Home Superstorm Sandy The Bad News: A 12-14 month outage for the R’s Montague Tube

The Bad News: A 12-14 month outage for the R’s Montague Tube

by Benjamin Kabak
Map via <a href='http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324563004578525602849939578.html'><p id=WSJ.” width=”555″ height=”568″ class=”size-full wp-image-13304″ /> Map via WSJ.

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.

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John-2 June 5, 2013 - 1:59 am

On the plus side for Staten Island residents coming over by boat, they’ll now essentially have two terminal stations at South Ferry, with the 1 and R both terminating there during weekdays. As with the days when the W (and before that the EE) terminated at Whitehall, you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat headed uptown on the R for 12-16 months.

(SI residents coming over the V-Z and transferring to the R at 86th Street, might not be as sanguine about the service disruption, let alone Brooklyites living along the Fourth Avenue corridor and working downtown. But odds are most SI riders already were switching to the N or D at 59th or 36th streets, and as noted, transfers to the 2/3/4/5 at Atlantic (Pacific) or to the A/C at Jay make alternate access routes to Lower Manhattan about as painless as possible under the conditions).

Andrew June 5, 2013 - 9:51 pm

Seats are not hard to come by on the R today at Whitehall, even at the height of the rush.

TOM June 6, 2013 - 8:38 pm

Or the B @ DeKalb. Riders will sort this but those trains will be more crowded. Have you heard any mitigation measures(more trains) from MTA?

Bgriff June 5, 2013 - 8:29 am

Can we–and are we–replacing these components with ones that are more waterproof? These tunnels will flood again. I’m thinking especially of the more sophisticated CBTC electronics in the 14th Street tunnel, which will eventually appear elsewhere.

Bolwerk June 5, 2013 - 9:06 am

I would guess simply floodproofing the tunnel is more the plan. I doubt you can waterproof everything, but you can probably keep it from getting submerged in the first place.

(It’s not just water that’s the problem. Saltwater especiallly corrosive.)

Bgriff June 5, 2013 - 9:34 am

I know the MTA has talked about this but it just seems impractical. Even with the inflatable tunnel plugs, trying to stop ocean waters from finding a way into a massive hole in the ground seems like a seriously losing battle. Massive quantities of water will find a way into any crack they can.

Scully June 5, 2013 - 10:36 am

It really is amazing that this hasn’t happened before in the history of the subway.

TOM June 6, 2013 - 8:41 pm

As was stated by recovery officials at an MTA forum: You can block up an entrance but where’s the water to go? Answer: There’s too much and it’s got to go somewhere.

Jimbo June 5, 2013 - 10:03 am

Obviously, the replacement of the current components with more modern, more waterproof ones would be ideal. The problem lies with the strictures the feds have put on the Sandy money. The feds are prioritizing “repair” work over “resiliency” work, and they would certainly look dubiously upon “well, we may as well while we’re here” upgrades. So, the MTA simply has more hurdles to deal with to get funding to put in new equipment in place, even if that equipment is actually “Sandy” work in a broad sense.

Larry Littlefield June 5, 2013 - 9:40 am

It will be interesting to see if any pandering pols, such as our state legislators or the candidates for Mayor, or the Straphangers demand that service be maintained — the cost of years of delays and far more money.

Before Walder, no one would have dared to do something like this. They’d have let the thing rot until there was a 20 year shutdown, as on the Manny B.

But if people really have learned their lesson, now that the MTA is broke, how about ending night- and weekend-only construction only on the roads, which started in the Pataki Administration? Just shut one of them down and get the job done far faster and cheaper.

As it happens, as one of those who uses transit and bicycles for everyday transportation, the construction is right when I am most likely to be driving.

John-2 June 5, 2013 - 10:07 am

I think Sandy’s still fresh enough in people’s minds — the Rockaways just got their service back last week — so that anyone who is part of the immediate gratification crowd (“I want my R train under the river and I want it now!”) would shy away from the battle, because they would come across as petulant whiners. Eight months from now, even though the MTA’s saying it will be a 12-16 month project, may be another story.

The MTA does need to address the public with whatever storm effect mitigation efforts they’re planning, along with the tunnel shutdown. Replacing everything down to the concrete is fine, but between this and lower South Ferry on the 1, people hearing about the repair costs and time involved will want to know both what is being done to at least limit the salt water invasion the next time, and if the new equipment will be modular enough so that the most vulnerable parts could be removed from any threatened areas with a 24-48 hour advance warning.

Chris June 5, 2013 - 11:58 am

Councilman Vincent Gentile’s press release this morning was titled “MTA TO SOUTH BROOKLYN: DROP DEAD.” So yeah, the pandering has already begun.

SEAN June 5, 2013 - 10:06 am

At some point the other East River tunnels are going to need similar work, but not to the same extreme. One can imagine what kind of commuting nightmare would be created if the 2/3, 4/5, E/M or another route needed to be shut down for an extended length of time.

Herb Lehman June 5, 2013 - 10:49 am

If this work has to be done, it has to be done, but please, let’s not downplay the effects of a long-term closure of the R line. It’s not as simple as presented here. The 4/5 trains traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan during rush hours are already crush loaded and cannot handle additional crowds. The 2/3 trains are not a whole lot better. The R is a slow line with inadequate service, but it does take stress off those trains. It’s going to be very badly missed for 12-14 months.

Benjamin Kabak June 5, 2013 - 10:52 am

I don’t mean to downplay it. It will put pressure on other subway lines as any outage does. But if you compare to any of the other East River crossings, this is the one easiest to compensate for. There’s no doubt about it. It’s basically the best of a bad situation.

Herb Lehman June 6, 2013 - 9:56 am

I can’t disagree, this is nothing compared to a shutdown of the 4/5 or 2/3.

The outage would be a little easier to swallow if something, anything, ran to Whitehall Street on weekends. I don’t know why the MTA is under the impression that the lower Manhattan stations are ghost towns on weekends. They are anything but.

Benjamin Kabak June 6, 2013 - 10:00 am

The R train’s Lower Manhattan stations are pretty much ghost towns on weekends, and all are nearby other stations with connections to Brooklyn (Bowling Green, City Hall, Fulton St.).

Andrew June 5, 2013 - 10:26 pm

None of the trains out of Brooklyn are crush loaded. In fact, aside from the L, none of the Brooklyn trains are particularly crowded at all, compared to the loading guidelines (110 per car on the A Division, 145 per car on B Division 60 foot cars, 175 per car on B Division 75 foot cars).

(I wish people would stop using “crush loaded” to mean “more crowded than I prefer”. A clump of people blocking the door doesn’t make a train crush loaded.)

The R is particularly un-crowded across the river, and its riders will spread out – some on the 2/3, some on the 4/5, some on the A/C, some on the F, some on the B, D, N, and Q, some on bikeshare and other modes.

It won’t be painless, but closing this particular tube is as close as possible to painless: it’s relatively low-ridership and it has multiple alternatives with spare capacity. Any other full-time tube closure, anywhere on the subway, would be significantly more painful.

Alex C June 6, 2013 - 12:11 am

It’s an inconvenience, but the N/Q and 4/5 will definitely be able to pick up the slack due to the R not really being crush loaded during even rush hours. The X27 will probably take some of the load, too.

Herb Lehman June 6, 2013 - 9:59 am

I ride the 4/5 daily from Bowling Green to Grand Central during the dead of rush hour; I can tell you first hand that 80% of those trains have zero room for additional passengers to board by the time they reach Fulton Street WITHOUT an R train shutdown. When the R wasn’t running after Sandy, it was noticeably worse. That said, if the shutdown has to be done, it has to be done — there’s no real way around the problem of crowding.

Andrew June 6, 2013 - 10:52 pm

Your first and second sentences are contradictory.

The IRT guideline load is 110 per car. A crush load is somewhere in the area of 150, I believe. And by the time the car reaches 80, it feels really crowded, even though it can take on 37% more passengers before it reaches guideline levels.

When people can’t board a train, it’s usually because other people have clumped up by the doors. If there’s room in the middle, the car isn’t full, even if you can’t get there without pushing through the clump. IRT cars can easily handle two rows of standees between the seats (one row facing each bench), but people often position themselves in the middle, taking up twice as much space as necessary.

Don’t forget that Lower Manhattan also has the 2/3 and the A/C, and people going to Midtown will mostly end up on the more direct trains over the bridge (all of which also happen to be an easier transfer from the R).

Alex June 5, 2013 - 11:00 am

Seems to me the G Train perpetual weekend work is almost worse since there is absolutely no good alternative. Although the R work will be constant for over a year, the multiple redundancies really soften that blow. But the G already is nearly useless on the weekends. How about an express bus over the Pulaski Bridge running the full G route (not just the parts knocked out). Or at least between Court Sq and Metropolitan Ave.

Eric Brasure June 5, 2013 - 11:32 am

It’s not great, but it’s not that bad. The connection to the L will be available. It will lengthen trips for passengers going to midtown, but since midtown is a much less popular destination over the weekend, it shouldn’t be too disruptive. And it’s much preference to a complete shutdown of the tunnel, which would put a LOT of pressure on the L and Lexington lines, not to mention the B62.

BenW June 5, 2013 - 11:54 am

The problem is that there’s no crossover between Bedford-Nostrand and Court Square, so “no service into Queens” also presumably means “shuttle service every 20 minutes from Greenpoint Ave. to Bedford-Nostrand,” which not a very functional train for people who live North and East of Clinton Hill. Unless they can squeeze another crossover in Greenpoint out of the Sandy repair fund, which sounds nice but unlikely.

Chris June 5, 2013 - 12:01 pm

According to the track map, there’s a switch between Nassau and Greenpoint.

Kai B June 5, 2013 - 5:10 pm

It is already used occasionally for late-night work on weekdays.

It also allowed the GG to terminate at Nassau (from Queens) for its first four years of operation.

Andrew June 5, 2013 - 10:37 pm

I could understand extending the local bus to Metropolitan, so that riders at Greenpoint who need the L train don’t have to make a second transfer.

But what’s the point of an express bus connecting one transfer point to another? If you’re at Court Square and you need Manhattan, you can take the 7 or E. If you’re at Metropolitan and you need Manhattan, you can take the L.

A bus running between Nassau and Court Square every 3-5 minutes is quite expensive, and it does the job.

Jenelle June 5, 2013 - 11:27 am

The 4 & 5 trains are going to have to have improved scheduling as soon as this starts. I used to always get on at DeKalb but since Sandy have always got on the 4 & 5 at Borough Hall as I preferred how frequent they are. These are packed already. During the R downtime, I frequently had to wait for a couple of trains to go through to just be able to board.

Then the connections to this service on the B38 bus. They are so overcrowded and the bunching of buses is so severe that on evenings especially, people trying get on at LaFayette/Fulton simply cannot get on.

Throw in the issue with the G train at the end of my street and it is like I will be in an MTA abyss.


Andrew June 5, 2013 - 10:39 pm

Once you get past the door-blockers, there’s room in the middle of the train. In my experience riding the 4/5 out of Brooklyn, the rear end of the train also tends to be a bit emptier.

If you want to see a really crowded train, try the L, or the E, or the 4/5 (or even the 2) from the Bronx.

Eric F June 5, 2013 - 11:50 am

The worst part of it –as detailed in Transportation Nation and elsewhere on this blog — is that Christie has yet to fire James Weinstein over it.

Benjamin Kabak June 5, 2013 - 11:52 am

That’s a completely misleading comparison and you know it. How much of the MTA’s movable equipment was damaged during Sandy? Now compare that with how much New Jersey Transit’s suffered damage.

Eric F June 5, 2013 - 1:32 pm

Yes, I’m being snarky.

But no one has provided a coherent description of where NJ’s stuff was supposed to be moved to, generally sputtering that some sort of “acknowledgement” of global warming is supposed to have saved the trains. It didn’t save this tunnel.

Bolwerk June 5, 2013 - 2:16 pm

This is about as dumb as “hurr, my driveway is flooding tomorrow, where do I park my car?”

NJT could have stored the trains anywhere that wasn’t prone to flooding. On the mainline tracks in the middle of any of New Jersey’s vast piedmont region would have been fine, and is totally within normal operating bounds for a railroad. It really doesn’t get any simpler or more coherent than that. If you can’t understand it, you’re a fucking idiot.

The Phantom June 5, 2013 - 4:41 pm

The tracks at a higher elevation would have been nice.

Alek June 5, 2013 - 12:04 pm

I think they should do only late nights work after 10pm. The problem is the DeKalb headaches with the R ob the bridge weekends and what if the bridge is suffering signal, switch, or issues there.

D.R. Graham June 5, 2013 - 6:15 pm

Signal problems are capable of being overcome to allow service to resume. There’s a signal problem somewhere in the system daily.

Peter June 5, 2013 - 6:55 pm

The anecdote at the end of that WSJ story about a 10-man crew making a repair in the tunnel is pretty amazing.

The crew struggled all night to lift the new impedance bond into place. They used the simplest of tacticsā€”grunting effort, a long wooden pole and a heavy rope knotted around the steel caseā€”as they worked to lift the box onto the corroded steel braces that would hold it between the rails. But they had to keep stopping every few minutes to make way for passing trains.

As train traffic began to pick up with the morning rush approaching, Mr. Perez’s crew was still working, the device not yet secured in place. A radio squawked around 5 a.m. with a report from the tower: A train operator had spotted what he thought was a safety lantern mistakenly left in the Brooklyn mouth of the tunnel.

“Control, we’re still working in the tube,” Mr. Perez called into a radio.

“Still working?!” the tower called back. “Aw, you can’t be doing that. Give us a call.”

This “impedance bond” they’re installing weighs 700 pounds. And they install it using a long wooden pole and rope? They can’t bring a work train with a crane or winch or some kind of heavy equipment down there? And then as the morning rush begins, the control tower doesn’t even realize there is still a work crew in the tunnel!! If this is the sort of bumbling that goes on no wonder these repairs take forever.

Frank B June 5, 2013 - 10:41 pm

I now live in Bay Ridge, at the corner of 85th and 4th Avenue; in a rent stabilized building, that I was delighted to find had the BMT right on the corner. I have never lived closer to a subway in my life. That train is the BMT 4th Avenue Local; the R.

How do I feel about the shutdown?

I don’t care. At all. Virtually no one, including me, will cry over this; I rode the R train home BEFORE Sandy, and found it excruciatingly slow; I feel this is because they insist on running 75 foot cars in a tunnel with extremely tight turns.

We all use the R train for one thing; to transfer. Even when I lived in Park Slope, we avoided the R train like death; the BMT Brighton Line and the IRT had much better frequencies and were far faster.

I imagine very few will be upset by this overall. I’m sure not.

William Powe January 26, 2014 - 11:34 pm

Ok, I’m accually not that suprised that this happened. That tunnel has been there for at least a CENTURY, because I have a very old map that shows the EXPRESS ON THE CONEY ISLAND LINE which hasn’t been there for a long time. And that map had the tunnel there! So anyway, the tunnel there that’s broken kinda stinks, because the (R) doesn’t junction with the Fulton street stop, and if it did, the MTA would have ran it under the 4/5 tunnel. But WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE THE (R) TUNNEL?!? If it was the 4/5, they would have ran the (4) and (5) under the 2/3 tunnel, and vice versa, but the (R) tunnel has no friends, and they have to run it across the Manhattan Brg. Oh well. (By the way, I’m only 10, so please reply if there are any mistakes.)

TOM January 27, 2014 - 2:52 pm

This year or next just might be the centenary of the 4th Avenue line, or most of it. I have pictures of the dig taken in 1914 outside St. Michael’s church & school. I hope it will connect with Manhattan before the actual anniversary.
BTW All subway buffs are 10 years old.


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