Home View from Underground In water main response, old tech trumps older infrastructure

In water main response, old tech trumps older infrastructure

by Benjamin Kabak

West 4th Tower crews work to restore service following an early morning water main break this morning. Photo: MTA / J.P. Chan

Following an early-morning water main break at 5th Ave. and 13th Sts. that flooded out subway service at West 4th, the MTA restored service this morning, and the commute this evening should be relatively problem-free. The same, of course, couldn’t be said for this morning as Sixth Ave. trains were rerouted all over the place, and Uber, as expected, instituted surge pricing while people struggled to get into the office.

As part of the postmortem on the accident, the MTA offered up some spin on how service was restored so quickly:

Two pump trains were dispatched but were not needed. A pump room located at 9 St as well as portable pumps that were positioned into the area were able to pump water that had risen 24-30 inches along 300 feet of track north of the West 4 St station. Drains along the tracks were able to absorb much of the water that had entered the system. The drains performed well as a result of the attention they have received during FASTRACK work along that corridor.

This is the rosy view of everything. “Look! All that work we do that inconveniences you overnight now and then is paying off because we could restore subway service in a matter of hours,” the MTA says. It’s easy to cast a cynical eye toward that statement, but it’s also true that the MTA’s old technologies — pump rooms, well-placed drains — have continued to serve the agency well. Sometimes, infrastructure built in the late 1920s and early 1930s holds up remarkably well. It’s just something to chew on.

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Spendmor Wastemor January 15, 2014 - 6:09 pm

Proper preparation precludes Pluvial problem. *

Spendmor approves!

*Yes, tortured meaning of Pluvial. Sorry, no refunds.

EJ January 15, 2014 - 7:13 pm

It’s easy to cast a cynical eye toward that statement

How so? Is it not true? Hardly seems fair to criticize them for pointing out “Hey, we do all that maintenance for a reason.”

Heico January 20, 2014 - 12:36 am

This is rather ridiculous and self-applauding. We are applauding old technology in this case — at times older technology holds better but this is for sure not the case here. The reason for this break is most likely due to poor maintenance and putting too much on the main.

Paul January 15, 2014 - 8:05 pm

Actually, the evening commute is very bad especially in Midtown. A signal malfunction in the Bronx brought the Lexington Avenue Line to a standstill, causing the crowds to spill over onto other lines and create delays.

At Times Square, I could barely walk through the Seventh Ave platforms and the mezzanine because Lex Ave riders were using the 7 and the shuttle to transfer to the uptown trains.

This was a REALLY bad day to travel.

D. Graham January 15, 2014 - 9:11 pm

And hence the picture. The older yet in service tower at West 4th defeats the new automatic train supervision used on the numbered lines. Irony…

Kai B January 15, 2014 - 9:19 pm

The main culprit here is the city for not performing… Um… “FastPipe” (?) on that 1870s water main.

Douglas John Bowen January 16, 2014 - 10:27 am

… which is indeed remarkable considering how seriously New York has moved in the past decade to improve its water delivery system, from its collection beginnings in (mostly) the Catskills all the way to final approach (delivery) under the streets.

Much like the subway system, it’s not the 1980s any more. Yes, stuff happens. But it’s a better time.

TH January 16, 2014 - 5:09 pm

This might be a stupid question, but how exactly does a water main break at 5th Ave and 13th Street flood a subway station located at 6th Ave and 4-8th Streets? Did the water travel all the way down 13th street and then down 6th Ave? I don’t get it.

BrooklynBus January 19, 2014 - 1:48 pm

I was on the B train on my way to Herald Square. The announcement was because of the water main break, the B would act as a Q and be a local all the way to Astoria. Now what was the reason to go local on the Brighton Line and delay riders an additional six minutes to the delay they already were experiencing due to construction? And also, why say all the way as a local when the Q is express in Manhattan?

At Canal, the conductor announced, next stop Prince St, and after we left, te motorman said 14th Street woud be next. Just needless confusion. But I still think the conductor should be commended for msking frequent and repetitive announcements trying to give alternatives at each station, although she was wrong one time.


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