Just last night I discussed the looming work awaiting R train riders on the Montague Tube. in the aftermath of Sandy. We knew the work would be long and service changes onerous, but we didn’t know the timing for the extensive repairs. Now, we do, and the news for R train riders is not good.
As Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal reported tonight, the Montague Tube will be closed completely for 12-14 months essentially in order to strip everyone out of the tube and rebuild everything inundated by the Sandy floodwaters. I had heard rumors that such a shutdown was coming but did not know of the timing. My original source with knowledge of the situation also said the G train’s Greenpoint tube would undergo a similar outage, but the plans have changed. Rather, the G will not run between Brooklyn and Queens for 12 weekends later this year with similar outages planned for the summer of 2014.
It’s one giant mess with the worst of it in the Manhattan/Brooklyn connector. Mann reports that work will begin in August and last through most, if not all, of 2014. He calls it “the biggest post-Sandy setback for the MTA ” and writes:
While no similar outages are planned as yet for the MTA’s other under-river tunnels, the closure of the Montague tube underscores how hard it will be to complete some critical storm repairs while continuing to run a 24-hour subway system. “Pretty much anything down there that’s made of metal is rusting,” the official said. “And sooner or later, it has to come out.”
While the MTA was able to pump out subway tunnels and restart service on the trains after the storm, a threat to the system remained: the lingering corrosion from brackish floodwaters. The salt from storm surges heavily damaged sensitive electronic components in the tunnels, and continues to eat away at wires, cables and motors, causing failures that have snarled commutes. “They’re all starting to fail,” Wynton Habersham, the MTA’s chief electrical officer, said this spring before the decision to shut down Montague was made.
MTA work crews have spent months trying to fix problems in the Montague tube, which was among the most heavily damaged by flooding and the final under-river tunnel to be restored to working order, in December. Signal failures have been a chronic problem in the tunnel since the storm, leading to delayed trains and sometimes requiring rerouting R trains over the Manhattan Bridge to cross the river.
The official said MTA leaders determined earlier this spring that they couldn’t complete the necessary work using the normal mix of overnight and off-hour shifts. Instead, the full tunnel will be shut down this summer so the damaged components — from lighting to the signals that enable trains to safely move through the system — can be replaced. The cost will be at least $100 million, according to legal notices prepared for the project.
According to The Journal, during the 12-14 months of construction, R train service patterns will more or less resemble post-Sandy routing. During the week, the train will operate in two sections north from Whitehall St. and south in Brooklyn from Court St. During the weekends, trains will run into Manhattan via the Manhattan bridge.
The silver lining in all of this, though, are the nearby service redundancies. There’s no way around the transfer between the R and some other line for Manhattan-bound passengers, but the connections are relatively painless and more reliable than the R itself. The 4 and 5 East Side IRT closely mirrors the R from Atlantic Ave. to Union Square, providing easy access to the BMT’s Lower Manhattan stations. It’s not perfect, but it could be worse.
This news, though, is yet another reminder of the damages from Sandy and the system’s vulnerability. It would be silly to spend hundreds of millions and cause extensive service disruptions without hardening the system at the same time. But so far, news stories on anti-flood measures have been few and far between. It’s a dangerous roll of the dice.