Home View from Underground Sandy Update: Water infiltrates East River subway tunnels

Sandy Update: Water infiltrates East River subway tunnels

by Benjamin Kabak

Updated (Tuesday, 12:30 a.m.): According to reports from the MTA, water entered the under-river tubes connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn as the Sandy storm surge overtook the city as well as the 1 train tunnel between Chambers St. and South Ferry.

Additionally, Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal reported that water had entered all five subway tubes that run between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as the 7 train’s Steinway Tubes. Various stations and tunnels have flooded as well.

Earlier in the day, the MTA offered up some information on salt water interacting with the subway system. Even after removal, salt remains on sufaces, and the salte can accelerate corrosion. Any surface impacted by flooding has to be cleaned or replaced. It’s difficult to estimate the time required to clear a flooded tunnel and bring equipment and stations back into service. The timeline depends upon the height of the storm sturge, its speed and the extent of flooding. Generally, the longer a tunnel is flooded, the longer it will take to return to service.

According to the MTA, up to four feet of water entered a Lower Manhattan station as well earlier on Monday. Kevin Ortiz, Transit spokesman speaking on CBS 2, stressed that it could take anywhere from 14 hours to more than four days to restore service if the tunnels are flooded. Once salt water hits switches and signals, all bets are off for any quick service restoration until the system can be inspected and repaired.

Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said the extent of flooding is “quite serious.” Despite earlier rumors that suggested we could go a week without subway service, Lhota cautioned against such a set timeline. “We’re trying to get an estimate of what if anything we’re dealing with here,” he said.

Still, one MTA source told Ted Mann that “it could be a long time” until full service is restored. No official estimates will be released until the extent of the flooding and damage can be determined, and the MTA repeatedly downplayed early rumors of a week-long service outage:

Here’s what Adam Lisberg, the authority’s head spokesman, said via Twitter:

Meanwhile, speaking on WNYC, transit reporter Andrea Bernstein said that Bowling Green is the station under water. Pumps are operating on generators and are independent of the power outages currently plaguing Manhattan south of 39th Street. It’s unclear how the rest of the system is impacted right now. I’ll keep updating this post as more information comes in (and, with the lights flickering, as long as I have power).

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Spendmore Wastemore October 29, 2012 - 9:31 pm

They have the vents and entrances pretty well sealed. No doubt – err, almost no doubt they placed some sort of barricade wherever the sea surge was expected to hit. Obviously they can’t seal everything, but they have substantial pumping capacity for normal rain. Where is the large quantity of water entering from?

Larry Littlefield October 29, 2012 - 10:20 pm

It’s entering from the ocean. They chose not to Spendmore after Irene. I hope you won’t claim they Wastedmore when they spend for more on a pound of cure than they would have on an ounce of prevention.

No constituency for the future. Any money on building more robust barricades that could have closed off the tunnel COULD HAVE been used to grant larger raises, increase pensions, save the fare, reduce the payroll tax, reduce tolls, etc.

Spendmore Wastemore October 29, 2012 - 10:38 pm

“They chose not to Spendmore after Irene”


I’m all for preventative upgrades. Not only does it prevent a pound of cure, it keeps the system running when it would otherwise be down. More than 24 hours of weekday shutdown has enormous costs – literally millions of people not working, with some of that being lost not merely time-displaced activity.

Waste is repetitive work which accomplishes nothing, four people on a one person job, and the entire racket known as the LIRR.

Justin Samuels October 31, 2012 - 1:56 am

I’m all for preventative upgrades as well. Keep in mind NY wastes a lot of money in medicaid overpayments. We spend more on medicaid than any other states. Perhaps if more of that was spent on facilities and properly maintaining them we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in now?

There’s no way to 100% avoid disaster, but NYC is not showing ability to deal with probable disasters.

BoerumBum October 29, 2012 - 10:11 pm

Here’s the subject of Lisberg’s tweet: http://buzzfeedandrew.tumblr.com/image/34610469649

Spendmore Wastemore October 29, 2012 - 10:23 pm

Where is that? Is it connected to the subway? It’s a considerable quantity of water and clearly filling the trench at the lower level.

Chris October 29, 2012 - 10:35 pm

Based on the bridge you can see in the background (which connects to the world financial center), I believe it’s somewhere around the old Deutsche Bank site south of the main WTC pit

Nathanael October 29, 2012 - 10:46 pm

Basically nothing in Lower Manhattan was built to be floodproof, and it’s all extremely prone to flooding.

This was pointed out a long time ago, but nobody has done anything about it, neither building a floodwall nor evacuating and moving uphill.

Justin Samuels October 31, 2012 - 1:48 am

Certain things in NYC were built on marshes. Basically, it was development run amok, with little thought to planning.

Theodore Highsmith October 29, 2012 - 10:59 pm

First and formost. Everyone’s going off, but we have no control over nature. You can plan, fix, prevent but it’s not going to change anything.

Jonathan October 30, 2012 - 10:52 am

Sure it will. There’s all kinds of infrastructure that can be built that can prevent or reduce damage from flooding. Look at the Netherlands as an example. The Thames has a flood barrier protecting London from storm surge. It’s theoretically possible that such a barrier could be built across the Narrows and maybe Hell Gate. It’s a matter of deciding whether the cost is worth the benefit of preventing disasters like this in the future.

Of course that’s all about the next flood. I just hope the damage from this one isn’t as bad as it seems.

Nathanael October 30, 2012 - 4:39 pm

Unfortunately, that strategy would protect from storm surge, but wouldn’t help at all with river surge flooding coming down from the Hudson, Passaic, and Hackensack drainage basins. Which is also a major threat in a different type of storm.

It makes more sense to build a pure Manhattan floodwall. I know it will spoil the view. Most of the rest of the below-water locations, the ones not in Manhattan, should not actually be occupied. The Manhattan locations shouldn’t be either, but once you’ve built multiple skyscrapers and six subway lines, that’s a lost cause; most of the other areas have a lot less infrastructure and are best relocated uphill. Nobody at all should be living on barrier islands. Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal should have marshes around them.

Justin Samuels October 31, 2012 - 1:53 am

I live on one of those barrier islands, the Rockaways. My area of Far Rockaway is on higher ground, and did not flood. With that said, JFK is on a marshy site as well.

What you’re suggesting would invoke serious use of eminent domain, because while things can be moved further inland, there are people and businesses occupying those locations.

I agree with you that the planning of NYC was done pretty poorly.

What will be done about it? I don’t know, but another storm like this, or a worse one might end the city as we know it.

Its going to cause massive amounts of money to rebuild the transit system alone. Not to mention other facilities and housing.

tp October 30, 2012 - 12:36 am

Will 30 day unlimited Metrocards be extended an extra 2 days now?

Lhota: MTA ‘assessing extent’ of damage from ‘devastating’ storm :: Second Ave. Sagas October 30, 2012 - 1:46 am

[…] « Sandy Update: Water infiltrates East River subway tunnels Oct […]

JM October 30, 2012 - 2:23 am

Just want to comment early without knowing the full extent of the damage — it’s possible that the funding available to NYS/MTA under the Stafford Act could result in us having a stronger, more modern, transit system. The catch, however, doesn’t require explanation.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines October 30, 2012 - 8:41 am

[…] Subway Tunnels, Bus Garages Flooded; No Timetable for Restoring Service (DNA, TN 1, 2; NYT, SAS) […]


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