Home Superstorm Sandy Previewing the L train’s looming Sandy work

Previewing the L train’s looming Sandy work

by Benjamin Kabak

The Canarsie Tube shown here in 2012 shortly after MTA crews pumped out the saltwater from Sandy. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

It’s hard to find the silver lining in the destruction to the subway system that Sandy wrought. Nearly every East River train tunnel was flooded, requiring millions of dollars of repairs and inconveniences that New Yorkers haven’t yet begun to imagine. A few weeks ago, though, we got wind of the MTA’s plan to use Sandy repairs to build a station entrance for the L train at Avenue A. The new entry point will make the 1st Avenue stop ADA compliant and provide access to the subway system for Alphabet City. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that for the MTA to construct this entrance, they have to piggyback work onto Sandy repairs. As a few MTA sources have told me, in fact, this work would not be possible without the looming L train shutdowns that the Sandy repair work will require. Since parts of the L train are as crowded on the weekends as they are during the week, there isn’t a good time for the repairs, and as Sandy has receded into the past, it’s easy for Williamsburg, Bushwick and Canarsie residents to lose sight of the fact that substantial and lengthy repairs are on tap for their subway line.

The MTA isn’t accepting bids on the BMT Canarsie Line work until later this spring, but a Subchatter has a glimpse of the bid demands. If this is the final request, it’s not a pretty picture for L train riders.

As the document notes, the Canarsie Tube was flooded from essentially Manhattan to Brooklyn. The worst of the water damage occurred between Avenue D and the North 7th fan plant. The work includes demolition and reconstruction of over 36,000 feet of ducts; power cable replacement; communications system work; reconstruction of a pump room at Avenue D; and replacement of nearly a mile’s worth of track. That’s not going to happen in one FASTRACK treatment, and the MTA expects this $50 million contract to last 40 months.

So what does this mean for L train riders? The damage to the Canarsie Tube was, by some accounts, right behind the R train’s Montague St. Tube and the G train’s Greenpoint Tube in terms of the severity, but the MTA isn’t planning on shutting down the Canarsie Tube for any long-term work. The demand for service is too great, and the parallel service is inadequate. There’s no 14th St. bridge for shuttle buses, and the nearest East River crossings are the 7 to the north in Long Island City and the J/M/Z ride over the Williamsburg Bridge.

During the weekends, though, the M train will be expected to pick up the slack. In all likelihood, the M will run north through Manhattan via 6th Avenue as it does during the week, and those trains will be packed. It’s not replacement service, but it’s the next best thing. As of now, we don’t know how those weekend outages will be structured or how long the weekend work will last. But that’s what’s ahead for the Canarsie Tube when work eventually begins within the next few years.

For more on the Sandy recovery efforts and the MTA’s Fix And Fortify program, check out my upcoming Problem Solvers session at the Transit Museum on January 27th. I’ll be interviewing John O’Grady, an MTA engineer, on the challenges facing the agency as it continues to recover from the storm. Tickets are free for museum members and otherwise cost $10.

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John-2 January 6, 2015 - 2:46 am

With a list that includes 30,330 linear feet of duct banks to be demolished, that’s right at six miles to be replaced. Even if they only do work on weekends, that foreshadows a lot of slow-speed trips through the 14th Street tunnel while the work is in progress.

It would make sense for the MTA to extend the M at least to Queens Plaza during the construction period, so that it can catch additional riders at both ends going into Manhattan who normally use the L, with the J on Broadway and with the E at 23rd Street-Ely-Court Square (It’s also safe to say the out-of-station transfer between the G and the J/M will be back in place for construction weekends, unless the MTA plans to force all area L riders onto the E, M or 7 train at Court Square).

Ryan January 6, 2015 - 9:57 am

Okay, but it would make more sense to extend the G train instead, since the heaviest users of L train services either have a transfer to the M already at Myrtle-Wyckoff and/or will be transferring to the G only as far as they need to go to get to a transfer for the train into Manhattan (and in that case, it makes the most sense to bring those G trains directly into Queens Plaza) – frankly speaking, riders of the Queens half of the M already have weekend E/F/R service and there’s no reason to extend weekend M service as well when the greatest number of potential transfers (and potential destinations, but that’s only semi-related to 14 St Tunnel closures) is instead served by intensified G service, which there’s plenty of room for if you just hand all of the would-be M slots to the G.

In fact, there’s honestly no good reason why weekend G service doesn’t utilize the evacuated M slots all the time.

Patrick O'Hara January 6, 2015 - 3:43 pm

Hunh? The M and F don’t share any track in Brooklyn, and the M doesn’t run along Queens Boulevard on weekends in the first place. I can see increasing headways on the G to provide some alternative, but I don’t see what good ‘extending’ it is when you can already transfer to the 7, E, (and the M on weekdays) at Court Square.

Ryan January 8, 2015 - 9:02 am

Who are these people who are riding the M from Queens to Brooklyn and back again? Where are they? I don’t believe such people actually exist.

People boarding the M in Queens are almost certainly going either to somewhere else in Queens or to Manhattan. The ones going to Manhattan who want to get somewhere on 6 Av can board the F instead or board any other local train and change for the F at the earliest opportunity. The ones going to somewhere else in Queens can use any Queens Boulevard train and they don’t really care where that train’s ultimate destination is. The former group frankly isn’t worth running the M to Queens Boulevard at all, but there’s nowhere else to send the M that doesn’t screw up some other line because 2 Av Phase 1 isn’t open yet (and the absolutely boneheaded decision not to build express tracks means that sending the M there would only kick the problem back until Phase 3 opens and they start running T trains anyway) and it’s too much of an operations headache to try and terminate M trains at 57. (The latter group, of course, only cares about the next local train that runs on Queens Boulevard and so is irrelevant to the discussion of where to send additional service once it leaves Queens Boulevard.)

You’re correct in that the M isn’t running along Queens Boulevard on the weekends right now. That means that the train slots which are normally used by the M on weekdays are all vacant during the weekends, and there’s room for the G to run in its place. We could (and we should) start implementing that change as a temporary measure during L train closures, because the L-G transfer will remain intact and L riders can use the G to change for Manhattan-bound service at either Court Square or Queens Plaza. I would expect people to become used to this new service pattern and have it eventually become permanent. (Frankly, if I had a good way to get M trains running to a terminal anywhere in Manhattan or the Bronx, I’d say cut the M back right now and reinstate the G along Queens Boulevard full time.)

The Brooklyn half of the M, of course, is a useful train service that is ultimately handicapped by its lack of useful terminals in Manhattan – but much like nobody in Queens is riding the M from Queens to Brooklyn, nobody in Brooklyn is riding the M from Brooklyn to Queens. They don’t care what happens to their M train before they get on or after they get off, so long as they can reach their destination somewhere else in Brooklyn or somewhere in Manhattan.

L train riders bound for anywhere in Manhattan are about to lose their service. They’ll be looking for other choices. Transferring to the G train at Lorimer and then transferring to Manhattan-bound service is one option, and transferring to the M at Myrtle-Wyckoff is another option. These are both things you can do with no modified construction service, but extending the G gets you more and better transfer opportunities at Queens Plaza.

So, in the context of the suggestion to run the M full time for the duration of construction to take some of the L train ridership – it isn’t necessarily a bad idea, my own personal desire to see the M restructured aside, but there’s better choices. Running G service up Queens Boulevard is a better choice.

sonicboy678 January 11, 2015 - 4:31 pm

Honestly, you can’t really speak for everyone on the Queens-Brooklyn/Brooklyn-Queens matter; that said, I do agree that that base is small, given how Manhattan has the most job centers. (This will likely change in the future, but no guarantees on that.)

As for a better Manhattan or Bronx terminus, how about new infrastructure that uses 5 and University Avenues up to Sedgwick and Dickinson Avenues? The M could be sent over it as an express with an accompanying local service which splits off to Chambers Street for a connection to the J.

Alex January 14, 2015 - 7:35 pm

How about sending the M down to the montague tunnel. Lately I’ve been seeing random M trains terminating at Chambers in the evenings and late nights, and I would love a more “direct” route to south Brooklyn from East Williamsburg or Bushwick.

sonicboy678 January 15, 2015 - 12:56 am

There’s a reason why that practice was terminated.

alex January 15, 2015 - 7:21 am

what’s the reason?

Eric January 7, 2015 - 4:57 am

This would be the perfect time to institute a JMZ-G out-of-system transfer, to make up for the L-G transfer which will no longer exist.

Russell January 6, 2015 - 7:57 am

Hopefully during these weekend shutdowns MTA will increase G train service. Whereas in the 2010-2011 time frame they could pretend nothing was wrong with offering the same level of G train service on the weekends, in 2015 that is not gonna fly. I’m guessing the western terminus of the L train is going to be Lorimer Street? That’s a lot of people transferring to the G train.

Alex January 6, 2015 - 11:49 am

There’s a crossover between Lorimer and Bedford, so they should be able to terminate at Bedford unless the duct and track work extends that far up. Hopefully not. There will be a lot of people who use the Bedford stop who will need to get to alternate service. Maybe a shuttle bus that runs from the 7 down to the M so they have the option would work.

Tower18 January 6, 2015 - 12:59 pm

What if during these weekends, they sent the F via 53rd St with the E, sent the Q to 21st to replace the F, and then bumped up G and M service. With the F out of the way, the M can easily turn at 57th. The F can supplement the E at Court Square for G transfers there, and the rest can go to Hoyt for the A/C.

C – maybe slightly increased service from 6 to 7tph
F – via the E from Roosevelt to Rockefeller Center
G – increased service from 6 to 8-9tph
M – extended to 57th St
Q – extended to 21st St

This of course assumes the MTA doesn’t do the L tunnel work on the same weekends they do Cranberry/Rutgers work. If they do that, well all bets are off.

With this pattern, L riders could use the M for direct Midtown service, or those near the G could have better connection options at Court Sq and Hoyt-Schermerhorn.

Herb Lehman January 6, 2015 - 5:03 pm

Though I agree with you, I can never remember the MTA making that many increases on alternate lines to compensate for one line being shut down on a weekend. At best, we’ll see just the M train, and probably only once every 10 minutes at that.

Tower18 January 6, 2015 - 5:58 pm

With the exception of increases to the C and G, which probably aren’t strictly necessary for this plan, the other modifications don’t really increase service–just move it around. It might require 1 or 2 more Q trains to be running.

Sure it’s just weekends, but I can’t think of another similar outage that cut off an entire line from Manhattan, without transfer opportunities (7/NQ is the most sparkling example). The L’s weekend ridership is probably higher than most and I don’t think they can get away with “just use the M and G, at their current service levels”

Tower18 January 6, 2015 - 5:59 pm

I should also note that this is bordering on foaming, but not really, because all service changes are normal construction patterns that riders understand.

Larry Littlefield January 6, 2015 - 9:42 am

Since the (last?) MTA Capital plan expires next week, and we are moving into deferred maintenance and abandonment of the system, Sandy was a boon to the MTA. It gives its capital staff money and something to do. And some of the tunnel equipment being rebuilt would have had to have been rebuilt anyway.

This, however, is bad, as they will be replacing stuff that was just replaced. I used to say L train riders should stop whining about construction, because they would be off the hook for decades. Turns out I was wrong.

Eric January 6, 2015 - 2:03 pm

I’m leaving in 3 months and I am giddy. I will read your comments from the West Coast and they will keep me warm.

tacony January 6, 2015 - 9:53 am

The MTA should ramp up service on the B32 and B62 during the L train outages, along with a bunch of the routes that feed into the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza from the east, and heavily publicize these as alternate routes to Manhattan. A lot of these buses have really bad headways on weekends and are basically useless for able-bodied people, but with more service they’d be helpful during the outages. And a lot of people who live there likely have no idea where the buses go ’cause they’re programmed to just take the L into the city every day.

Gorski January 6, 2015 - 12:29 pm

I wonder if it would make sense to do FASTRAK plus weekend shutdowns (in other words, run the full L only from 5am to 10 pm M-F). You’d have to turn the M into a 24 hour service, but theoretically that would be better for a year or so than having *two-and-a-half years* of weekend shutdowns.

Brooklynite January 6, 2015 - 2:11 pm

10 PM might be too early, since this is the L line after all. Midnight would probably be better. And yes, it’s completely possible to get a sizeable amount of work done from 12-5 AM… just ask almost every other subway system in the world. (Hint: they don’t do weekend service changes.)

Holiday shutdowns can also be done. For instance, the week from Christmas to New Years’ would be a perfect time to do some of the more intensive work.

Finally, a shuttle bus isn’t that bad an idea. It’s a 25-minute round trip from Bedford Av to Union Square*. If Sandy has showed anything, it’s that bus bridges can be done if needed. Even if the shuttle bus to Manhattan cannot be done, a shorter route to Marcy J/M/Z would suffice.

*Bedford Av (L) > N 7 St > Roebling > Willy B > Bowery > 4 Av > Union Sq station > 14 St > 3 Av > Bowery > Willy B > Bedford Av

ajedrez January 6, 2015 - 11:57 pm

I think 25 minutes is REALLY optimistic. One-way maybe, but not round-trip.

Brooklynite January 7, 2015 - 10:18 am

25 minutes is what Google Maps returns for a round trip, barring traffic of course. “With current traffic” says 47 minutes, so about an hour would be reasonable?

SEAN January 6, 2015 - 2:22 pm

Yes, run the M full time & in addition turn the L into a shuttle. Transfer not withstanding.

Larry Littlefield January 6, 2015 - 3:05 pm

In “Under the Sidewalks of New York” there is a mention of dangerous crowding on the Broadway Brooklyn line prior to opening of the Canarsie Line. Everyone was transferring at Canal Street to go uptown.

But now you have the M heading to Midtown and the J transfer at Delancy.

A case could be made the MTA should just shut down the L from Broadway Junction west, run the L onto Broadway, shift the other L cars to the G and M, and get the thing done.

Who knows? Maybe the savings from getting the whole thing done at once would pay for tail tracks west of 8th Avenue.

Seth R January 6, 2015 - 6:23 pm

I would’ve hoped that CBTC would allow us to do a crazy single-track ballet with reduced train frequency, but I guess not.

Night-time shutdowns for a prolonged period of time actually sound pretty good though, especially if they can keep running the L in manhattan to ferry people between weird transfers.

Eric January 7, 2015 - 5:06 am

Yeah, seriously, why exactly can’t single-track work? Right now the L has 10-20 minute headways between 11pm and 6am. 1st Ave to Bedford is a 4 minute trip, so I don’t see why 10-15 minute nighttime headways would not be possible using a single track.

Brooklynite January 7, 2015 - 10:41 am

Because MTA is incompetent sounds about right in this case. There is absolutely no reason it can’t be done, especially since the line is reverse-signalled by definition of CBTC (I think).

Furthermore, weekends would work just as well if they really cared to try. 3 Av to Bedford Av is timetabled at 5 minutes. Here’s how operation could work:
Trains would run in two sections: 8-Bedford (single-track under the river) and Bedford-Canarsie (using the other platform at Bedford). Two trains would be let into the single track at 3 Av at a time, one following the other. Once the first reached Bedford, it would go past the station (stopping short of the crossover) and allow the second one to board passengers. Then the second one would depart back to 8 Av, the first would re-enter Bedford, board passengers, and go back to Manhattan as well. Ta-da, 10 trains per hour. Given the computerization of the CBTC system, the signalling shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe it would be though, I’m not an expert, so if this is impossible they should just do overnight shutdowns.

Eric January 7, 2015 - 11:47 am

Someone (more informed and connected than me) should contact the MTA and ask them why exactly they can’t single track…

Brooklynite January 7, 2015 - 1:33 pm

Actually now that I reread the article, it doesn’t look like they’ll be doing overnight service suspensions. That either means they’re doing everything over the weekend or they WILL be single-tracking.

Nathanael January 9, 2015 - 9:31 am

I was going to suggest a complete closure would be better, even with the difficulty of shuttling across the East River, but I realized there’s another problem. There’s no way to get the Manhattan L trains to a maintenance yard without the Canarsie tube.

So if you close the Canarsie tube, you have to suspend all L service in Manhattan as well. Ouch.

Ryan January 9, 2015 - 11:21 am

Shuttling up and down 14 St in Manhattan is a lot easier than shuttling across the river is, though. Once you’ve solved the river crossing, it’s simple enough to intensify bus service pinging back and forth between 14/8 and 14/1.

If you were going to take this opportunity to dig out tail tracks to 9 Av or build a station between 9 and 10 or even actually get going on the L across the river, you’d likely need to close 8 Av station for the work anyway – and turning trains through a closed station is an operations nightmare – and you’d be left with a shuttle between 6 Av and 3 Av, which is barely worth keeping open for the amount of operational headache it would cause.

If you’re going to do this, you might as well go the whole way with it and shut the entire L in Manhattan and dig out at least the tail tracks.

smartone1 January 13, 2015 - 9:19 am

I still do not get why closing L Train tube for sandy repairs gives MTA opportunity to build Avenue A entrance?
How are they related?

sonicboy678 January 13, 2015 - 6:29 pm

No L trains will be in Manhattan; instead, only workers and work equipment will be down there. With no disruptions to passengers on top of the disruptions to passengers, it will be easier to facilitate the construction.

Kenster999 February 27, 2015 - 1:29 am

What a nightmare, and what a cost.

My question is: what’s being done to prepare for the next Sandy? Will it be any different? Or will the city need this 5-year repair period every time there’s a similar storm?

jim March 20, 2015 - 3:13 pm

The MTA’s idea of shuttle bus service is to run one bus to replace an entire train. This is why I suffer in Manhattan, you can’t rely on them anymore. The criteria for shutting down the entire system is getting very low.

Benny D May 28, 2016 - 11:01 am

Will someone explain to me what possible Hurricane Sandy related damage the M train sustained from Metropolitan Ave to Myrtle Ave that that would necessitate its closure for repairs for six months prior to the start of L train tunnel closures?!! This section is totally above ground and nowhere near a flood plain affected by the tides causing so much of the Sandy damage!


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