Home View from Underground A glimpse at the work ahead for the Montague Tube

A glimpse at the work ahead for the Montague Tube

by Benjamin Kabak

The Montague St. tunnel, shaded white during its Sandy outage, will soon undergo extensive repairs.

The past weekend came and went with little fanfare, but for New York City, June 1 should have raised a few eyebrows. Down south in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Saturday marked the start of the hurricane season, and the first tropical depression that could warrant a name is brewing in the Gulf. New York City celebrated the start of the season by reopening the A train over the Jamaica Bay crossing and crossing its fingers that no storm would take aim at our city this summer.

For the MTA, last week’s reopening of the A train and regular service to the Rockaways was a milestone to celebrate, but it’s not time to rest on the laurels of that work. It may be easy for an armchair quarterback to look at the subway system and appreciate its return to a completed state barely seven months since Sandy arrived. With the old South Ferry loop recommissioned and Rockaway service restored, things are back to normal, right? At least, that’s how it appears on the subway map.

Of course, that’s far from the truth. On the one hand, the MTA hasn’t even addressed hardening the system in any significant manner. Parts of the Broad Channel crossing were rebuilt to withstand storm surges, but otherwise, every single part of the subway system that was vulnerable last October is still vulnerable this June. The MTA has begun to assess various solutions including tunnel plugs and removable floodwall paneling, but it’s a long ways away from implementing a fix.

On the other hand, the system isn’t really repaired. While service has been restored, components that were inundated with floodwaters are corroding at a rapid clip, and signal and switch problems are on the rise. This weekend, we received another glimpse at the future ahead of us as the MTA announced an upcoming bidding process for work in the Montague Tube. The R train’s connection from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn suffered extensive flooding and is one of the few tubes that will have to undergo a near-top-to-bottom makeover.

In the documents [pdf], the MTA offered up the following assessment:

Work includes the demolition of existing duct banks; removal & disposal of existing tunnel lighting, conduits, wiring, fixtures, ballast & receptacles; construction of new duct banks; installation of new Power & Communications cables in the new duct banks; reconstruction of circuit breaker houses CBH # 82, CBH # 83 & CBH # 91; rehabilitation of two substations (Montague Furman Substation & Broadway-Park Row Substation); new tunnel lighting including fixtures, wiring, & conduit; replacing isolation dampers & wiring for the fan plant; replacement of three submersible pumps & new AC/DC lighting at the pump rooms; track work including new rails & plates; installation of new 8” dry discharge line in both tubes; painting & lead abatement.

Needless to say, none of that is good news for riders who depend upon the R train for their daily commutes. MTA officials haven’t yet confirmed the extent of the work or any potential service outages, but I’ve heard long-term rerouting may come into play. On the bright side, the R train through Montague St. is one of the least-used East River subway crossings, and with the 4 and 5 trains via the Joralemon St. tunnel just downstream, riders enjoy plenty of redundant (and faster) service.

This work and the outages won’t be limited to the R train. The L train’s 14th St. tunnel suffered extensive damage, and the G train’s tube underneath Newtown Creek did as well. And now we’re in that hurricane season again with our fingers crossed that nothing will hit the area that could roll back the recovery progress already in the books. It takes time to rebuild and fortify the system, but time isn’t necessarily on our side.

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Alek June 4, 2013 - 2:09 am

According to the MTA planned service changes they will shut the tube in both directions for two weekends on the 15th and again on the 22nd sending the R on the Manhattan Bridge.

I noticed that several times the MTA sends the N/Q via the tube due to manhattan bridge work and lo and behold signals/switch problems causing massive delays. The next time if they going to send the N/Q via the tube they should have a back-up plan if something is screwy in the tube.


-Send the R via the Bridge on the D line then on the M line normal service after Queens Plaza

-Send the Q via the D line then switching to F line terminating at 57th-6th ave.

John-2 June 4, 2013 - 3:11 am

Looking at the list, outside of the concrete, nothing in Montague right now is going to be there after the repair work. Unless they opt for just a full-time shutdown, this is going to take a lot of weekends of work (during which the MTA will definitely be hoping for no more Sandys, or even Irenes in the forecast).

If they do opt for weekend/night shutdowns, R via Sixth Avenue weekends seems like the easiest solution, since both the M and B are in hibernation, leaving plenty of track space between DeKalb and Queens Plaza via the Manny B and 53rd. The biggest inconvenience — if you shut the B’way local line between DeKalb and Canal — is going to be for Brooklyn riders working west of Church at Rector or Cortlandt streets, and that’s probably not a really big number, especially on weekends (and you’d have to be working way west of Cortlandt right now, anyway, given where the station is located).

Spendmore Wastemore June 4, 2013 - 11:33 pm

“Needless to say, none of that is good news..”

While I don’t really want to know by how much MTA and to a greater extent Albany will inflate the costs, I don’t see this as bad news. IF they shut the tunnel entirely however long it takes to do the entire job, do it once and do it right (ha) then it’s a wise move. That’s much better than endless ‘unscheduled’ delays, re-routes and perhaps stalled trains. It is also vastly more efficient that piecework.

While they’re at it they need to increase speeds — make that reduce snailcrawling — in all of the tunnels. The slowest of the rolling stock is officially rated for 55mph, which is the minimum they should reach at the bottom of a U such as an under-river tunnel. Slower trains are great for union and management; you need more train and thus hire more staff, collect more dues and spend a larger budget for every increment of slowness injected into subterranean malaise in which the sardines marinate.

D.R. Graham June 4, 2013 - 6:06 am

Weekends? Understatements. The scope of the work that needs to be done likely leads to a full time shutdown like the Manny B. Not for as long but still longer than any weekend none the less.

skunky June 4, 2013 - 8:22 am

Since the East River’s not really a river but an estuary, the Joralemon tube isn’t really “downstream”.

Jerrold June 4, 2013 - 1:32 pm

Classifying the East River seems as much a matter of opinion as classifying Pluto.
They used to teach us back in elementary school in Brooklyn that the East River was actually a strait.
Some years ago, I read that it was a tidal river.
Now, it is an estuary.

Bolwerk June 4, 2013 - 2:33 pm

Technically, it seems to be both a strait and an estuary. Both refer to different characteristics, the latter having to do with the mingling of fresh and sea water.

I understand river to mean it flows by gravity from a point inland, so it’s not that except in name.

Larry Littlefield June 4, 2013 - 8:58 am

Yes it’s extensive and disruptive. But what would really be disastrous is if the structure of the tunnel itself was damaged, or an interlocking was damaged.

Full time shutdowns, or at least permanent overnight shutdowns, would probably be the best route. Hopefully it won’t be 20 years as on the Manhattan Bridge.

LLQBTT June 4, 2013 - 9:14 am

And what of the L tunnel? It was 1 of the last services to be restored. Is this in its future as well?

Adam C June 4, 2013 - 10:00 am

Does the MTA have any plans to upgrade signal systems while they are doing this work? Wouldn’t this be a good time to start the build-out of a CBTC system, at least in the Montague Street Tunnel? It would avoid later shutdowns and would be an efficient use of resources given that the agency may be rebuilding the duct banks.

Bolwerk June 4, 2013 - 10:43 am

Is the R Train equipment even CBTC-ready?

Epson45 June 4, 2013 - 11:13 am


Justin Samuels June 4, 2013 - 12:20 pm

The MTA will issue a new order of trains, the R211, in a few years. So they might be able to at least start the process of upgrading the tunnels to CBTC, even if they can’t fully do it now.

John-2 June 4, 2013 - 11:57 am

There might also be a question over funds designation — if the federal disaster relief money is very narrowly defined in terms of simply replacing what was damaged by Sandy, the MTA would probably have to finance any CBTC upgrades in the Montague tunnel out of their own pocket. And there may only be X amount of dollars in the 2013-14 capital budget for CBTC, and it all may be consigned to the upgrades on the Flushing Line.

Bolwerk June 4, 2013 - 12:31 pm

Well, if CBTC is “shovel-ready,” maybe it does make sense to go that route. Replacing decades-old signals isn’t cheap.

I just doubt it’s ready, and I would guess we can’t wait.

D.R. Graham June 4, 2013 - 6:07 pm

Here’s the problem with all of this. CBTC is signalling on the console of the train. When in automatic mode the trains knows what it should be doing and when based on the reads and in manual mode the train operator looks at the console screen for speed and signalling condition. All of this works via way side computers.

CBTC is decades from getting rolled out over the mainline. For two reasons. Costs and compatible rolling stock. The entire fleet has to reach compatible status for CBTC to run system wide. The youngest of the non-new tech equipment has 30 years left to roll.

The point…CBTC wayside computers don’t come on the cheap. Yes they can be installed in the rehab project of the tunnel but at what cost? And when will they be able to be used since the R runs on the mainline? By the time CBTC would really be able to be used in that tunnel the wayside computers if installed now would likely be outdated technology by the time the rest of the system starts receiving their installs meaning uninstalling old outdated unused equipment for newer at likely double the costs.

Nathanael June 17, 2013 - 3:36 pm

New ductbanks can be designed to allow for easy installation of the necessary wiring. The fiber optics can be put in and the signal cabinets can be put in. The actual installation of “CBTC” can be done some other time much more quickly if this is done.

Phantom June 4, 2013 - 9:19 pm

I use that tunnel at least 5 days a week, amd I strongly endorse a well managed and budgeted shutdown that gets the project completed faster.

Get it done.


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