Home Superstorm Sandy With more to come, outrage and resignation over Sandy-related shutdowns

With more to come, outrage and resignation over Sandy-related shutdowns

by Benjamin Kabak
With a floodline that nearly reaches the ceiling, the Montague Tube requires an extensive rebuild. (Photo via MTA)

With a floodline that nearly reaches the ceiling, the Montague Tube requires an extensive rebuild. (Photo via MTA)

Whenever the MTA announces something bad — weekend service changes, long-term repair projects, station rehabilitations — the knee-jerk reaction from New York City politics is to pile on. Sometimes, the criticism is deserved. After all, it takes the MTA an exceedingly long time to finish up what appear to be routine construction projects; the agency can’t control costs; and alternate service routings can seem insufficient. Other times, though, a catastrophic hurricane arrives.

As the city came to terms with the upcoming 12-14 month outage for the R train’s Montague Tubes and extensive work on the G train’s Greenpoint Tube, the outrage machine revved up. The most ridiculous voice seemed to belong to City Council Member Vincent Gentile. The Bay Ridge Democrat was angry! Irate! Annoyed! He wanted answers.

“This is absolutely outrageous! It’s hard enough as it is for residents of South Brooklyn who travel to Manhattan each day via public transportation – closing a main artery for over a year is just unacceptable,” he actually said in a real statement issued to the press. “Today I am calling on the MTA to propose some other options. I understand these repairs need to be done but telling people to ‘allow for extra travel time’ for the next 14 months is untenable. The MTA needs to put forth a realistic contingency plan which includes lowering express bus fares and increasing services – not only to the R line – but to the connecting N, D, 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines.”

The rhetoric is strong with this one, but these are just sentiments issued to score political points. I’d hope that Gentile knows the MTA’s hands are tied largely because his political brethren have given the agency little leeway for operations. The MTA can’t re-route R trains over the Manhattan Bridge during the week because the switches near DeKalb can’t handle another bunch of cars. The MTA can’t increase service on the IRT routes because there’s no room or rolling stock. The options ultimately are fairly limited.

I spoke with Kevin Ortiz, the MTA spokesman, yesterday evening about the MTA’s plans, and he compared the situation in the Montague Tube to the post-Sandy service patterns. The R train’s East River crossing was the last to be pumped out, and it’s the first to be shut down. During the 12-14 month outage, the MTA expects simliar travel patterns as during the weeks after Sandy. Some riders will stick with the express D and N trains; others may switch to the IRT lines; some will take express buses. Many will find the transfers annoying but the travel times identical. (And some residents in Gentile’s district believe that “virtually no one” will be too upset as the R is mostly used by those riders as a transfer train anyway.)

Terra cotta duct banks, nearly 100 years old, were completely wrecked by floodwaters. (Photo via MTA)

Terra cotta duct banks, nearly 100 years old, were completely wrecked by floodwaters. (Photo via MTA)

As documents released by the MTA show [pdf], the damage to the tubes is more than extensive. Crews will essentially have to rebuild the tunnel finishes from the bottom up. Terra cotta duct banks that date from the 1910s and 1920s were completed destroyed, and saltwater has begun to seep through the concrete track beds as well. Not closing the tunnel would push the timeline for work all the way out to 2017, and as the MTA documents say, wrapping this project next summer allows work to start in adjacent tubes once the R is back online.

Which brings me to a truth tough to swallow: The R train outage likely won’t be the only one. The MTA has issued no public plans for future Sandy-related tunnel repairs, but any East River tube that had standing water will require some kind of rebuild and repair. As the documents say, “24/7 shutdown in Montague means other tubes don’t need to wait multiple years for restoration work.” We don’t know what that restoration work will be or when, but if people are up in arms over the R outage, imagine what will happen when focus shifts to the Canarsie or Cranberry Tubes. Even considering shutting the Joralemon or Clark St. Tunnels is reason for nightmares.

Economically, the MTA figures to come out of this whole thing relatively unscathed. For the Montague and Greenpoint projects, the agency said last night that “it expects no material financial impact to result from the temporary closures.” Most subway riders will use alternate lines, and the closures will have a negligible impact on fare collection. Costs of the repairs will be covered by Sandy restoration funds.

Still, someone will pay in time and convenience, and we the riders will be those someones. For the foreseeable future, Sandy repairs will dominate the subway landscape with service changes expected for years to come. Hopefully, another storm won’t sweep through to roll back the progress, but right now, we’re relying on hope and crossed fingers. Andrea is on the way, and hurricane season is just getting started.

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Alex C June 6, 2013 - 12:51 am

I do wonder what percentage of people hear morons like Gentile and think “yeah, that guy is totally a serious person and doesn’t think I’m an idiot who will support him for this cheap talk.” Actually, I’m scared oh how high that percentage would be. Still, I have faith the majority of people will understand why this is being done and react calmly.

John-2 June 6, 2013 - 2:36 am

Looking at the repair list, I thought it was interesting/ironic that while the Montague tunnel was the most heavily affected by Sandy, the nearby Joralemon Street tunnel didn’t even make the Top 5 of underwater crossings damaged by Sandy. I don’t know if kudos are in order for the original builders of the Interborough, for limiting the tunnel’s seawater vulnerability (you really would have to get the storm surge up to tsunami levels to reach the Joralemon vent house on the Brooklyn side), or if the inter-connectivity of the Bowling Green-South Ferry complex meant that water that went down into the Montague tunnel on the BMT tube ended up going to the new South Ferry station and away from Joralemon.

Cranberry, Clark and 14th Street seem to be the next three tunnels on the repair list, in terms of storm damage severity. The first two at least have some routing alternatives; when it comes time to do 14th (presumably not until all the G line fixes are done) they do need to look at weekend M service to Manhattan and a Metrocard transfer option at Broadway.

Larry Littlefield June 6, 2013 - 9:25 am

They pumped out the most heavily used tunnels first.

Meanwhile, where was that idiot Gentile when half the Manhattan Bridge was out of service for 20 years?

Where was he when some people were advocating for a Rutgers/DeKalb connections, so some of the excess capacity in that tunnel could be used if wear and tear required additional closures of that bridge?

This is the sort of people who run things in this country.

Eric Brasure June 6, 2013 - 9:59 am

I looked it up–from 1988-1996 he was a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. He’s been on the City Council since then.

The real answer is, he didn’t care, because he’s doing this to curry favor with his constituency.

Larry Littlefield June 6, 2013 - 10:48 am

Is his constituency nasty, whiny, selfish, shortsighted, ignorant jerks who are constantly complaining that the world is not paying them proper homage?

It seems as if that is the consituency of all these pols. Perhaps those are the swing voters.

Eric Brasure June 6, 2013 - 12:01 pm

It has nothing to do with his constituency being any of those things. Expressing outrage over a proposed transit closing that will affect his constituents is an easy way to show that he understands their feelings and is with them.

Bolwerk June 6, 2013 - 1:31 pm

It’s the problem with winner-take-all politics. The contest ends up being between two in our system, and the voters pick the guy who manages to make the other guy look worse than him – which, in most of America, means a batshit fascist Republikan against a corrupt, milquetoast Democrat. In New York City, it means a swarm of clowns aiming to be de facto elected in the Democratic primary.

It’s a pity we can’t have at least one political body with proportional representation.

John-2 June 6, 2013 - 11:06 am

I’d expect Gentile’s rant to be fairly isolated as of now, because the memories of Sandy are still close enough so that you don’t have to jog people’s memories about the damage it caused.

Three or four years from now, when the other work on the tunnels is being done? That may be riper for effective demagoguery, depending on how the MTA adjusts service patterns and if they can do them with just weekend closures, or if they have to go the Montague route (again, the L would be the biggest problem, because there’s no easy alternative to the 14th Street tunnel, but even extended Clark and Cranberry tunnel shutdowns would probably result in truncated Brooklyn express service on all or parts of the IRT Eastern Parkway or IND Fulton Street routes).

MH June 6, 2013 - 7:03 am

“The MTA can’t re-route R trains over the Manhattan Bridge during the week because the switches near DeKalb can’t handle another bunch of cars.”

But how come back in the 90s, we had 3 lines cross the bridge (B,D,Q) via 6th ave? There seemed to be no issue with that…what’s the difference these days?

Joseph Steindam June 6, 2013 - 7:22 am

I’m not going to claim this is the definitive answer, but I suspect the issue is where the R switches to the Bridge tracks, which is right before entering DeKalb Avenue. Doing that switch in rush hour would mean finding a gap in B Q service wide enough for a train to cross in front, which likely means slowing service down altogether. The MTA will do this switch on weekends, when frequencies are lower due to the B not running.

As for how the MTA was able to accommodate 3 services, the switches beyond DeKalb for the Bridge, while also constrained, do have sufficient space for trains to stop, and would not back up trains entering DeKalb Avenue.

Andrew June 6, 2013 - 10:32 pm

That’s exactly right. To get onto the bridge, the R will first have to merge with the B and Q at DeKalb, and then the R and Q together will diverge from the B and simultaneously merge with the N.

Also, each of the lines through DeKalb runs at 10 tph now. Back when only two bridge tracks were open, they ran slightly less frequently – 9 tph, as I recall.

So the old B/D/Q was 18 tph on the Brighton line merging with 9 tph at the bridge. To send the R over the bridge now, we’d have 20 tph on the Brighton line first merging with 8-10 tph on the R (10 tph is what runs now, but the MTA plans to run 8 tph during the shutdown). Then 18-20 tph would split off from the remaining 10 tph and immediately merge with another 10 tph service.

Much too complex to operate with any semblance of reliability, even if the interlockings can support such an intense service, which they probably can’t. Brighton line service would have to be significantly reduced to make room for the R at DeKalb. And why should Brighton riders suffer, especially considering that their trains are far more crowded than the R already?

R160 Al June 6, 2013 - 11:20 am

Back in the 90s only one side of the bridge was being used. It was easier to route those trains through since everyone went along the same tracks anyway.

Now that both sides of the bridge are open, it makes it more difficult to do that effectively with a fifth subway line.

Jerrold June 6, 2013 - 12:38 pm

Could you please explain what you mean?
How could it be EASIER to route trains with only two tracks usable than when we have all four tracks usable?

Bolwerk June 6, 2013 - 1:54 pm

I would guess the problem is with the interlocking on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, which is famous for the routing headaches it creates.

MH June 6, 2013 - 3:44 pm

I can see where it could be “easier.” The D and Q were running on the same line (Brighton) at the time and stopped at DeKalb (no track switching involved) while the B ran on 4th ave and skipped DeKalb and went on it’s way to the bridge.

With this service change the R has to switch tracks. Either skipping DeKalb (with the D and N lines) or it has to stop at DeKalb on the Q line. Both changes deal with a track switch along the way which I guess makes it more complicated for the R to cross into Manhattan.

Simon June 6, 2013 - 3:59 pm

That sounds right. Maybe the D and Q should switch lines in Brooklyn. Less switching at DeKalb = more throughput.

John-2 June 6, 2013 - 7:40 pm

The problem is the switch the R has to make to get to what’s basically the Brighton tracks — it’s the same problem, but going in the opposite direction, that running the QJ and then the M on the Brighton caused in the late 1960s and 1970s, due to the TA and MTA’s flawed routing pattern following the Christie Street connection.

The bridge bypass tracks go to the Fourth Avenue express; the inner tracks on the DeKalb platform go to the Fourth Avenue local via Montague, and the outer bridge tracks go to Brighton, which is the way it’s been since the M was switched to Fourth Avenue and the Q was restored to pair with the D on the Brighton. You can swap the D and the B without problems, as the MTA did a decade ago, but anything else creates a switching conflict on one side of DeKalb or the other weekdays, when all lines are running. On the weekends, when the B is sleeping, switching the R to and from the Brighton track at DeKalb is workable.

JMB June 6, 2013 - 9:16 am

I wonder if its feasible to do this shutdown in two phases to lessen the pain. Not sure how far into the tunnel the portals are, but maybe they can route the R through the Nassau street connection and work on everything else between it and Whitehall. Terminate the R at Chambers rather than Court.

Joseph Steindam June 6, 2013 - 9:24 am

I don’t understand how this could work. The Montague tunnels need to be totally rebuilt, and this plan still requires trains to run through them to reach the Nassau St line. I’m sure Whitehall St also suffered damage, but as the Manhattan/Queens R will still terminate there, I imagine there isn’t much needed work there.

MH June 6, 2013 - 9:55 am

If anything with that situation (at Whitehall) they’ll always have the nights and weekends to tighten up that area since the tracks will be idle.

Hoosac June 6, 2013 - 1:49 pm

The point where the tracks to Whitehall St and to the Nassau St loop diverge are at the Manhattan end of the Montague St tunnel. By the time you get there, almost all of the underwater portion of the tunnel is behind you. Back in the day when there was a railfan window at the front of the train, you could see the Nassau St tracks branch to the right, and almost immediately you were at Whitehall St.

JMB June 6, 2013 - 2:31 pm

Gotcha, thnks!I thought maybe the portals were somewhere in the middle so they could in theory work on the manhattan half while the brooklyn half could still be used to get R riders to lower manhattan without transferring

Andrew June 6, 2013 - 10:34 pm

Don’t forget that Broad St. was out of service until some time in December. There’s probably a good deal of damage at that entry point to the Montague tube also.

Andrew S June 6, 2013 - 10:11 am

Vincent Gentile sounds like a complete idiot. There’s really no reason to help publicize his views. The facts are that something was damaged and it needs to be fixed. This isn’t a class thing, race thing or any other sort of discrimination, just simply a matter of getting things working again. Sadly, this tunnel’s closing is the easiest one to swallow; all of the R’s transfers will still be operational: the A, B, C, D, F, G, Q, 2, 3, 4, 5 and LIRR. I can only imagine what the useless politicians will have to say when less connected subways lose their tunnel to Manhattan for a year.

Epson45 June 7, 2013 - 12:52 pm

That is his job represent South Brooklyn. Complain, demand answers, compromise. All politicians do that, even King Bloomturd.

Benjamin Kabak June 7, 2013 - 12:54 pm

That’s a big difference between Gentile’s idiotic response and, say, Marty Golden’s measured request to solve the problem through expanded ferry and bus service while offering fare breaks to impacted travelers. One deserves consideration because it shows a recognition of reality; the other deserves to be mocked.

Epson45 June 7, 2013 - 4:48 pm

Oh please, they are all idiots. They are pleasing with voters just to get the job done.

Marty Golden is a idiot if you watch FOX5 interview: http://www.myfoxny.com/video?a.....Id=8964009

Andrew June 9, 2013 - 1:33 am

He’s pandering, pure and simple.

X28 on weekends? Why? The D train is running into Manhattan.

B37 bus? Why? The R will still be running in Brooklyn.

I’d give him some credit if he came up with funding to pay for his wishlist rather than trying to pin it on the MTA.

By the way, Marty, Brooklyn is a part of the City of New York now.

llqbtt June 6, 2013 - 12:21 pm

Can they just rebuild 1 tube at a time to allow for some sort of service in the other tube? In both Montague & Greenpoint, there are crossover switches on each side and not too far from the under water tunnel.

Allow the R peak direction travel for rush hours.

Re-work the G schedule such that single track can be done.

Kai B June 6, 2013 - 1:19 pm

You’d be looking at 20-minute intervals on the G north of Bedford-Nostrand (as the through traffic would likely disrupt the ability to use Nassau as any kind of terminal). Not sure how useful that is during rush hour.

Also, while many of us have elaborate solutions that might be beneficial, it’s easier for the general public to have less variance to the shutdown. “No Trains between Queens and Nassau Av” is a lot easier to understand than adding several paragraphs of exceptions and resulting “expect longer wait time” text.

Also, I’m guessing that in many parts of the tunnels the tracks aren’t separated in a way that you can run a train at full speed when workers are on the opposite track. Plus, there might be other considerations such as the need to bring in equipment easily.

Andrew June 6, 2013 - 10:37 pm

If it even is feasible at all, it would double the project duration. And if trains are only running in one direction through the tunnel, what happens when the Brooklyn end runs out of trains and Queens runs out of storage space?

Regarding the G, Kai B is correct – single-tracking the G requires a 20 minute headway, which would be grossly inadequate.

Phantom June 6, 2013 - 10:57 pm

I live in Bay Ridge. We are well served by frequent subway and express bus service to Manhattan.

Gentile is an empty suit even by City Council standards,

Epson45 June 7, 2013 - 12:52 pm

Infrequent R service. and I live in Bay Ridge.

Phantom June 7, 2013 - 9:14 pm

During the day, it runs every 10 minutes, except during rush hour, when it runs every 6- 8 minutes. How often do you think it should run?

How by any definition is this ” infrequent “?


Epson45 June 8, 2013 - 3:11 am

Forget the schedule… Its not on schedule!

Have you even ride the R train daily?

Full of delays especially the Montague St tunnel signal problems causing a lot of commuters waiting a hell of long time at Atlantic, 36 St, and 59 St coming back. The Weekend is even worse then last year.

Phantom June 8, 2013 - 8:35 am

I take the R every work day, usually leaving 630am or so. It is exceptionally reliable then, and it is pretty good other times.

There was a time years ago, when it was very unreliable in the evening rush hour, when you would see four N trains pass waiting R customers at 59th St , but that hasn’t happened much lately.

Some R riders have a pretend victim complex, the way that some Staten Islanders lIke to play the transit victim. Come on. Its baloney. I take the subway everywhere I go, throughout the city, and the R on balance compares well. It is slow from City Hall to Pacific/ Atlantic, but thats the way it is. The service is better now than at any time in the past 40 years, by a mile.

Ed June 8, 2013 - 9:40 am

No not at all

Epson45 June 8, 2013 - 12:23 pm

Middays and PM Rush and even the Weekends are running crappy schedule lately.

The service is NOT better since last year. Thank you SANDY.

You on the other hand are lucky.

Frank B June 6, 2013 - 11:18 pm

Wow! I got quoted by Benjamin Kabak on Second Avenue Sagas; I’ve been using this site since high school; This is honestly quite an honor.

Again, I stand by my words. The R train isn’t going to get any worse; my single greatest fear is that as the line is far more heavily used on the IND Queens Boulevard Line, and BMT Broadway Line, and not nearly so much as the BMT 4th Avenue Local, the MTA will not run trains nearly as frequently as before; i.e. the rolling stock will be disproportionally be used on heavier traveled sections of trackage.

As a side note, just as a small concession, they could open up that existing completed piece of in-system transfer passageway between the E train and the R. Though it would be quite a long walk, this would at least allow riders to pick up the A or C trains to Jay Street Metrotech, as well as taking the IRT to Atlantic Terminal or Borough Hall to pick up the Brooklyn portion of R service.

alen June 7, 2013 - 10:46 am

the MTA is doing people a favor. transferring to other trains is faster than staying on the R in a lot of situations

IanM June 8, 2013 - 2:49 pm

But why reopen the tube for the better part of a year, giving the impression that repairs had been made, only to suddenly announce that now it has to shut again for 14 months? They probably would have gotten less flak if they had simply kept it shut after Sandy and made the repairs then, with the damage fresh in everyone’s minds.

In any case, it’s a manageable hardship – most R riders in Brooklyn transfer to one of the expresses at Atlantic or DeKalb anyway.

Phantom June 8, 2013 - 8:08 pm

I don’t think that’s true. An awful lot of R riders work in the Financial District, as I do. Or if they have a seat, some will go further north.

With the fairly new and fairly easy option of the Jay Street connection to the A, as well as the other 2/3/4/5 connection options at Atlantic or Borough Hall, we’ll live. The MTA shouldn’t set up alternate services. Spend all resources to getting this construction job done right, on time and on budget. Show us you can do it.

Andrew June 9, 2013 - 1:20 am

Because (a) they probably didn’t know the extent of the damage right away, and (b) it takes time to get a contractor on board, and (c) the funding wasn’t available quite so soon.


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