Home Brooklyn Report: R train’s Montague St. Tunnel ‘several weeks’ away

Report: R train’s Montague St. Tunnel ‘several weeks’ away

by Benjamin Kabak

R trains have not run through the Montague St. Tunnel since the days before Sandy arrived.

After last week’s uproar over the G and L trains, the clamor from the crowd for more subway service has died down, but a few key missing links remain. The 1 train won’t be heading to South Ferry any time soon, and the J and Z trains haven’t yet reached Broad St. The Rockaways, as we know, will be cut off for a while as well. But the largest gap in service remains on the R line.

The Montague St. Tunnel, the R train’s link between Brooklyn and Manhattan, suffered severe flooding during the Sandy storm surge, and it hasn’t come back into service yet. According to a report in today’s Daily News, it’s going to be a while yet. MTA officials say it could be at least two or three more weeks, and Pete Donohue has some details:

Water from an unprecedented sea surge cascaded down a tunnel ventilation shaft at the southern tip of Manhattan, and it rushed down the stairs of the Whitehall St./South Ferry station, officials said. The volume of water in the tunnel was so great it extended up a steep incline into Brooklyn Heights – about four blocks from the riverbank. It stopped about 500 feet from Court St. station, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. “That’s a long distance and the water was floor to ceiling,” Lhota said. “The tunnel and the equipment was severely damaged.”

New York 1 had the nitty-gritty on the damage:

The R stations and tunnels are now pumped out and dry so crews can repair the saltwater damage. They components have to be replaced in each of the signals along that entire section of track. One example is the signal fuses. Crews say green mold has corroded the normally brown-colored components. Crews are also fixing light fixtures, telephone lines and fire alarms in the R tunnel.

It’s all well and good to repair these components and get the service back up and running but doing so without an eye toward immediate preventative measures is akin to closing the barn door after the horse escapes. Another storm will come; another flood will happen; and we’ll do this all over again.

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bgriff November 15, 2012 - 10:09 am

Why isn’t the R just running over the bridge for the time being?

bosmuc November 15, 2012 - 11:12 am

I wondered this, too. I’m thinking that they want the ability to keep the transfer to the A/C @Jay/MetroTech for those heading to the financial district. Those heading mid-/uptown can transfer at DeKalb to the N/Q. Just my 2cts.

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2012 - 11:15 am

Transfers as bosmuc said just now and concerns over capacity across the Bridge and through the DeKalb interlocking.

al November 15, 2012 - 3:27 pm

Is there a reason they can’t use the switches south of Canal St to relay R trains?

matt November 15, 2012 - 10:17 am

Does anyone else feel like if that tunnel wasn’t the least used in the system it wouldn’t be a few weeks away? I find it hard the believe that the flooding in that tunnel was so much worse than the other nearby tunnels that it will require more than 10x the amount of time to fix it.

Also, does that mean service to Broad St is still weeks away too?

Phillip Roncoroni November 15, 2012 - 10:40 am

I don’t know how all the various tunnels compare in terms of volume and flooding severity, but if the Montague St. Tunnel is one of the lesser used ones, it would make sense the damage would be more severe simply because the salt water was stuck in there for a longer period of time, corroding away the components.

Bolwerk November 15, 2012 - 6:29 pm

Here are usage numbers for those who are interested.

Tower18 November 16, 2012 - 12:23 pm

Huh…consider me surprised that the Cranberry St Tunnel is busier than all but 60th St, 53rd St, and Manhattan Bridge crossings.

Bolwerk November 16, 2012 - 1:13 pm

It’s probably the only one where four tracks of service converge into a two-track segment. What surprised me was how much capacity was left once those services reached Manhattan.

Nathanael November 15, 2012 - 6:45 pm

Not necessarily. I think Broad St. simply hasn’t been a priority (remember, it and Fulton St. J don’t even operate 24/7). I haven’t heard anything indicating that the situation was exceptionally bad, and it could be back at any time.

Andrew November 15, 2012 - 10:39 pm

Broad is just north of the Montague tunnel. I suspect the two issues are related.

TeddyNYC November 16, 2012 - 2:01 pm

You are correct.

John-2 November 15, 2012 - 10:42 am

The initial post-flooding photos showed the floodwaters had filled the South Ferry Station up to the stairs going down from the mezzanine fare control area, but the mezz itself was pretty much water-free by 10/31, as was the platform level at Whitehall.

That simply meant Montague acted as a drain for the shared upper mezzanine for the 1 and the R, along with the Broadway line’s Whitehall station. So it’s no shock to find out that’s why one station, which was the low point on the 1 line, was under 40 feet of Upper New York Bay and the other wasn’t. The interesting thing is how much the vent locations may have played a role in the problem, and the relative lack of problems suffered by the Joralemon Street tunnel, which was the first one put back into service, even though it pretty much runs side-by-side across the river with the Montague Tunnel.

The 4/5’s Bowling Green station benefited from being three blocks further north than Whitehall, but the other problem apparently was that the Montague tunnel’s vent house is flush up along the edge of South Street, which was just one more invitation for the floodwaters to pour in. I’m not sure where the IRT put the Manhattan vent house for Joralemon, but the one on the other side is located in Brooklyn Heights — you’d pretty much have to get a flood of Biblical proportions to get the storm surge high enough to get in there.

The MTA can’t really change the location of where the BMT put their vent house, but they can work to elevate the vents another 20-30 feet and consider inflatable plugs at Whitehall-SF to make it and the tunnel less vulnerable to floods.

Larry Littlefield November 15, 2012 - 1:31 pm

“The MTA can’t really change the location of where the BMT put their vent house, but they can work to elevate the vents another 20-30 feet and consider inflatable plugs at Whitehall-SF to make it and the tunnel less vulnerable to floods.”

Good luck with that. The reason the configuration of the new South Ferry station is such a disaster — no tail tracks, less capacity — is that “environmentalists” objected to changes like taking down and replanting trees. And the “evil MTA” folded.

Jerrold November 15, 2012 - 3:30 pm

Less capacity than WHAT?
The old station only accommodated half of one train.
Two trains is four times that.

Nathanael November 15, 2012 - 6:41 pm


Andrew November 15, 2012 - 10:46 pm

I think he means track capacity. On a typical subway line, the most important characteristic of a terminal is not how many people the terminal itself can serve but how frequent a service it can process for the rest of the line. The busiest part of the line is usually far from either of its terminals. While South Ferry is an important transfer point, it isn’t one of the busier stations on the line, and trains are far more crowded further uptown. (Think about it this way: while having to move to the first five cars was inconvenient, those first five cars were never overcrowded at South Ferry, despite the rest of the train being unavailable.)

That said, one of the design goals of the new (now-destroyed) South Ferry terminal was to increase track capacity – did it fail?

John-2 November 15, 2012 - 3:31 pm

They could raise the vent house in the location it’s currently in — it may end up looking like some ugly concrete obelisk or some sort of reinforced prison guard tower with blank walls at the bottom and vent openings at the top. But getting the vents at existing locations as far above the maximum recorded flood levels as possible, and raising street gratings above the sidewalk in other low-lying areas would be the quickest and (relatively) cheapest ways to lessen future flood damages.

As for new South Ferry, water seeks its own level, and barring the installation of the mother or all sump pumps behind the bumper blocks, there’s no way the station won’t get flooded in future storms because unlike Whitehall Street, there’s no downhill river tunnel to drain the floodwaters. If storms like Sandy do become a regular weather pattern, the MTA might seriously want to think about getting those moving platforms back in place at upper South Ferry as part of the next flood contingency plan.

Nathanael November 15, 2012 - 6:42 pm

I kind of like the idea of turning the vent house into an obelisk. That would be quite the monument.

al November 15, 2012 - 3:38 pm

Apparently, the MTA has found a system to protect the vents. Check it out. They didn’t say were it is located (probably in Queens or Bklyn), but it was installed.


Jerrold November 15, 2012 - 11:15 am


I noticed that during the storm coverage, they frequently referred to the flooding of the SEVEN tunnels.

Now if I use the “old-fashioned” terminology, there are the IRT Lex.Ave. line tunnel, the IRT 7th Ave. line tunnel, the IND 6th Ave. line tunnel, the IND 8th Ave. line tunnel, the BMT tunnel, and the BMT 14th St.-Canarsie line tunnel.

That makes SIX.
I kept on wondering, “Where is the seventh tunnel?”.

(Of course, there are the Manhattan-Queens subway tunnels, but including those four would make a total of TEN. So I still don’t understand the SEVEN.)

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2012 - 11:34 am

Here’s the list of what tunnels flooded:

1. Cranberry St. (A/C)
2. Joralemon St. (4/5)
3. Montague St. (R)
4. Clark St. (2/3)
5. Rutgers St. (F)
6. 14th St. (L)
7. Steinway Tubes (7)
8. Newtown Creek (G)
9. 53rd St. (E/M)

So it was actually 9 inter-borough tunnels that flooded.

Jerrold November 15, 2012 - 1:30 pm

OK, thanks Ben!

Ricky Tinkelman November 15, 2012 - 2:49 pm

I am sure Lhota can count, he excludes the G, not under the East River, but were some tunnels “wet” but not flooded ?

Epson 43 November 15, 2012 - 3:47 pm

All of then are flooded… moderate to serve.

al November 15, 2012 - 3:25 pm

How much was the 53rd st tunnel flooded?

Jerrold November 15, 2012 - 3:33 pm

Oh, so you mean that maybe they were counting the 42nd St. (Steinway) Tunnel, but not the 53rd St. Tunnel.

IanM November 15, 2012 - 12:31 pm

True enough about preventative measures, but luckily (at least in this particular case), those don’t seem like they’d really be all that hard to implement. A lot of the water came from a particular ventilation shaft? Okay, just extend the entry point for that a few feet above sidewalk level. As for Whitehall St., either install gates on the entrances that can be closed in case of a storm, or surround them with permanent barriers and sets of stairs (so that you would walk up a few steps before going down into the station).

Compared to pumping out and repairing an entire tunnel, these do not seem like herculean feats of engineering. Just make it happen.

Jason November 15, 2012 - 1:25 pm

Cityhall station was built as a terminal….why can’t they terminate R trains there rather than 34th?

Larry Littlefield November 15, 2012 - 1:33 pm

The lower level platforms are not full-length.

Phantom November 15, 2012 - 3:28 pm

If they still Used the older cars with unlocked doors at the ends, this would not be a big problem.
You could just walk through the cars to the ones opening to the platform.

Still, as an R rider who travels to downtown Manhattan often, I think that the current arrangement works fine.

The R connection to the A C and F at Jay St is brilliant, suits me fine..

Nathanael November 15, 2012 - 6:44 pm

NYC Subway’s unwillingness to have “walk-through” trains — which are being adopted worldwide now — is odd.

Bolwerk November 16, 2012 - 6:39 pm

You mean articulated trains? I don’t think I’ve heard it entertained by NYCTA or anyone in NYC. It’s a good idea because it does add some seats and standing room without needing to lengthen platforms or anything.

It probably requires extensively redesigning rolling stock though, and I guess it could be maintenance- or safety compliance-intensive.

John-2 November 17, 2012 - 1:58 am

The TA got rid of the BMT’s articulated cars back in 1965, so it’s been a long time since it’s been tried in New York. But three-section, 150-foot long units would roughly equal three IRT-length sections put on top of a shared truck that could take the place on two 75-foot cars, but unlike the 75-footers would be able to ply the tracks of the Eastern Division (it would also have 36 doors per 600-foot train, four more than the 75-footers do now, albeit four less than a 10-car train of 60 foot cars).

The MTA seems to have made up its mind that 60-foot units are going to be the replacements for the 75-foot R-46 cars when they retire. But when the R-68s are up for replacement sometime late next decade, they might want to consider another look at the multi-section option.

Bolwerk November 17, 2012 - 2:37 pm

I’ve heard contradictory information about replacement of 75′ cars. On balance, though, they seem to have a good, consistent car design in place, so i have trouble blaming them for not wanting to redesign right now.

What does articulation get you? If each articulated pairing gets you another 60ft² of standing room, you might be getting 540ft² of extra space. That’s a studio apartment of space added to a 10-car train.

John-2 November 17, 2012 - 11:08 pm

The only downside I’ve heard is the possible problem maintaining the trucks and the moving components involved with the sections in-between the units. And I suppose another problem on the Eastern Division would be a three car multi-section train would only be 450 feet long, instead of the 480 feet an eight-car train of 60-footers would get you (though if you add in the extra standing room due to the elimination of four bulkheads, the cubic space might come pretty close to balancing out). It does seem as though if the MTA still has people in favor of the 75-footers due to fewer parts in an eight-car, 600-foot train, they should at least think about reviving the multis a decade from now, when the R-68/R-68A start approaching the end of their lifespans.

Alex C November 16, 2012 - 10:51 pm

What they should do is terminate R trains at Canal upper and turn them south of the station. Switches exist to turn trains there without running them into City Hall lower.


John November 15, 2012 - 3:43 pm

The people who really got the short end of the stick were the uptown customers at Prince St, 8th St-NYU, 23rd St, and 28th St. Supposedly, the Q train was supposed to go local between Canal St and 57 St-7 Av along with the N, but Astoria-bound trains continue to run express from Canal St to 34 St-Herald Sq, overloading the N train during peak hours and early evenings

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines November 16, 2012 - 8:54 am

[…] Restoration of R Train Service Between Manhattan and Brooklyn Weeks Away (SAS, News) […]

Andrew November 16, 2012 - 11:12 am

Is the flooding of the Montague tunnel related to the J still terminating at Chambers rather than Broad? Or is that just because it’s the J train and no one cares.

TeddyNYC November 16, 2012 - 2:10 pm

Yes, there’s a connection between the Broad St. station and the Montague St. tunnel. The M train used to run through the Montague St. tunnel, running between the Court St. station in Brooklyn Heights and the Broad St. station.

Patrick November 16, 2012 - 1:27 pm

i know i’m a day late & a dollar short but the doors between the cars were locked on old cars in response to a spike of clumsy people falling between the train. Also, I may be wrong but, the MTA can’t run the R over the Manhattan Bridge together with the other 4 lines because then it can cause a vibration issue that can potentially cause the Bridge to collapse mid-span & that is the LAST thing drivers & mass transit users want.

About The Rockaways: the MTA needs to seriously add another train option out there and knock off all the crowding on the A

Phantom November 16, 2012 - 1:53 pm

Not to beat this to death, but even if the end doors were locked, they could still have R trains enter the lower level of City Hall and just tell the passengers that they have to be in the first ( whatever ) number of cars in order to exit the train at the City Hall Station.

John November 16, 2012 - 3:49 pm

How does this work at Harlem-148 St? I’ve never been to that station. Do the doors on cars that are behind the platform still open, or can the operator choose which doors open on which cars? If that’s not something set up on the R train’s stock, I would think operating that way would be extremely dangerous.

Duke November 16, 2012 - 4:03 pm

You’re thinking of 145th Street, and it’s handled the same way the old South Ferry station was: only the front half of the train opens. For 8 and 10 car trains, the conductor always has to open each half of the train separately, so it’s simple to open only one half.

For this reason, though, it has to be half the train. 145th St’s platforms are long enough for six cars, but if you’re in the sixth car the doors don’t open. You just get to stare at the back end of the station out the window.

Patrick November 16, 2012 - 4:20 pm

OR 4/5 trains but i wouldnt tell my worst enemy to take either of those trains even during a good hour

My thought is this, why even run a section of the R between Manhattan & Queens at this time. a rerouted N to 71st Ave can do wonders(though if that happens there’s the conflict with the F, a longer route but still goes to Coney Island).

Unless you beat & threaten a MTA official(please don’t!), R south of 34th-Herald to Canal or even City Hall will not happen until the tunnel is fixed

Tower18 November 16, 2012 - 8:30 pm

And then what replaces the N in Astoria? The Q alone cannot handle Astoria.

Patrick November 17, 2012 - 7:41 am

Unfortunately, those unused R train sets on both the N & Q to both close the wait time a little & ease crowding

Urban Omnibus » Roundup — Sandy on Urban Systems, Obama on Climate Change, and Jacob on Sea Level Rise November 16, 2012 - 5:49 pm

[…] being restored, including the 1, J, and Z. The R trains won’t run under the East River for another two to three weeks; the lengthy tunnel has been pumped clear, but electrical fuses need replacing along the entire […]

Mike November 20, 2012 - 6:21 pm


R Local from Forest Hills to Canal Street.
N & Q Express service (like usual).

That would have a noticeable improvement on Subway service on the Broadway line.

subway fan November 23, 2012 - 12:29 pm

Please remember that the montague street tunnel was built by the BMT (a private company) and the the IRT tunnels ( joralemon and others) were also built by a private company. There was no unified planning in the construction of the tunnels

Peter November 27, 2012 - 1:53 am

What I fail to understand is the refusal of the MTA to honour a grace period to those of us who purchase seven day or 30 day unlimited cards during Sandy’s aftermath, especially in view of the fact that the buses were running sporadically and the trains were and still are not fully operational. And, yet, the MTA doesn’t hesitate to raise commuter’s fares (with one up and coming) and whine incessantly as to why there is a need for the increase.


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