Home Superstorm Sandy The days of our post-Sandy discontent

The days of our post-Sandy discontent

by Benjamin Kabak


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.”

You may also like


Walt Gekko August 2, 2013 - 1:05 am

One thing I’m surprised has not happened is merchants and others demanding the R use the same split at all times, at least in the Brooklyn section (running to Court Street 24/7 and Whitehall-Canal as well 24/7 and Canal to 71st-Continental 19/7). There is the matter of a transfer at Jay Street-Metrotech that I think once is lost (even just overnights and weekends) that some pols may demand the MTA have the R split and run to Court Street to keep Court and Metrotech open at all times just to keep that transfer in order at all times.

Walt Gekko February 20, 2019 - 6:12 pm

And now (and thanks to Ben for noting this for me on Twitter), it appears Pols want something similar to this on a permanent basis.

Brian August 2, 2013 - 1:07 am

I live in bay ridge, the R train is (sadly) my train, I take it everyday. Since Sandy, delays have seemingly become a daily event because of signal problems or other issues in the tunnel, while I can’t say I’m excited my train is going to have a vital link severed for over a year, I understand why it needs to be done and will take the N/D/4 trains (not that useless ferry) depending on where I’m going. Is a perfect solution? No, but it’s better than having delays every day that have been getting worse and more common in the months since Sandy.1 year of no Montague tunnel isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, hopefully the 4 train tunnel won’t have to be shutdown later as well because that will be commuter hell. My only hope for this restoration as well as the other Sandy restorations is that they are retrofitting the tunnels, stairways, grates etc. In order to prevent or at least mitigate the flood potential of future storms. As a meteorologist, I always knew a Sandy-esque storm would hit new York, and another one will hit in the (hopefully distant) future. The city cannot function without the subway, the system needs to be protected from future storms. Hopefully after the next storm the system will be up and running after minimal flooding and there won’t need to be any long term shutdowns.

Guest #3 August 2, 2013 - 5:51 am

“Until next November — the then two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy”

Wouldn’t that be Irene? Sandy will be one year in 3-4 months.

John August 2, 2013 - 6:08 am

November 2014. That’s the two-year anniversary, and when the tunnel reopens.

Larry Littlefield August 2, 2013 - 7:27 am

I wonder if any members of the state legislature will demand that the shutdown be cancelled, and that the work be done entirely on overtime during nights and weekends over 15 years at a cost of $1.5 billion.

Because that’s the way the MTA and the state road crews have done things for nearly two decades. And we will be paying for it for decades, with a cost that may rise sharply when interest rates rise and if bonds need to be rolled over.

BoerumBum August 2, 2013 - 8:55 am

A (very) minor plus… late night N trains operating via the Manhattan Bridge

John-2 August 2, 2013 - 9:15 am

As noted before, the R’s redundancy downtown does make this one of, if not the easiest work-around of all the tunnel shutdowns. But the next two tunnels which took the most time to clear the salt water out of were the 14th Street and the Cranberry tunnels, neither one of which has very good nearby reroute options (the A/C has Rutgers, but only one of the lines can use it along with the F, and there will be a major bottleneck between West Fourth and B’way-Lafayette).

It will be interesting down the line if the MTA opts to go the full Montague, and close the tunnels 24/7 for repairs, or if they go for the nights/weekends option.

Spiderpig August 2, 2013 - 11:19 am

The full Montague. I see what you did there.

SEAN August 2, 2013 - 6:57 pm

So did I, verry funny.

Eric Brasure August 2, 2013 - 11:25 am

I can’t see how they can close the 14th Street tube completely. It seems like a complete non-starter to me. Although… perhaps this was a factor in extending the M train to Essex/Delancey on weekends.

BBnet3000 August 2, 2013 - 9:32 am

Great timing for my move to Sunset Park (though im closer to the D).

We will see how many people switch to the D at 36th. I suspect a lot, it doesnt really make sense to go local all the way if youre gonna switch anyway. A lot of people will take the N too presumably, especially if their destinations are on Broadway.

Is there any estimate of how many people who ride the R have a destination below Canal St? When the MTA gets tag cards, id kinda like them to get tag-to-exit just for the amazing data it would provide, though obviously theres no need because we dont charge by distance.

Chet August 2, 2013 - 9:41 am

I wonder how many Staten Islanders take the R from Whitehall INTO Brooklyn. Most concern seems to be the other direction; but for us here on Ile de Staten…getting to downtown Brooklyn often goes via lower Manhattan.

Benjamin Kabak August 2, 2013 - 9:43 am

The 4 and the 5 at Bowling Green are a block or two away from Brooklyn Heights/Downtown Brooklyn-bound ferry riders. That’s another reason why the R is redundant service and is better equipped for this sort of outage.

Chet August 2, 2013 - 12:06 pm

That’s true… it really isn’t much of a disruption but I’m sure many of my fellow Islanders will make that two block walk sound like they had to run three or four hundred miles, uphill, to get a different train.

Nets Cowbell Guy August 2, 2013 - 6:40 pm

Look at it this way: less wait time at Bowling Green to get to Boro Hall or Barclays Center for a X-Fer

Phantom August 2, 2013 - 8:36 pm

I have taken the R to catch the SI Ferry, to go for bike rides on SI , attend SI Yankees games, visit. The traffic goes alll ways!

Jerrold August 2, 2013 - 11:54 am

Another one of my off-topic (but very relevant here) messages.

Have you all read THIS article?


Benjamin Kabak August 2, 2013 - 11:56 am

Jerrold: Please do not post off-topic comments. If you’d like to send me a tip, you know how to contact me. Otherwise, you can generally assume I’ll get to posting things like that eventually. Thanks.

D in Bushwick August 2, 2013 - 12:50 pm

Although the rebuilding of the Montague Tube infrastructure is a necessary and positive thing, what good is all this money and disruption if the tube floods again in October or next year?

Vince August 2, 2013 - 2:35 pm

Oh 14 months, somehow I read that as 14 years – but it’s the MTA which usually feels like they take years to accomplish anything

johndmuller August 2, 2013 - 8:17 pm

There are two separate tubes under the river, right?

It seems that it should be possible to schedule the work so that one tube would be usable throughout, or at least at either/both ends of the project without major-major slowdowns &/or cost increases.

Presumably, shutting the whole deal down for the duration is the minimum cost and least inconvenient for the workers approach. However, either sending every 2nd (3rd, 4th or whatever) train through a single track road and short-turning the rest, or running a shuttle through the gap, would seem to be feasible alternatives.

Even if this were possible only for the first and/or last third or quarter of the project, it could cut the passenger inconvenience in half.

Surely they muxt have considered doing this one track at a time; I’m curious what was so terrible about that plan.

Epson45 August 3, 2013 - 12:30 am

No, the 14 month closure works faster, it covers…
Power Cable, Duct Replacement, Tunnel Lighting, Track Montague Tube, Interlocking Modernization: 2 Substations, Pump Room, Fan Plant Montague Tube and Circuit Breaker Houses.

Its a mess, MTA needs to get done faster.

Ian W. August 3, 2013 - 3:59 pm

One thing noticeably absent from these service changes is the Dey Street passageway. Wouldn’t it make for an easier transfer between the R and the 4/5 at Fulton St? How come it’s not open yet? I seem to remember reading that construction was finished but they were holding off on opening it due to security concerns.

Henry Berg August 4, 2013 - 4:32 am

Does anyone know what the MTA had to do to get all the salt off the tunnel walls, and whether it has caused corrosion of the tunnel’s iron rings? I’ve been thinking about that since they mentioned how much the equipment failure rate has gone up in that tunnel. Salt is pretty sticky and I should think that they would have had to wash down the walls at the least, but if there’s residual salt in there and it gets through to the rings that could be a disaster. I’m sure the tunnel wall is coated in concrete but that can crack over time and, in the case of steel reinforced concrete, allow water penetration causing the metal to rust and expand leading eventually to structural failure. I should thnk iron would act even less well to salt water than steel rebar.


Adam August 4, 2013 - 5:03 pm

There is one group of riders, albeit very small, that will see MAJOR disruptions, especially on the weekends. These are riders in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill (G territory) that have to get to the Whitehall terminal area. At the very least they could have paper transfers at Jay and at Hoyt Schermerhorn to the 2-3-4-5 but…..

Josh August 5, 2013 - 7:54 pm

A lot of people in that area are better off just walking to the nearest 2-3-4-5 station than trying to figure out a transfer from the G. Not so great if you get far enough south into Carroll Gardens, but from a lot of Cobble Hill and Fort Greene it isn’t so bad.

Andrew August 5, 2013 - 10:42 pm

G to A/C to 4/5. Same number of transfers as the G to A/C to R option they no longer have. Ignoring the transfer at 4th/9th (which is very out-of-the-way), G riders have never been able to reach the southern tip of Manhattan with only one transfer.

Or is there a routing option I’m forgetting about? Aside from 4th/9th, the G and R don’t intersect.


Leave a Comment