Home Superstorm Sandy As public outreach begins, MTA plans L train closures for 2019

As public outreach begins, MTA plans L train closures for 2019

by Benjamin Kabak
Recent MTA Board materials offered a glimpse inside the Canarsie Tube as the MTA gears up for its L train outreach efforts.

Recent MTA Board materials offered a glimpse inside the Canarsie Tube as the MTA gears up for its L train outreach efforts.

As the RPA tries to make the most out of the looming L train shutdown and Manhattan riders gird for a 14th St. without subways, the MTA is slowly taking the Canarsie Tube bull by the horns. At Monday’s board committee meetings, the MTA announced that whatever shutdown the agency settles on will begin during the first quarter of 2019, nearly three years from now. With ample time to plan alternate routes, the MTA also unveiled the scope of the damage Hurricane Sandy enacted on the L train’s tunnel and later in the day announced two upcoming public outreach meetings.

The big news here is the schedule for work. We don’t know if this Sandy work will involve 18 months of a full shutdown, three years of partial shutdowns or the terrible Gale Brewer-inspired seven years of no service on nights and weekends without the mitigation plan that would come with a concentrated work effort. But we do know that the L train’s riders have around 35 months to prepare for the worst. The MTA, which says it will work with NYCDOT (buses) and EDC (ferries) to prepare alternative service, will begin the tunnel shutdown before March of 2019 ends. Mark your calendars.

So what goes into the Canarsie Tube rebuild? The MTA listed out all the work that needs to be performed, and it’s quite a doozy of a list. As you’ll see, this is why a partial shutdown is impractical and a nights-and-weekends only plan is foolish:

  • Reconstruction of 7 miles of duct bank
  • Replacement of 56 miles of power, communication and signal cables
  • Reconstruction of 2.7 mi. of track
  • Replacement of 2 circuit breaker houses (CBH)
  • Repair of 2 fan plants
  • Rehabilitation of 1 pump room
  • Construction of 1 new substation

The MTA also confirmed that the Sandy work will allow for other station improvements as well. The 1st Ave. stop will indeed get ADA-compliant entrances at Ave. A, thus opening up Alphabet City to the L train, and Bedford Ave. will receive ADA treatment as well as more expansive mezzanines and and street entrances to improve passenger flow. These are sorely needed improvements, but the MTA hasn’t yet discussed the RPA’s golden egg of tail tracks west of 8th Ave. which would be a huge boost to operations and line capacity.

So with all this work lined up, next up comes the tough part: The MTA is going to hold two public outreach meetings in Brooklyn along the L train in the coming weeks. The first is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 5th, and it will take place at the Marcy Avenue Armory at 355 Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn (a location not that close to the L train). The second meeting will be held in Manhattan. As yet, the MTA does not yet know who will attend this meeting, but the MTA noted that the long lead time before construction begins provides “ample time for both the selection of a construction plan and the development of service alternatives.”

Yet, the contract must be signed before the end of this year, and thus, the agency will work to formulate a plan for the shutdown sooner rather than later. How much a say the public has — and how cooperative the community of L train riders will be — remains to be seen. The MTA says the meetings will include “include an in-depth discussion of the potential construction approaches currently under consideration” and an open house for community members to discuss their concerns. The agency also promised to work with residents, businesses, community boards, merchant groups and civic associations along the L line, but not everyone — perhaps no one — will be happy when the inevitable happens.

As MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast’s statements made clear, the agency views an L train shutdown as nearly unavoidable. The key will be alternative service then rather than delayed pain. “The heavy damage sustained by the Canarsie Tunnel during Superstorm Sandy,” Prendergast said, “requires that we undertake a full reconstruction in order to ensure the integrity of the tunnel and the safety of our riders for generations to come.”

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Herb Lehman April 19, 2016 - 9:17 am

I’m surprised to hear a 2019 date. At that rate, the MTA runs the risk of another Superstorm Sandy washing away the L train altogether — and then no one will have to worry about closures.

Nyland8 April 19, 2016 - 10:34 am

I suspect they might prefer another Frankenstorm. It would mean they could set about fixing the tunnel immediately, as soon as it was pumped out, and simply not reopen again until the job was done. And more federal monies would be made available, not only for the repair and cleanup, but also the hardening of the tunnel against future storms.

Super Mario April 23, 2016 - 9:46 am

I agree with Nyland8 because it is true they should’ve doing it after they pumped all that water out…………..

Josh April 19, 2016 - 10:44 am

A state agency will delay doing something unpopular until after the governor’s next election campaign. What a coincidence.

Hector April 19, 2016 - 12:35 pm

Taking after his mentor and leader BHO.

NattyB April 19, 2016 - 11:06 am

So what’s going to happen with all the L Trains? Will they put the R143s on another service? Would not running them for 2 years impact depreciation? Just kinda sad all those rail cars just sitting in the yard, like the caged bird that sings.

Russell April 19, 2016 - 11:33 am

Well, first off the L would still be running between Lorimer Street and Rockaway Parkway. In addition, I would imagine that some of those R143s would be used on the G train – it’s already been stated by the MTA that the G would run longer trains during the shutdown.

John-2 April 19, 2016 - 2:32 pm

IIRC, there’s enough spare room on the Sixth Avenue local service to run five more M trains per hour paired with the current F train service and the current E train service through the 53rd Street tunnel.

So odds are that’s where most of the spare L train sets are going to wind up during the 14th Street tunnel reconstruction. Both lines use eight-car sets, and shifting some R-143 L’s over to the M would allow the trains to continue to be serviced out of the East New York yard (and those added 5 TPH could end up as some sort of bridging service, between Broadway Junction and Queens Plaza, to allow Canarsie riders an M transfer at ENY, while putting more TPH at 23rd-Ely, to handle the additional riders coming north on the G from Williamsburg to Court Square).

Peter April 19, 2016 - 11:11 am

Great to hear about the improvements at 1 Ave and Bedford Ave. They really ought to try to improve circulation at Union Square as well. The tail tracks at 8th Ave would be amazing but I don’t hold out hope. I find it hard to believe the MTA can gets its shit together enough to make that happen, plus as usual no funding will be provided.

Stephen Bauman April 19, 2016 - 11:42 am

There’s a far less expensive way to increase 14th St service level capacity than adding tail tracks to the 8th Ave station.

That solution is to use the 3rd track between the 6th and 8th Ave stations as a relay track. This could be achieved by adding a wye switch just west of the 6th Ave station. There is provision for such a switch, so no major construction would be required.

Modifying the CBTC signal system would be require to account for the new switch. One of CBTC’s assumed benefits is its ability to adapt quickly to infrastructure changes. It’s time this benefit was tested.

The primary impediment to increased peak service levels on the 14th St line would remain the lack of rolling stock.

Nyland8 April 19, 2016 - 12:05 pm

?? How does the use of the third track override the rule that without tail tracks, trains must still enter the station at 5 mph?

Not only would capacity improve with tail tracks at 8th Ave, but if it were part of a larger, long-term cross-Hudson project, there might be federal dollar$ available soon enough to get it done by the end of the scheduled shutdown.

Stephen Bauman April 20, 2016 - 3:14 pm

The current capacity at 8th Ave is 24 tph. They currently operate 20 tph.

Adding the relay track between 6th and 8th Aves, would allow alternate trains to terminate at 6th Ave. It will take approximately 1 minute for a train to move from 6th Ave onto the relay track. One minute to discharge/recharge the brakes and another minute to move from the relay track back into 6th Ave. That’s 3 minutes for the turnaround or 20 tph. Thus, alternating 6th and 8th Ave terminals would permit 40 tph operation.

N.B. using the relay track does not preclude expansion of the 14th St Line in any direction in the future.

Brian April 19, 2016 - 12:23 pm

I’d like to know how many workers and crews they will have on the project at any given time. Does the MTA have multiple work crews working simultaneously in different parts of the tunnel round the clock to speed things up?

smartone April 19, 2016 - 12:26 pm

Question about new Avenue A Entrance
since currently in 1st Avenue Station you cannot get from one side to the other
so will MTA be building a tunnel to connect the two sides ?
or building two separate elevators?
there really has not been any clarity on this

Marc April 19, 2016 - 1:32 pm

The Avenue A entrance will have an elevator and two staircases on each side with no connection between the sides. It is on page 33 of the April MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee materials.

John-2 April 19, 2016 - 2:42 pm

Going forward, the interesting thing will be if the Avenue A entrance on the L becomes to the First Avenue station what the First Avenue entrance is to the Second Avenue station on the F — the default 24/7 entrance for the station due to the ADA elevators, while the actual First Avenue entrance on the L becomes a secondary HEET access point at nights and on weekends.

Walt Gekko April 19, 2016 - 12:44 pm

I would not be surprised if between now and 2019 (especially with 2018 being a Gubernatorial election year), I would not be surprised if between now and then pols demand the MTA find a way to keep the Manhattan end of the (L) open between 1st and 8th avenues (especially since even with the work on 1st Avenue, that station could be used since only half of one platform would be needed at any one time), taking 7-8 sets of four-car trains over to run a shuttle that would be single-tracked at 1st and 3rd Avenues and double-tracked between just west of 3rd Avenue and 8th Avenue. That would satisfy those who actually use the (L) as the 14th Street crosstown.

Otherwise, given the demands from riders of a new tunnel to replace the closed ones (from a February 25 article at Gothamist, http://gothamist.com/2016/02/2.....lution.php), what may have to happen is something that is likely far from the greatest idea out there but one I noted a while back that would be in two parts:

Part 1 would be rather simple. In that case, it would be beefing up the (M) train with what would on weekdays be a supplemental line that would be an “Orange (T)” that would really be an (M), but signed in with a different letter because these would be going to 96th Street and 2nd Avenue instead of 71st-Continental.

The “Orange (T)” would actually be a 24/7 line because late nights and weekends it would also run to/from 96/2, replacing the (M) along most of its route and eliminating the late-night (M) shuttles during those hours. During the week, even at peak times this “Orange (T)” would be no more than 6-7 TPH with the same on weekends and 3 TPH late nights.

Part 2 is much more complicated:

In this case, it would have the (L) truncated to Broadway Junction (Google Earth shows there is a switch between Broadway Junction and where the line goes underground) where it can better serve the much more heavily traveled part of the line. Meanwhile, we see the flyover between the Broadway-Brooklyn and Canarsie lines wind up in revenue for the first time since 1968, in this case with the (C) train that is also a 480′ train be re-routed after West 4th, run via the (M) and then (J) to Broadway Junction and then via the current (L) to Rockaway Parkway. This version of the (C) would be a 24/7 line between Rockaway Parkway and 168th Street (I have read elsewhere there are still signals on the stretch between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Parkway so non-CBTC cars can access the Rockaway Yard). During this time the (C) and (M) (and if implemented, “Orange (T)”) would run express in Brooklyn (M/T to/from Myrtle, C to/from Broadway Junction) during peak hours while the (J) and (Z) would run local then.

I’m well aware this would create a slew of other issues (most notably the (C) merging with the (M) (and possibly (T)) and (F) at Broadway-Lafayette and the (J) at Essex, but there are going to be issues no matter what because of the (L) shutdown and this would likely minimize those. If necessary, you either run 1-2 (F) trains per hour during peak periods via the Crosstown OR you cut the (F) by 1-2 TPH and add additional (G) service to replace it during that time to help with the issues the (G) is going to face no matter what shutdown happens.

If those changes are made, there are other ripple effects, those being (as I would do them):

The (E) is extended to Euclid Avenue to replace the (C) in Brooklyn at all times and late nights is further extended to Lefferts to eliminate the late-night Lefferts shuttle. Because of capacity issues between Canal and Chambers Streets, during peak hours, select (E) trains (including ALL (E)’s that begin and end at 179th Street) are designated as and terminate at Chambers, running local while during those hours, (E) trains to Brooklyn run on the express track with the (A). Since the (C) would be leaving the line at West 4th, there would also be a supplemental (K) train (running a max of 2-5 TPH) at all times betweeen Chambers and 168th Street.

Again, I know this a far from perfect situation, but it might be the most doable for at least this period (and if proven successful could be made permanent after the (L) closure is over). There are going to be MAJOR issues all over the place with the ripple effects of this shutdown and keeping enough people off the (G) and (L) by running both a re-routed (C) between Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn and 168th Street in Manhattan AND a “Orange (T)” (that really is the (M) but signed under a different letter) that runs from Metropolitan Avenue in Queens to 2nd Avenue and 96th Street in Manhattan may be the best way to minimize those problems even if it creates logjams in some cases in doing so.

The main purpose of doing this is to keep as many people as possible off the (L) and more importantly off a (G) line that is going to see a massive rise is (G) train ridership and for those who have to go that way, I would also encourage people to take the (G) going south (towards Coney Island) instead of north (towards Court Square) by adding special OOS transfers (that are in addition to the regular transfers) from the (G) to the Broadway-Brooklyn line at Hewes Street/Broadway and from the (G) at Fulton Street to the (C) at Lafayette Avenue and the 2/3/4/5/B/D/N/Q/R and by then possibly (W) at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center. This is to take pressure off the Court Square area, especially since the (E) (M) and (7) will be having to take on a good amount of this load as it is in addition to their regular load and the (E) / (M) and (7) platforms are going to be jammed because of this.

No matter how you slice it, it’s going to be one big, massive headache that I’m simply trying to massage by spreading out the pain as much as possible.

Jeff April 19, 2016 - 2:07 pm

They can’t run a shuttle along 14 Street because there’s no way to get the train to a railyard if they need maintenance and repairwork done once they shut down the tunnel.

Walt Gekko April 20, 2016 - 7:40 am

Actually, if they have to during the shutdown (even if working on both tunnels) have at least one tunnel available for moving stuff to where work has to take place, it can be done in a way where non-electric work trains could be used on a regularly scheduled basis to take trainsets back for scheduled maintenance while other trainsets are brought in to replace those taken out. That’s how a 1st-8th Avenue shuttle on the (L) in Manhattan could work.

As for the rest, the demands of (L) riders that include having another tunnel built first is why I would be looking at what I was even if it does cause jam-ups because these riders seem to rather want that than anything else. It’s going to be a headache no matter what is chosen, I wrote it as I did trying to spread out the pain as much as possible and prevent for example severe overcrowding at Court Square.

Astoria rider April 19, 2016 - 2:10 pm

Yikes…thats complicated.

Just keep it simple..
M runs at all times
J/z/a/c more frequent service
G longer trains and more frequent service
Connect g to j at lorimer
Bus lanes on willyB and 14 st
Free express shuttle bus from bedford to 14 st 1 ave/un sq with no stops inbetween

j.b. diGriz April 19, 2016 - 4:07 pm

They should make a lane on the Williamsburg bridge dedicated just for buses.

Astoria rider April 19, 2016 - 4:09 pm

Its why i said “willyB”

Bryan April 19, 2016 - 6:30 pm

In the interim, what are we doing vis-a-vis Sandy repairs? Fixing the Clark tunnel, Jorelmon? Yeah, sure, giving the L folks time to prepare is nice…

AlexB April 20, 2016 - 9:57 am

The Joralemon Tunnel is closed almost every weekend for Sandy repairs.

Not sure about Clark. I assume it will not happen until Joralemon is done since it is the primary alternative route.

Brooklynite April 20, 2016 - 12:29 pm

Clark is coming next, after Joralemon is done. Rutgers will happen sometime after Cranberry but no timeline has been determined yet.

TomS April 20, 2016 - 12:14 am

Why couldn’t they shut one tube, fix it, and use the other tube to run a shuttle that goes between Bedford and Union Square, running back and forth on a 15-minute headway? According to the Schedule available here, it is about 6 minutes between Union Square and Bedford Avenue, so one should be able to run a USQ-Bedford shuttle every 15 minutes through the one open tube while shutting the other completely to rebuild it.

The montague Tube closure was 14 months with a full shutdown. It would seem a repeat performance in the Canarsie tube would take 28 months to do each one separately.

Either way, unpleasant, but if enough people use other routes into the city, it need not be too crowded on the shuttle.

smartone April 20, 2016 - 12:18 pm

Why don’t they shut BOTH tubes and front end the big work on both tunnels and
then try to get one back in service sooner than the other

Brooklynite April 20, 2016 - 12:31 pm

The time it would take to get everyone onto the train at Bedford would be ridiculous and significantly kill whatever fraction of capacity there would still be.

My idea would be to have L trains run in threes, going nonstop from Lorimer to 8th, 6th, or Union Sq, reversing there, and going nonstop back to Lorimer. The key is to keep dwells on the single track portion as low as possible.

TomS April 20, 2016 - 10:15 pm

That would seem to work better. Or at least in twos. Where’s the crossover, at Lorimer or Bedford? It would cut down the dwell time, which I hadn’t thought of as much.

Brooklynite April 20, 2016 - 12:31 pm

Can we have an independent engineer make sure this project is actually going to take 18 months per tunnel? It seems like quite a drawn out timeline tbh.


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