does not appear to be NYCT’s strong suit.)

NYCT’s conclusion was that 67 footers were not appropriate for the Canarsie Line, even though they operated on it for more than 40 years. They did not examine how and why the BRT was successful and they were not. The result was they settled on 60 footers and 480 foot long trains. The Canarsie Line platforms conform to the 536 foot long Dual Contract standard (8 x 67 ft). The result is that each Canarsie Line train could have carried 10% more passengers had NYCT not gone into the CYA mode.

sonicboy678 January 6, 2019 - 12:43 am

Perhaps, if they avoided implementing transverse seating on any potential 67-footers.

Even so, the BMT Standard is far from suitable for ingress/egress, seeing that the odd length would not allow for more than four doorways per side, which is crucial when dealing with heavy crowding. (At least the 75-footers were long enough to have that potential.) In addition, if cars of such odd lengths were to be ordered, they would need to either be kept to the BMT Eastern Division’s routes to maintain consistency or have some sets come with fifth cars, leading to more R188-like operations for no good reason.

I should also mention that the R110Bs were strictly prototypes and were not indicative of willingness to order cars built to the BMT’s standard, as opposed to the IND’s. After all, between dwell times and clearance times, they would not prove to be very good at what they do at higher levels of ridership, especially with more rigid regulations. It also makes production and organization easier when picking a standard and sticking with it.

Stephen Bauman January 6, 2019 - 12:52 pm

the odd length would not allow for more than four doorways per side, which is crucial when dealing with heavy crowding

The total width of doorway space is more important than the number of doorways. The BMT 67 foot cars had 214″ of doorway width per side with 3 double doors. By contrast, the R1/9’s had 184″ and today’s R160’s have 200″. Getting through the doorway threshold was actually better with the BMT’s 67 foot door arrangement.

Perhaps, if they avoided implementing transverse seating on any potential 67-footers.

Negotiating the door threshold is only part of the dwell component. How quickly passengers inside the car can navigate to/from the doorway is equally important. Much depends on the density of standing passengers within the car. NYCT’s guideline is 3.0 sq.ft/standee.

This is how the TCRP’s Report 165 “Transit Capacity and Quality Service Manual” characterizes this standee loading guideline: 2.2-3.1 ft^2/p…Frequent body contact and inconvenience with packages and briefcases…Moving to and from doorways extremely difficult, increasing dwell time

The standee loading guideline that does not increase dwell time is: 4.3-5.3 ft^2/p…Standing load without body contact…Reasonably easy circulation within vehicle…Standees have similar amount of personal space as seated passengers

The last observation is important because it shows that trading decreased seating capacity for increased standing capacity is counter productive, insofar as maximizing the number of passengers per hour. Any gain in the number of passengers per train will be mitigated by the reduced number of trains per hour (due to increased dwell time).

The BMT 67 foot car seating capacity was 78/76 vs. 42/46 for the R160’s. The seating reduction did not result in an increase in usable standing capacity because of increased dwell times.

Careful thought has to be given to the seating arrangement so that standees and seated passengers have quick access to the doors. The advantages of the BRT design that included longitudinal and cross seating were enumerated in US Patent 1,142,263.

the R110Bs were strictly prototypes

As prototypes they were supposed to operate on all the tracks. This was an effort to overcome the 75 footer problems. It did not because of a design error. NYCT hid the error and tried to minimize any implications by going into full CYA mode.

Reader January 4, 2019 - 11:48 am

Like putting epoxy on a surfboard, easy!

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Jeff January 4, 2019 - 11:49 am

Heard from two reliable sources Amazon deal mandated the L be running

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Bowser January 4, 2019 - 12:44 pm

My uncle who works at Nintendo said something similar, something about rocket fuel not being able to melt steel beams. This smells like a bigger story we should be focused on.

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Alon Levy January 5, 2019 - 9:58 am

Can you tell us more about these sources? E.g. are they from NYCT, from the real estate world, from the governor’s office, or what not?

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Eddie B January 6, 2019 - 11:29 am

I think this is nonsense rumoring, first, Amazon is nowhere near the L train, second, Amazon HQ2 would not be close to opening by the time the tunnel is finished.
Amazon’s deal had a lot of issues, but I doubt this is one of them. The Gov is just a mini-Trump. No need to blame Amazon for this one.

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ChrisC January 4, 2019 - 1:04 pm

If I were Andy Byford I’d be tempted to be very rude to Cuomno and resign.

This is blatant political interference.

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Will January 8, 2019 - 10:48 pm

Andy should start updating his resume and get the hell of here

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JJ January 4, 2019 - 1:12 pm

and the voters of NY keep voting for these dunces

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SEAN January 5, 2019 - 11:23 am

The problem is that the other dunces out there are so much worse.

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Chris January 4, 2019 - 1:22 pm

Why Now?

Cuomo wants to keep people from bad mouthing him as he prepares to run for POTUS in the 2020 election. Almost everything he touched (especially, the new Tappan Zee Bridge and future tolls) is protected from causing him problems until after the 2020 election cycle. If the L train is shut down, people may go after him for mismanaging the MTA’s priorities….

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M January 4, 2019 - 1:41 pm

There’s been some good discussion as to who to trust in this fiasco — engineering deans or MTA / consultants. I’d trust the consultants. Not the MTA. Not the deans. However, the final public recommendations or options presented by the consultants often have heavy MTA influence. That influence can be good and bad.

I’d actually trust the deans the least. They are not licensed engineers and, they don’t work in an environment of accountability. (If they publish a paper that is later proved incorrect they get a free pass. “Oh, that’s just how science works!”) Academics are not incentivized to create lasting physical products. They are incentivized to create and sell new, unproven ideas. They are trained to hastily create and execute experiments, publish the results, and move on.

Reliability are durability are bedrocks of MTA operations. Consequently, the MTA doesn’t like new things. They have systems that have worked well for 100 years. If they have 1000 of the same type of pump. They don’t want the 1001st pump to be different. 1 different pump would probably confuse their maintenance teams. The pump might not be as reliable as the other 1000, which have been shown to work. Ordering parts would be a headache.

The consultants work on projects all over the US and the world including many non-MTA contracts. They will be aware of the state-of-the-art tunnel and transit technologies, whereas the academics will push the new, untested, and even the unrealistic – that is what they are trained to do.

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AlexB January 4, 2019 - 1:45 pm

If most of Cuomo’s new plan is correct (which is not at all clear), I still think it would be better to do a complete shutdown, but only have it last for 6 months instead of 15. It would let you do most of the planned repairs in Manhattan where workers really need full access to the stations to be efficient. He would still be a savior but the MTA/DoT wouldn’t have to completely rethink their plans and renegotiate contracts in a matter of weeks. Cuomo is just awful for introducing this level of certainty into a process that’s been relatively thorough and well communicated thus far. I know multiple people who’ve moved because of this who are livid that they did all that for nothing.

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Andrew January 4, 2019 - 4:28 pm

Are the old and new L tunnel repairs dependent on there not being a second Sandy-like hurricane? In other words, you say the old plan would ensure tunnel stability for 50 years — with or without a hurricane?

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Stephen Bauman January 5, 2019 - 11:54 am

Neither the old nor new plans addresses tunnel integrity. The tunnels were declared structurally sound, after a post Sandy inspection. The damage that required attention were the electrical support system consisting power and signal wires that were located within the duct banks.

The question of damage caused by a future Sandy depends on whether there is water penetration. Reducing the possibility of water penetration is beyond the scope of both plans.

If there is water penetration to Sandy’s level, one should expect the same result with the old plan. The duct bank material (concrete) and location retain their pre-Sandy composition and location. The new plan would raise the height of the wires above the pre-Sandy levels. To this extent, the new plan would provide better protection against a same level water penetration.

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SEAN January 5, 2019 - 10:11 pm

Perhaps, but lets not forget that Sandy was claimed to be a once in a several hundred year storm & yet we’re having these events every few years now. It’s best to do everything possible to make the transit system as resilient as we can make it. That includes in my mind a full closure of the L tunnel so work can be done as efficiently as possible in spite of what graft may exist in NYC construction.

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Stephen Bauman January 6, 2019 - 11:05 am

It’s best to do everything possible to make the transit system as resilient as we can make it. That includes in my mind a full closure of the L tunnel so work can be done as efficiently as possible

The amount of inconvenience generated in implementing a project is not a good measure of that project’s worth or quality.

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SEAN January 6, 2019 - 2:41 pm

Stephen, I’m talking about taking full advantage of a full closure to ensure all repairs to the L can be done efficiently as possible. In addition, making sure all power systems can be protected when the next large scale storm arrives. Sandy has already proven what is in store for NYC infrastructure, so lets move & not waist time on useless banter.

dannyb January 13, 2019 - 1:31 am

“The new plan would raise the height of the wires above the pre-Sandy levels. ”
Wasn’t a good chunk of this and the other tunnels flooded up to the ceiling?

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Pedro Valdez-Rivera January 4, 2019 - 4:51 pm

It sucks for me to be living in the most corrupted city and the most corrupted state in the nation, hands down, especially on the matters of transportation. That’s what we get if we’ve voted for these cronies.

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Michael549 January 4, 2019 - 4:56 pm

Maybe it is a measure of today’s media environment, or the fact that we too often speak in a short-hand kind of way. Those short-hand headlines create a kind of viewpoint that can really obscure important information that can guide decision making or at least the understanding of an issue.

Yes, having only 140 characters does not make for complex messages.

So here goes:

The FULL L-Line WAS NOT BEING SHUT DOWN! You know that, and most everyone on this transit forum knows that. The vast public did not!

Yes, the Brooklyn portion of the L-line would remain running while the tunnel repair work was going on! Talk about not being able to communicate a message!

Yes, only the Manhattan portion of the L-line would close! Yes, 225,000 daily riders affected, with another 55,000 on the Manhattan only portion, and another 75,000 who only ride within the Brooklyn portion. Yep, those are the facts.

Now let’s look at the headlines – even on this forum, “Full Shutdown of L Train to Be Halted by Cuomo!” There were and are plenty of screaming headlines such as this one!

Yes, one has to find and read an in-depth article to learn about the issues – but sadly plenty do not, but then the information may not be presented to them.

The fact that Brooklyn riders of the L-line had three separate places to transfer to other subway lines with either direct routes to/from Manhattan or transfers to other trains with direct routes to/from Manhattan, that alternative bus routes – ferries – and other transit was in the works – ideas that had been worked upon and re-fined somehow does not get conveyed in the regular media.

The fact that every Brooklyn station (from Bedford Avenue to Wilson Avenue) of the L-train has an already operating direct bus line to a nearby J/M/Z elevated station – somehow does not get conveyed by the regular media.

In the case of Manhattan only riders of the L-line – there were the current 14th Street local city buses, plus a new planned SBS bus route for 14th Street, as well as improvements to bus paths, changes in service deliveries, etc. Even some transit advocates wanted to completely re-design portions of 14th Street as a pedestrian only corridor with all cars/trucks/buses banned at all times.

In addition there was the fact that a caravan of buses were to be deployed to ferry L-line riders across the Williamsburg Bridge to several points and subway stations in Manhattan. Some transit activists even wanted to ban all single occupancy cars from the bridge during the rush hours! As well as proposals to enhance bike usage – every body’s pet project was getting lumped in. There was a recent article in a repuable online city news-magazine about enhancing bike paths in Manhattan to deal with the 14th Street Tunnel closure – where 80% into the article the author noted that 90% of the displaced L-train riders would not be USING BIKES!

Months of community board meetings and public comment sessions devoted to discussing the issues took place over the past 3-4 years in advance of this new development. The good will and promises of those efforts now squandered it is only “un-important folks” that seem to use the subways on the weekends.

The fact that those months of terrible weekends and late night closures that Brooklyn L-train riders had to endure for years on end – during the installation of CBTC – somehow does not get remembered as “everyone” praises the closures limited to weekends and late nights. That is until they actually have to wait for and attempt to ride and endure the slow lengthy shuttle buses, and other round – about methods.

Folks seem to forget that the MTA had to deal with and clear out (9) NINE OTHER SUBWAY TUNNELS with a mixture of months long subway tunnel closures (G Train), a 14-month closure of the R-train Montague Street Tunnel, and regular weekend long and nightly closures of subway tunnels for the #2/3, #4/5, #7, A/C, F, E/M, N/R lines for several months at a time. Folks seem to forget that some subway stations, subway facilities and portions of subway routes had to be completely re-constructed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Now all we get are screaming headlines about the L-train, as if no one else suffered due to Hurricane Sandy, or had to have repair work done. From the yuppies in Williamsburg, the worried real estate interests, the transit activists who want to “something else”, and on and on. This is really about “whose ox gets gored” or what? Who has access to media and headlines, or what?

On transit forums like this one – transit issues get to be looked at in depth – that is good – but generally are NOT READ by the general public – which is bad. Which can mean “Jane & Joe Shmoe” will still not get the information that would be very helpful.

There were plenty of screaming headlines such as this one (with plenty of other examples elsewhere) – but not much for regular riders (except the MTA or transit websites) to look at that explained the mitigation measures that were going to be put in place.

From alternative to regular newspapers (both print and online) as usual focused upon the screaming headlines – not bothering ever to explain the mitigation measures that were going being put in place.

So what happened as everyone is screaming, “The sky is falling, the L-train is closing!!” – other folks start to get scared, and it is time to “do something!!” And that is what happened.

Mike

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SEAN January 5, 2019 - 10:14 pm

Right on Mike.

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Walt Gekko January 4, 2019 - 6:11 pm

As said before, this to me was Cuomo doing this because if the shutdown lagged on, it could kill any chance he had of winning the Democratic nomination for President that I suspect we will soon hear he will be running for. The fact the Presidential election is next year and campaigning to some degree is ALREADY underway ahead of that likely in my view spurred Cuomo to do this now, wanting to keep certain constituents (and donors) happy. That is especially true of those who likely were very concerned closing 14th Street to all but buses would have resulted in unintended consequences of traffic being jammed a long way away from 14th Street in both directions, especially with those who drive in from New Jersey who either can’t use public transportation (due to none where they live or even a park-and-ride being a major hassle) or refusing to for whatever reason.

This to me is why Cuomo is forcing this.

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Brooklynite January 4, 2019 - 6:50 pm

Really, the critical thing here is the condition of the rest of the tunnel lining aside from the benchwall. If the rest of the concrete lining is falling apart, then it would be prudent to gut the tunnel and replace it all at once. However, if the benchwall is falling apart and the rest of the lining is fine, then this isn’t such a bad solution. Wiring, alarms, pumps, etc. can be replaced with weekend outages (of one or both tubes). Sure, it has some problems, as does the idea of shutting down a heavily used tunnel to rebuild exactly what was there before.

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sonicboy678 January 4, 2019 - 7:07 pm

Thing is, it’s not just those (relatively) smaller things. The tunnel needs extensive work, and the full closure provided the opportunity to make some improvements on the Manhattan end (no tunnel extension, unfortunately, but definitely a bunch of others). This scales it down to slapping a bunch of plastic on.

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paulb January 4, 2019 - 8:29 pm

I think Michael549 has made many good points, if I’ve understood them correctly. No one was well served by all the “L-pocalypse” hysteria. It was worse than Y2K. What happened with that? The IT people all worked hard for a couple years to adapt their systems and when the date change arrived, it went smoothly because people planned and then executed the plan. I think the alternatives for L train riders would have successfully mitigated nearly all, if not every bit, of inconvenience. And if at first they didn’t, there would be an opportunity to strengthen them after the tunnel shut down. Michael549 is right also in that the person I work with who uses the L train from Canarsie believed the entire line was being shut down. When I told her it was just between Bedford Ave and Manhattan she said, “Well then what’s the problem? I change trains anyway!” Again I come back to the troubling fact that tens of thousands of people were being, and allowed themselves to be, stampeded into a mindset of panic before there was actually anything to panic about! This of course doesn’t even go into that [unprintable noun] Schwartz and his belligerence based on his own unfounded convictions of street armageddon in the west village. I think I’m disgusted not just with Cuomo but with a lot of New Yorkers who–bailed out of jobs?!!! Bailed out of apartments they liked?!!!! Why? I think this entire thing says very discouraging things about not just our politicians and media, but too many of our citizens.

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Walt Gekko January 5, 2019 - 2:45 am

Except for one thing:

14th Street being closed to all traffic other than buses. You’d be looking at those driving in from New Jersey who can’t or otherwise refuse to use public transportation suddenly seeing commutes double in some cases because of ripple effects of traffic on other streets. That to me may have been a bigger concern of those who complained about this than many realize, especially the “hipsters” who complained about traffic aware many from New Jersey drive and likely the driving force behind this.

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sonicboy678 January 5, 2019 - 4:32 am

You’re bringing up people who actually reside outside of Cuomo’s jurisdiction. As such, bending to “help” those people for political gain makes a grand total of zero sense.

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SEAN January 5, 2019 - 10:32 pm

Not if he plans to run for president. He needs to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters, not just New Yorkers, and that is his calculation regardless if you like it or not.

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paulb January 6, 2019 - 10:30 am

Walt Gekko, you are right that I referred to L train users, not commuters from NJ. But I hold to my opinion that pre-shutdown predictions are like a working hypothesis and except if they motivated the agencies to think more creatively about alternative travel, the L-pocalypse panic has done a lot of harm. I believe NJ commuters, after a period of adjusting, would discover their lives weren’t jumping off the tracks, so to speak.

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Joshua Carrasco January 4, 2019 - 10:47 pm

I think it’s the wrong move and wrong idea to discontinue this project I just have this weird feeling it’s going to get worse and the longer you wait the more more money you will have to fix it. I do not trust Cuomo at all he wants votes and people to be on his side he was never favor of the MTA and never even announcement during his second inauguration I think to me the project should move forward for the safety of the people who travel through the tunnel every day.

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M January 5, 2019 - 10:04 am

It’s interesting that the academic tunnel expert only does seismic analysis of tunnels. This means that he studies how the entire tunnel structure wriggles within the gooey sediment of the river or bay bottom. (Think of a worm in soft dirt.) This is typically done by placing optical sensors along the length of the tunnel and seeing how they move (1) when a train passes and (2) during an earthquake. This is probably where the “smart sensors idea to monitor wall” idea came in. (Aside: all sensors are “smart”.)

It is very common for academics, once they have PhDs, to profess their expertise in related fields in which they are not actually experts. This results in a very loose use of the term “expert” within academia. In professional engineering practice you generally don’t comment on areas where you aren’t an expert.

The bench wall and track bed repair work falls much more into the realm of concrete rehabilitation and repair. This is very common work all over the northeast due to the prevalence of old concrete structures and salty environments. It sounds like the academic team had someone who understands concrete repair, however the solutions that they proposed are really just 15 year band-aids as others have said.

The seismic tunnel guy may have pushed for the inclusion of sensors within the plan as a bid to possibly get a research grant from the work. Academics (and their parent institutions) will do anything for grant money — especially if the money is attached to a high profile project. Contrary to Cuomo’s claim, everyone at the table had vested interests. The academics want the support of the state (eg. use of eminent domain to expand in Manhattanville). Any academic that worked on the project is hoping for long-term grant money to conduct useless high-tech studies. All academics are self-interested.

IN FACT, the academics may not be interested in a full repair at all. It’s is MUCH more interesting, scientifically, to study the degredation of the concrete and the effectiveness of the proposed remedies than to assist in a full repair of the tunnel. They would secure long term funding to study the degredation which would likely lead to multiple papers. Papers and funding are the two metrics by which academics live and die.

Unfortunately, this may not be the most appropriate location or time for their scientific study.

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pete-o February 3, 2019 - 1:47 pm

what a bitter and ignorant post.

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paub January 6, 2019 - 10:33 am

If that 2016 video is misleading propaganda, it’s very good misleading propaganda. To me it’s persuasive.

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AMH January 7, 2019 - 4:10 am

I wonder what this means for Andy Byford’s plans to speed up other projects by using complete shutdowns. His entire schtick has been that we need to tolerate more short-term pain in order to get work done faster and cheaper. The governor is completely rejecting this premise.

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subway-buff January 7, 2019 - 4:37 am

What they choose to forget is that MTA gave them a choice of a 15 month full Closure or 3 years of single tracking. They overwhelmingly chose the 15 month full closure. MTA gave them what they wanted ! Any repair project ,even roads create a mess. You can not have a repaired tunnel and full service .
To the complainers, get over it !You got what you wanted and you are still unhappy ! Maybe MTA should cancel the project.
Of course, they will gripe when the tunnels collapse and that MTA should have fixed the tunnels! You can not have both !

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