This week’s issue of Time Out New York features a backpage interview with staffers complaining about their least favorite subway lines. One TONY editor bemoans the impending R train shutdown. The need to repair the Montague St. Tunnel will, he says, cut off the fastest ride he has to SoHo. Now, it’s hard to imagine that the R train offers the fastest ride from anywhere in the city to SoHo, but the sentiment is a familiar one echoing throughout the city. The Montague Tube shutdown is a necessary evil that will be a major inconvenience for a small number of people over the next 14 months.
The shutdown starts in 23 hours from my writing, and it is the most extensive repair effort the subways have seen since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the collapse of the Twin Towers destroyed a pair of subway tunnels in Lower Manhattan. Until next November — the then two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy — the R will run in two sections during the week and over the Manhattan Bridge during the weekend. Thousands of daily riders will have to find alternate routes, and it’s likely that already-crowded trains running between Brooklyn and Manhattan will be even more so.
“The job that we have ahead of us is an enormous challenge and we are grateful for the support that we have received from Governor Cuomo and the Federal Government in securing the funds necessary to perform these vital tasks,” Thomas F. Prendergast, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in a statement yesterday. “These investments in repairing and reinforcing the system’s infrastructure will help safeguard the most vulnerable areas of our subway system for decades to come.”
In terms of the work, the MTA is essentially rebuilding the Montague Tube. The first contract will repair all of the right-of-way components except the signal system, and the second contract will repair the entire signal system. The total cost for this work alone will come in at $308.6 million. “Our goal is to complete this work as quickly and efficiently as possible while exposing our customers to as little inconvenience as we possibly can,” Acting NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said.
Specifically, the ROW components that need repair include the track bed, the the tunnel lighting units, circuit breakers, power substations, pump rooms, fan plants, power cables and ducts. The signal work includes removal of sensitive equipment out of flood zones, modification of three signal circuits at Whitehall Street, Broad Street and Court Street and a temporary conversion of these stations into terminals. For railfans, Transit says that the last Brooklyn-bound train is scheduled to depart Whitehall St at approximately 11:33 p.m. The last Manhattan-bound train is scheduled to leave Court St at approximately 11:32 p.m.
Once the work starts, the R will not run between Court St. and Whitehall St. During the week, the trains will operate in two sections — in Brooklyn only and between Forest Hills and Whitehall St. During the weekend, the R will run via the Manhattan Bridge. For service to nearby stations, the MTA recommends the 2, 3, 4, 5, A or C trains, as applicable.
This is no one’s idea of a good time, but as far as work of this magnitude goes, it could be much worse. By and large, the R train service is a means to an end. For many Bay Ridge residents who need to get into Manhattan, the R is the first step on the way to a transfer to a speedier N or D train. The people who lose out here are those who live north of 36th St. but not too close to Atlantic Ave. and need to get to Lower Manhattan. Everyone else will find that their rides, while perhaps more crowded, aren’t much slower, and some may be faster. That’s a spin on a bad situation though.
Meanwhile, the MTA is also struggling to recover from Sandy in other ways. As WNYC’s Janet Babin reported this week, the agency has less catastrophe insurance this year than last. Premiums went up, and coverage amounts went down. That’s what happens when you have to file billions of dollars worth of claims. At least the reinsurance bonds have been popular, and by selling $200 million worth of bonds, the MTA has access to a bit more cash in the event of a storm.
“In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the traditional avenues we use for insurance and reinsurance contracted dramatically, making it exceedingly difficult for the MTA to obtain insurance,” Predergast said. “But as a result of this savvy and novel reinsurance arrangement, we are now in a stronger position should our area, God forbid, face another large-scale storm-surge event within the next three years.”