Home MTA Construction On the potential for future Sandy-related closures

On the potential for future Sandy-related closures

by Benjamin Kabak

There’s a whole lotta fixin’ and fortifyin’ going on in the Greenpoint Tube. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

While traveling from Herald Square to Chinatown last night for dinner, I had the opportunity to ride the R train for the first time in this post-Sandy shutdown world. I enjoyed the R160s, but south of 14th St., the ride became something of a carnival trip. The conductor would flicker the lights while announcing repeatedly that the train would not be running south of Whitehall St. You’d have to be asleep to miss the ruckus.

As the work on the Montague St. tube passes through its second month, subway riders seem to have adjusted. It’s too early to tell the overall impact of the shutdown, but I’ve definitely noticed larger crowds at Canal St. and more people waiting on the 4th Ave. platform at Atlantic Ave. for a Bay Ridge-bound train. It’s possible that rides are shorter as the trip over the bridge is faster than the R’s winding route through Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, but multi-seat journeys just feel more annoying.

The R train can sustain such a shutdown though because its ridership is relatively low. What about those other routes providing key connections between Brooklyn and Manhattan that were also damaged during Sandy? Earlier this week, reporters had an opportunity to grill MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast on future potential plans for Sandy-related shutdowns, and he hedged a bit. Prendergast was in charge of Transit during and after the storm, and he knows more about the state of the infrastructure that just about anyone. He wasn’t though in the mood to share much.

During the back-and-forth, he discussed the state of the other East River train tunnels, noting that nine of the tubes were damaged “pretty substantially.” “We know,” he said, “there are problems in the other tubes.” Problems is never good word when talking about metal surfaces and electronic components exposed to saltwater.

Still, Prendergast wouldn’t give much information out on the status of the various tubes. He said that the Clark St. (2/3), Montague (R) and Cranberry St. (A/C) Tunnels bore the brunt of the flood. We also know from first-hand reports last year that the 53rd St. tunnel sustained water damage and that the L train’s 14th St. tube was inundate, but Prendergast didn’t mentioned those two tunnels by name.

He did say, however, that work won’t start in any other tubes until Montague is back up and running. “You really can’t deal with those [other tunnels] until you deal with these,” he said, referring to the ongoing R and G train work, “because you can’t close or limit capacity in too many tubes at one time or you actually reduce the level of service.”

As reporters pressed him to explain the damage, Prendergast remained vague. “We don’t believe they’ll be the same order of magnitude, “he said, but the flooding occurred in nine out of 14 under-river tubes. Anything we can do on nightly closures is where the focus will be and then we look at weekend closures and then what we call an out-of-phase which is a permanent seven days ago for a number of months…Hopefully we can do it with nightly closures.

If all of this reminds you of Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote about the known knowns and known unknowns, well, I can see why. Something is coming, but we don’t know what. At some point, possibly in mid-to-late 2014 as the work on the Montague St. tunnel begins to wrap, we’ll hear more, but for now, the threat of future closures, to some degree or another, remains. Meanwhile, the MTA is racing against any future hurricane that could yet again bring floodwaters into the subways. Cross your fingers; hope for the best.

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Howard September 19, 2013 - 1:33 am

Is Steinway tunnel one of them?

MichaelB September 19, 2013 - 8:33 am

Yes, there was water damage there. That said it gets shut down 15-20 weeks a year anyway for cbtc installation work, so I imagine they are using that time to fix water damage as well.

TeddyNYC September 19, 2013 - 2:11 am

He probably doesn’t want to upset us until he has to. Can you imagine the Clark St. or Cranberry St. tunnel closed for a year? The 14th Street tunnel closed every night and weekend for months? Yeah, it will be a mess for years to come.

David Brown September 19, 2013 - 2:22 am

One of them is likely Rutgers. Does anyone remembers seeing pictures of East Broadway Station turned into a submerged part of the East River? I guess when the new 2015-2019 Plan comes out we will find out what is next.

SEAN September 19, 2013 - 8:04 am

Look at what happend on the jersey shore a few days ago. The fire was caused by exposed wires that were damaged do to Sandy. Not trying to compare the two, but the point is you won’t know if there’s a serious problem until something happens or you look with a fine tooth comb.

John-2 September 19, 2013 - 8:53 am

I’m sure they’re hoping Clark, Cranberry and (eventually) 14th, Rutgers and 53rd Street are in good enough shape they can do most of the work on nights and weekends, and if any full-time closers are required they can be far more limited.

Of that group, the 14th Street work will be the most problematic, since there’s no other nearby option for rerouting the trains — Clark can have the 2 run via the Lex, Cranberry can have the A run via Rutgers (and eventually, the F via Cranberry when Rutgers work begins) and 53rd has the 60th and 63rd Street tunnels as alternates for the E and M. There’s really no other option for the L riders (even if you could run to Canarsie via the Willie B, it does nothing for the jammed sections of that line west of Myrtle).

Eric Brasure September 19, 2013 - 9:14 am

Yeah, shutting the 14th St tube would be especially problematic. The M is there, of course, but that doesn’t help people living west or north of there. Might have to get a lot of people getting on the G at Metropolitan to Court Square, and that sounds like a nightmare.

llqbtt September 19, 2013 - 9:36 am

It would seem impossible to close the L full time to make tunnel repairs. There is just no way to absorb the fallout. The L would be best served by weeknight (Sunday-Thursday nights) tunnel closures and/or some weekends mixed in, the best being many of the 3 day holiday weekends when many folks are away.

Larry Littlefield September 19, 2013 - 9:56 am

We can only hope the Feds will pay for this, because ongoing normal replacement will be coming to an end otherwise.

Not that we can afford it, but CBTC is supposed to be coming to many of these tunnels in the next two decades. But the Feds won’t pay to replace again what they’ve just paid to replace.

Michael Sherrell September 19, 2013 - 10:26 am

Does anyone remember the almost weekly and weekend nightmares that went on for months on the L-line as CBTC was being installed?

It was not pleasant for L-train riders, not pleasant at all! Shuttle buses, disrupted service, re-routed trains, delayed service, extensive problems. The word reliable when it came to the L-train simply did not exist. It was not pleasant for L-train riders at all!


Phantom September 20, 2013 - 1:42 pm

I don’t know anything about CBTC

Is the L equipped with it now?

If so, is there a noticeable benefit?

Jonah September 20, 2013 - 3:46 pm

The L is still seemingly closed every weeknight or weekend

Tower18 September 19, 2013 - 12:27 pm

What would full time Rutgers or Cranberry closures look like?

If Cranberry is closed, will they just scrap the C entirely and send A local and over F?

If Rutgers is closed, will we see the F over Fulton local and G to Coney Island reroute?

Lance September 19, 2013 - 7:43 pm

Probably something along the lines of the A running through Rutgers and the F through Cranberry during the other tubes’ shutdown. The C could in theory be cut back to the World Trade Center or 2 Av if the former cannot handle the additional trains. (That would be when Cranberry is out obviously.) There wouldn’t be much reason for the F to run to Euclid Av or the G to Stillwell Av since the work that needs to take place will likely be nowhere near Jay St.

asar September 19, 2013 - 4:00 pm

Im thinking either rutgers tube (f), cranberry (a/c),& either 2/3 clark , or 4/5 joraloman tunnel. Id give first place floodding for the rutgers tube, because although the f was running, it was still scrwed up for days. Second place for cranberry, and third place for clark tunnel. The 4/5 tunnel is right next to montague(r), so im suprised it didnt do as severe damage as the montague


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