Home Manhattan Photos: Inside the newly-restored old South Ferry

Photos: Inside the newly-restored old South Ferry

by Benjamin Kabak

A glimpse into the refurbished South Ferry loop station. (Photo courtesy of MTA)

In a few days — some indeterminate time next week — the MTA will recommission an old station when the 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station reopens. With a new connection to the R train at Whitehall and some restored mosaic work, the reopened southern terminal will be just good enough, if far from perfect.

Late yesterday, the agency posted a series of photos ahead of next week’s reopening. There is still no set date for the first train to service South Ferry, but it’s going to arrive as April does. Staten Island Ferry customers will rejoice, but the station will come with warts and all. It’s still just a five-car loop; it still isn’t ADA-compliant; it still features narrow platforms and few egress points. Yet, a subway station is a subway station is a subway station, and with the new South Ferry terminal years away from restoration, reactivating the loop is a welcome move.

So what exactly goes into restoring a subway station not in service for nearly four years? From the mundane to the intricate, the MTA offered up a checklist. Cleaning, of course, is top on the list as is painting and installing new signage, electricity, better lighting and a PA system. The MTA had to refurbish the gap fillers, repair wall tiles, build a new staircase and entryway, repair some escalators and reinstate fare control and the station entrance. It’s quite the laundry list of tasks, and it all happened within five months of Sandy.

So as I ponder these photos and the station virtually on the eve of its reopening, I have to wonder why everything else in the subway system seems to take so long. With right pressure from Board members and politicians, the MTA reconstructed South Ferry in a few months. Everything else seems to take forever.

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John-2 March 29, 2013 - 3:52 am

Better to have to walk to the front five cars for the next few years than walk five long blocks down from Rector to South Ferry. And the transfer sign to the R is something those narrow stairs never saw in their first 104 1/2 years of existence.

Bolwerk March 31, 2013 - 10:49 am

Any chance they’ll relax the ban on moving between cars?

John-2 April 1, 2013 - 3:44 am

Doubt it, because the main place passengers would need to cross, from the sixth to the fifth car, is blocked by the full-width conductor’s cab.

Unless the MTA’s going to peel the R-62 cabs back to their old half-widths and make the C/Rs switch cars for the local and express stops, passengers in cars 6-10 are going to have to get out and walk the platform to get to the fifth car anyway. So I’m sure the MTA will just keep the restrictions on walking between any of the cars in place.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 5:29 pm

Unless the MTA’s going to peel the R-62 cabs back to their old half-widths and make the C/Rs switch cars

You mean cabs? It could be a bit confusing.

Think twice March 29, 2013 - 6:55 am

It always seems to be a question of how much political pressure can be put to a project. From the rapid rebuilding of the tunnel under Ground Zero, to the relatively rapid construction of the 7 train extension (lots of pressure from Mayor Bloomberg), to the rapid Sandy recovery. And if that’s how the game is played, then all the public and media pressure on the MTA itself won’t be nearly as effective as pressuring/recruiting our politicians to exert their own pressure instead. Just whet their appetite with visions of ribbon cuttings and press conferences.

Jerrold March 29, 2013 - 10:53 am

Not to mention the rubble removal in the months after 9/11.
When all the parties involved want to get something done quickly, it gets done quickly.
Isn’t it unfortunate that THAT is not the case when it comes to the SAS, the East Side Access, the Calatrava Center, etc.?

Larry Littlefield March 29, 2013 - 7:42 am

“It’s still just a five-car loop; it still isn’t ADA-compliant; it still features narrow platforms and few egress points.”

Those problems could be solved by digging out a five car platform extension — near the surface in a park — and adding an ADA compliant entrance.

You’d still have to operate the gap fillers into the future. And you’d have to remove and replace some trees. Is that worth the $billion, between the original station construction and its rehabilitation?

Robert LaMarca March 29, 2013 - 10:44 am

Could someone please explain: was the old station not also flooded? If so, how is it easier to put that one back into operation than the newer one? Is it just that it is smaller? less sophisticated?

John-2 March 29, 2013 - 11:37 am

Because the loop tracks to the Seventh Avenue and Lexington Avenue lines can’t cross at grade, and because the Lex connection is actually the original loop track built in 1908, when the Seventh Avenue local tracks were tied in a decade later, the section headed back towards Rector Street descends to allow the Lexington Avenue connecting tracks to pass above them. That means the tracks coming out of South Ferry northbound are downhill towards Rector Street.

Since water travels downhill, that’s the direction the loop station drained during Sandy. But before the water made it way to Rector it found a new downhill path — the track connection to the new South Ferry station. So Upper South Ferry could drain its floodwaters into the Lower South Ferry Station. Lower South Ferry, being not only below the upper station, but also beneath the 4/5 and R/N tunnels to Brooklyn, had nowhere else for thew water to go (where water flowing into Whitehall Street drained into the Montague tunnel).

Eric Brasure March 29, 2013 - 12:04 pm

The old South Ferry station didn’t flood because it’s higher than the new South Ferry station. All the water flowed to the lowest point it could find.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 10:40 am

The old, loop station is closer to street level. Remember, the new, island platform SF absorbed all the water from both the old SF and Whitehall Street stations.

MH/Nova March 29, 2013 - 10:45 am

Wonder why there has never been a R/1 transfer at South Ferry before the new South Ferry station was built in ’09?

Ryan March 31, 2013 - 9:50 pm


Nick Ober March 29, 2013 - 10:52 am

The old station was indeed flooded as well but it sits above the new South Ferry station.

Someone March 29, 2013 - 11:28 am

Wow, that looks nice!
It’s strange the MTA can come up with the money to restore a temporary station while dozens of others continue to look like post-Armageddon…

Benjamin Kabak March 29, 2013 - 11:29 am

Federal funding.

Rob March 29, 2013 - 2:36 pm

seems to me that the mta went overboard in patching up an emergency expedient temporary station — did it really need new tile, restored artwork, etc under these conditions? No, of course not, but you answered the question. But it would have been nice if someone had enough integrity to say we will do only the minimum necessary and not fleece the nation’s taxpayers for all we can.

I had been thinking the alternate possibility was that all this work meant that the old station would be kept in svc for a long time, and the more vulnerable new one essentially abandoned [hard as it might be for them to admit they made a mistake in building it so flood-prone as they did].

D.R. Graham March 29, 2013 - 7:51 pm

Restoring existing artwork by cleaning it does not cost much money at all. We might be going to the extreme on this. The feds require it. They are the reason trains get sent to the car wash. The feds pay for that and in turn trains cannot run with graffiti covered cars in service not even for one run.

Ryan March 31, 2013 - 9:58 pm

Then why are the R32s running? They have graffiti all over the windows, at least acid graffiti, anyway.

Ryan March 31, 2013 - 9:51 pm

Name one station which the MTA suddenly has had the money to refurbish overnight. Oh wait, the MTA doesn’t care!

Against Someone April 1, 2013 - 4:10 pm

Stop with your redundant comments. It’s destroying the integrity of this website.

Eric Brasure March 29, 2013 - 12:05 pm

Is there any word on how they were able to reactivate a non-ADA station? I remember that being quite the point of contention when reopening the old station was being floated.

The Cobalt Devil March 29, 2013 - 1:13 pm

Yes, there were many know-it-alls on this site saying over and over that the old SF station would NEVER reopen without an ADA waiver that would take YEARS to obtain.

Maybe the Feds took a few common sense pills and realized a non-ADA compliant station is better than none at all.

John-2 March 29, 2013 - 2:30 pm

I’m actually a bit surprised the old South Ferry station is five steps up from the new SF mezzanine — I was thinking the difference was only 1-2 steps at best, to the point they might be able to put in an ADA compatible ramp instead of stairs at the new entry point.

But the idea that — after all Staten Island’s residents had gone through and the bad publicity FEMA had gotten over South shore relief efforts — the Feds were going to tell the borough’s commuters to stuff it when it came to getting an ADA waiver to reopen the old station showed a high belief in bureaucratic inflexibility and/or government stupidity when dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

andrew March 29, 2013 - 3:42 pm

i believe ADA access can be succeeded by installing ramp over the steps from new concourse – i was viewing the new steps – they should realised how easy to install it because the new concourse already has Elevator access (street to concourse)
MTA should realise wheelchairs/pram have to carried down or up on few steps (5 steps up) a shallow steps which warrants a ramp access for this such

reopening old stations should been done carefully – ADA could modified example adding accessible ramp and accessible boarding spot (near driver) with easy to board

in UK – old stations reopened have to have disabled access installed eg new elevators or ramps

Chris C March 29, 2013 - 5:22 pm

If you look at image 6 of the MTA picture set yes it is only 5 steps but they are quite steep and you would need a long ramp to make it safe to push a pram or wheelchair up or down it. You can’t just install a ramp over the stairs – you need a longer run up

And if that ramp extends onto the platform area then it becomes a hazzard for the able bodied who could trip over its edges.

And there is no way a ramp could be constructed up/down the stairs in picture 16

Chris C March 29, 2013 - 8:51 pm

I did some research and an ADA compliant ramp needs to be 12 foot long for every foot of rise.

So for a 5 foot high flight of stairs that means a ramp of 60 feet.

John-2 March 29, 2013 - 10:39 pm

Probably about 30-40 feet, since most steps are 6-8 inches in height. But the point remains, because the ramp would still have had to been built with a curve, and extending well out into the new SF mezzanine area. When the lower station reopens, the stairs can just be blocked with new double doors at the portal.

Ryan March 31, 2013 - 9:49 pm

A wheelchair ramp could only go so high before it is forced to make twists and turns.

Because ADA regs require a 1:12 slope for wheelchairs and scooters for business and public use, a 60 foot long ramp is going to be necessary, and there will be many problems in finding the space to build it. The problem is, the MTA neither has the money nor the time to build such a ramp.

In the UK and Hong Kong, where I have previously resided, the slope of all new wheelchair ramps has to be 1:12.

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 7:05 pm

I thought the UK had a 1:10 requirement. The US requirement is 1:12.

JJJJ March 29, 2013 - 2:45 pm

The ADA cops cant exact arrest the station.

Ryan April 2, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Besides, it was built waaay before ADA came into effect.

Kevin Walsh March 30, 2013 - 12:36 am

Returning to an earlier question, how come they couldn’t do an R transfer from South Ferry all those years (since 1915?) when the BMT was built?

John-2 March 30, 2013 - 1:01 am

I suppose it was just a matter of lack of will to do the corridor tunneling once the city owned the IRT and BMT.

Remember, the original BMT stairs closest to the South Ferry terminal required a bit of a walk away from the terminal to the northeast and then another bit of a walk underground to get to the fare control area, which was almost right below the Whitehall Street staircase at Front Street (this 1960 shot, when Front Street still ran through to Whitehall, shows how far back the entrance was from the terminal). So to connect up to the IRT within fare control would have required a new passageway going back southwest beneath Peter Minuit Plaza over to where the front end of the South Ferry station was located. The creation of the lower South Ferry station more than doubled the size of the mezzanine and expanded it to the west, which is what allows the impending connection between the R and the old SF station to be done now on the (relative) cheap.

The city and the MTA certainly did connecting pedestrian transfer tunnels longer than this one, and this connection probably would have been about as long as the Bryant Park tunnel that allowed the B/D/F/M transfer to the 7 starting in the 1970s. But it would have been a lot more work to create the link before lower South Ferry and the bigger mezzanine was built than it is now.

The Cobalt Devil March 30, 2013 - 3:37 am

Also there was already a transfer between the BMT and the 7th Ave IRT at Court St/Borough Hall in Brooklyn, so a South Ferry link was/is somewhat redundant.

Someone April 1, 2013 - 2:04 pm

The 7 Avenue IRT local connection at SF and the 7 Avenue IRT express connection at Court Street are connections to two different line. At least the SF connection does not force R train riders to make more than one transfer to get to the 1 train.

D.R. Graham March 30, 2013 - 10:58 am

As others have mentioned the Brooklyn transfers were already in place for quite a long time. More importantly on the Manhattan side the connection was only made for a few reasons. 1. The reconstruction of the boat terminal above opening up space. 2. The construction of the new South Ferry terminal for the 1. 3. ADA access being provided for both stations without additional costs of provide ADA access individually on the entrance level.

MH March 30, 2013 - 8:15 am

There is also another transfer between those lines at Atlantic as well…but you can argue that it’s redundant even though they are transfer point to local lines only…

Blue March 31, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Building infrastructure helps the city. The former wasteland of Williamsburg is growing its tax revenue partly because the L has doubled its capacity to bring workers into the city. Astoria is greatly increasing in popularity. I think bringing the W back as the Q is diverted to the 2nd ave subway will help continue Astoria’s growth and improve tax revenue for the city.

Benjamin Kabak March 31, 2013 - 4:48 pm

I’ve mentioned this numerous times, but when SAS is ready, the MTA isn’t just going to cut service to Astoria. It’s not even worth discussing because it is going to flat-out not happen.

Ryan March 31, 2013 - 9:43 pm

It is simple. Just redirect certain Q trains to Astoria, while still keeping the N train local in Manhattan. It eliminates the complication of having multiple services, and it increases the frequency of Q trains north of Canal Street

Matthias April 1, 2013 - 9:58 am

That would mean less service for both Astoria and Second Avenue. There is a limit to how many N Q trains can run over the bridge.

Someone April 1, 2013 - 10:35 am

Okay… then run some R trains to Astoria, and run the N express south of 34th Street while keeping the trains-per-hour count of the R between Queens Plaza and 71 Avenue. This increases R service south of Canal Street, and does not reduce service to Astoria, Queens Boulevard, Second Avenue, or Broadway.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 10:35 am

With CBTC installed in the bridge and in the 60th Street tunnel, that won’t need to happen.

Ryan March 31, 2013 - 9:41 pm

And meanwhile, MTA crews are still working to find a solution for the flooding problem at the new SF station. Recent estimates show that it could take as long as 2 or 3 years to reopen it.

g April 1, 2013 - 9:02 am

Which of course actually means more like 5 years in MTA time.

This explains why they did so much work to the old station…it will probably remain in service for the better part of a decade.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 9:53 am

In the eyes of most, there’s no point in wasting $2 million for a temp station. That’s probably why the MTA prefers to keep it open even after the lower SF is ready for service.

Andre L. April 2, 2013 - 4:15 pm

I’m flabbergasted at how some fellow commentators are dismissive of ADA, as if it were some sort of pointless law that shouldn’t exist.

ADA is one of the best pieces of legislation to have come out of the 1990s in US. It makes objective requirements, it didn’t create an enormous federal bureaucracy to regulate its implementation and oversee it, it deals effectively with an issue that plagued disabled citizens for decades – their basic abilities to function in society with reasonable accommodations.

So no matter how nostalgic some people are, I can’t understand why this hatred towards ADA. Just because you are wheelchair bound or blind doesn’t mean your only option should be crappy buses or para-transit. Wait! The city doesn’t have money to provide paratransit in lieu of ADA compliance.

I keep wondering if these same people, had they been born couple decades older, would dismiss anti-women discrimination on workplace policies on the grounds it required “waste” of space for female vestibules and washroom in many place “where few women would want to work anyway”.

Benjamin Kabak April 2, 2013 - 4:21 pm

A lot of issues surrounding the ADA from a transit perspective concern the costs. It’s an unfunded federal mandate that exerts huge costs on transit agencies one way or another. Very noble goals that shouldn’t have to be federally mandated, but costs need to be contained.

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 7:19 pm

It’s got extremely reasonable rules.

If NYC Transit hadn’t allowed its stations to go to pot, to the point where they need to be rebuilt from scratch, no station would ever trigger the “new build” conditions which require ADA compliance. The incremental costs of adding ADA access as stations were renovated would just seem normal.

Because NYC Transit allowed its stations to go to pot, it looks as if “ADA” is the problem, when the real problem is *deferred maintenance*.

(The key stations rule is a different one. NYC was already under court order about key stations BEFORE the ADA passed due to repeated lawsuits, because until the 1980s they just flat refused to build accessible stations. NYC Transit actually has a frankly horrible record and there’s a reason people are cutting it no slack.)

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 7:30 pm


I’d like to point out how rare this hostility to wheelchair access actually is, nationally.

Philadelphia, which has historically been a foot-dragger, is well past its key stations list. When it did a rehab of the west end of the Market St. Elevated, *every* station got wheelchair access. Contrast the nasty behavior of NYC Transit during the rehabs of the elevated lines in Brooklyn, *none* of which got wheelchair access.

Boston’s system — which is *older* than New York’s — is well past finishing its key stations, and is now nearing the completion of wheelchair access for all the stations except some of the surface stops on the Green Line.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland, which are both close to broke, are making faster progress than New York. Yes, most of their lines are on the surface, but New York won’t even provide wheelchair access at surface stations.

*London* is progressing faster than New York. And the UK’s “Disability Discrimination Act” is newer than our ADA, and less strict.

To be fair, NJT and LIRR are not really pro-active about doing ADA work either. But this goes to show that this is a localized issue of bad attitudes on the part of NY-area officials.

Andre L. April 5, 2013 - 12:27 am

While I do concede some room to the argument of “unfunded mandates”, it shouldn’t be an argument to exempt all transit agencies (or other agencies delivering public services or companies opened for intake of general public costumers) from reasonable costs of complying with non-discriminatory acts.

I cited the example of female bathrooms, vestibules and else – it was used extensively by public agencies, universities, utility companies and all sorts of law enforcement/military institutions to attempt to justify barring women from certain occupations (“few women would like to study engineerings, the costs of building female facilities and dorms would be too high, let them choose other colleges with other programs”).

ADA transit facilities also provide a big positive boon: it makes using transit easier for the occasional rider who, while not disable, is carrying a stroller, is occasionally dragging a suitcase to the airport, or has a bad knee recovering from a twist.


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