Home L Train Shutdown Gov. Cuomo orders MTA to cancel L train shutdown, use untested tech to repair tunnel systems

Gov. Cuomo orders MTA to cancel L train shutdown, use untested tech to repair tunnel systems

by Benjamin Kabak

Ed. Note: This post was originally titled “Gov. Cuomo to order MTA to lengthen L train work, inconveniencing everyone for longer.” I’ve updated the title to reflect the comments from the governor’s press conference. More updates are coming.

Governor Andrew Cuomo admires the L train tunnel just months before a full shutdown for Sandy repairs was set to begin.

After an impromptu tour of the L train tunnel last month and three weeks of consultations with engineering academics from Columbia and Cornell Universities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the MTA to cancel the impending 15-month shutdown of the L train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Instead, the necessary repairs will proceed on a 15-20 month schedule that maintains regular weekday service and relies on single-tracking during nights and weekends. Instead of a full benchwall chip-out and rebuild, the MTA will use what Cuomo and his experts referred to as a rackwall to run new cabling and other required systems through the Canarsie Tunnel. It’s a very Cuomo-ian roll of the dice as this technology is unproven as to its application in subway tunnels but has been implemented in other contexts successfully, but for now, it seems the scope of L train work is posed to change significantly, raising more questions and concerns.

Updates to follow. The original post follows below.


Exercising his control over the MTA last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo dragged a bunch of academics who aren’t really experts in MTA construction project management into the L train tunnel for a last-minute inspection stunt to see if the upcoming shutdown could be shortened. It wasn’t immediately clear why Cuomo got the bug, three years into extensively planning for the project and four months before the shutdown, to intervene. In various iterations of a story, he claimed people on the street were coming up to him on the street to urge him to do something. And now he has done something that is going to make the required Sandy repairs on the L train worse and longer, against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of L train riders.

News of Cuomo’s meddling first broke when Transit Center tweeted out some rumblings this morning, and the development has been confirmed by The New York Times. We do not yet know the shape of the new project, but the full 24/7 shutdown will not begin in April and will not last 15 months.

According to a report on Gothamist, Cuomo may force the MTA to change the 15-month plan to a three-year project with more work shifted to nights and weekends and shorter 24/7 shutdowns scheduled throughout. It’s worth noting again that when presented with these options throughout 2016 and 2017, Brooklyn and Manhattan residents voted overwhelmingly against them, in favor of a shorter work schedule with proper mitigation. According to my MTA sources, Cuomo has been pushing the agency for weeks to avoid a shutdown even as he has indicated the work is still required. It’s not quite clear why he wants to avoid a 15-month shutdown, but this will make the impact worse for everyone involved.

Cuomo will address the public at 12:45, and we should learn more then. I will update this post with news as it develops. This is not a move that should be praised.

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Nyland8 January 3, 2019 - 1:37 pm

So again …. why not punch through the wall at 8th Avenue and head west? Even if connecting with Lautenberg in Secaucus is never in the cards, at the very least the newly revamped L Line will have run-out tracks and be able to enter that station at speed. Maybe even a little room to store a train or two. And start preparing the station for its connection to the someday-in-somebody’s-lifetime 2nd Avenue Line Phase 3. Let’s think ahead.

Boomer January 3, 2019 - 3:04 pm

It’s funny you say everyone is against this yet I see noting but sighs of relief all over facebook

Ron Obvious January 3, 2019 - 3:21 pm

It’s funny you say “everyone”, yet I don’t see that word used in the post above.

mattman January 3, 2019 - 5:19 pm

I imagine because it’s good PR. It does SOUND very nice, doesn’t it? Assuming you don’t actually know anything about what’s involved in either proposal.

Eric Murphy January 3, 2019 - 3:15 pm

What does this mean for the planned entrance at Avenue A?

Jeremiah Clemente January 3, 2019 - 3:15 pm

I’m also not happy with this. Also, why on earth did he wait until now to tour the tunnel and find a new way to fix this and find a new way to do it, when he should’ve been at the first tour that took place in 2016? Looks like New York politics really has something against subway riders.

Walt Gekko January 3, 2019 - 3:24 pm

I’m not surprised one bit by this:

Cuomo probably heard from a lot of people fearful that a total shutdown of the 14th Street line would cause massive traffic problems on many blocks north and south of 14th Street and on the avenues due to cars that come in from New Jersey where such drivers won’t use public transportation because:

They can’t, either because there is none where they live and even a park-and-ride is too much


In some cases don’t want to deal with riff-raff on public transportation OR in some cases even think if their employer knew they used public transportation would look down on them and use it against them.

That to me may have been given to Cuomo as reasons by such “hipsters,” especially if they have real concerns of increased car traffic causing unintended consequences for them. Many of them likely demanded that the 1st-8th Avenue portion of the (L) remain running at all times even if both tunnels were shut down. This suggests Cuomo may be looking for their votes as well as votes in New Jersey and Connecticut in the 2020 primaries if he does decide to run for President as this may be a precursor to that.

I would now re-visit my version where both tunnels are shut as originally planned, BUT with eight sets of four-car trains in use between 1st and 8th Avenue on the (L) and every 1-2 months opening up one of the tunnels long enough to swap out cars for normal maintenance (also why I would have a max of three sets in use at any one time). I would also add a new set of switches just east of 1st Avenue to allow for greater flexibility of such. That might be a compromise Cuomo and the hipsters can accept.

sonicboy678 January 3, 2019 - 4:34 pm

You’re still going on about that nonsense?

Walt Gekko January 3, 2019 - 5:11 pm

I said before politics can play into this and that was why I would have kept the (L) running between 1st and 8th Avenues to appease likely many of those who pushed Cuomo to do this.

sonicboy678 January 3, 2019 - 8:46 pm

That doesn’t make it a good idea, especially if we’re discussing feasibility.

kiers January 5, 2019 - 12:44 pm

……let’s use the “Chris Christie method”, as taught in Harvard case studies on public policy: did williamsburg, 14th street, et al vote for me or show me love? No? Shut it down.” capiche?

Larry Littlefield January 3, 2019 - 3:37 pm

It might be assuming the worst, but it sounds to me like patching instead of fixing, postponing the pain until Generation Greed is gone.

Leading to more and more patching and disruption down the line, and perhaps eventually a shutdown with no federal Sandy money.

That wasn’t the choice that was made for the Tappan Zee.

That isn’t what is proposed for the Hudson River tubes.

That isn’t what is proposed for the BQE viaduct.

orulz January 3, 2019 - 3:53 pm

The components of this that are really “untested” in the context of tunnel refurb are the fiberglass wraps to patch up the bench wall, and the fiber optic system to monitor that bench wall for further degredation. It should be noted that that while the bench wall currently contains vital cables, the only purpose of the bench wall after this repair job will be as a walkway.

Rack systems for carrying cables are a pretty common, as are walkways bolted to the side of the tunnel.

Even if the fiberglass wrap patches don’t work, or if the fiber optic systems don’t prove reliable, you can just send crews in at nights and/or on weekends, at some point in the future, to jackhammer away the remainder of the bench wall one segment at a time.

So this is a bit better than just kicking the can down the road.

eo January 3, 2019 - 4:21 pm

Rack systems are cheaper, but do not last as long, so you are guaranteeing future shutdowns 20-30 years from now to replace them.

The testing of the “untested” systems is basically the next 50 years. Why anyone assumes that the “active monitoring” system will be maintained properly so that it can prevent accidents is beyond me. Nobody will know if the system works well for the next 10-15 years as the bench will still be in OK shape. The real test is afterwards when the weakened spot really begin to disintegrate after the salt has eaten through all the metal. The first time a chunk of concrete falls down, a train hits it and derails will immediately cause an indefinite shutdown until it is all repaired, so yes this is really just shifting the problem into the future, but by then it will not be Cuomo’s problem. Also passive solutions are almost always better than active ones as the active ones require power, maintenance, monitoring and so on. There is a reason why in the nuclear industry they favor passive systems over anything active — just ask the people of Fukushima …

paulb January 3, 2019 - 5:08 pm

What I was thinking, too. Eventually, but not for ten to twenty years maybe, the work this new plan avoids for now will have to be done.

eo January 3, 2019 - 4:06 pm

This is politics at its worse. The only clear winners are the whiners who live along 14th street in Manhattan. Anyone in Brooklyn who thinks that this is better will come to regret it quite quickly when weekend after weekend there is no service and they cannot get anywhere within a reasonable amount of time.

Exercising his control over the MTA last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo dragged a bunch of academics who aren’t really experts in MTA construction project management into the L train tunnel for a last-minute inspection stunt to see if the upcoming shutdown could be shortened.

Why a bunch of academics who have never managed a large construction project are considered experts is beyond me. While construction is a mundane and unexciting field, the opportunity to screw it up is enormous as demonstrated not only by MTA’s inability to manage large projects on time, but also by 80% of all large construction projects out there that are either over budget, past their completion dates or both. Listening to anyone who has never run a construction company is pure insanity, especially given that this is not being build on their dime. Look towards budget increases in the order of 50-100%, to be announced 1-2 years after the weekend and nightly closures have begun. But of course, this is being done on the taxpayers dime, so who cares?

Zach January 3, 2019 - 4:50 pm

Is it possible for you ever to say anything nice about the MTA? Seriously…

Will Twiner January 3, 2019 - 5:47 pm

clearly, shutting down any part of the subway during the next ELECTION CYCLE PERIOD is bad for Cuomo’s least achievable dream: graduating from worst governor ever to worst President ever.

sonicboy678 January 3, 2019 - 8:50 pm

“Worst” will be only a bit of a stretch on the latter.

name withheld January 3, 2019 - 6:33 pm

Think of the L train tunnels as being like public buildings that have been flooded. Instead of replacing the wiring and repairing the walls to their original condition, the governor is suggesting a cheaper and faster option.

Coat the damaged sections of the wall with “reinforced polymers”, a technical term for plastics (the same stuff that Band-Aids are made of).

Abandon the electrical wiring in the walls and put new wires outside the walls.

Put “smart sensors” in place to warn when it’s time to apply another Band-Aid to the tunnel.

The second avenue subway tunnels didn’t need to have “smart sensors” installed. They are new tunnels, so they don’t need sensors to warn when parts of the structure are about to fail.

The original L train tunnels have lasted for around 90 years. If these repairs are expected to last for another 90 years, it’s unlikely that “smart sensors” would be needed.

But since the plan is to repair the tunnels by covering some of the damage with giant Band-Aids, it’s necessary to have sensors to warn when more Band-Aids are needed.

This is being marketed as “new technology” (rubber stamped by New York’s ivy league universities). But in reality, it’s a time-honored technique, called “kicking the can down the road”. New York deserves better.

JR January 3, 2019 - 8:13 pm

You’re assuming that the 90-year-old design is the optimal design that cannot be improved. The cables were encased in concrete in the first place because 90 years ago, wiring insulation was far more primitive than it is today. With modern wiring, nobody would build that way–they’d put them on a rack where they’re far more accessible for maintenance. Older design does not necessarily mean better design. As for the banks themselves, they become essentially unnecessary. The only reason that they’re not being removed all at once is because that very removal all at once is what necessitates the long closure. If only small damaged sections need to be removed at a time, it can be done without the need for long closures. Sure, rebuilding the tunnel from scratch would be ideal, but closing a line for 15 months is an enormous cost. Responsible monitoring and patching is the way every system that has to be kept perpetually in service is maintained.

M January 3, 2019 - 8:52 pm

I would presume the platform on the top of the banks holds the dual purpose of emergency egress.

sonicboy678 January 3, 2019 - 8:54 pm

In other words, you missed the point.

The idea is to get everything done at once (and done right, at that). This is little more than deferred maintenance, something this system has a history of.

smartone January 3, 2019 - 6:55 pm

Sorry this blog and twitter does nothing but complain about how MTA is a money pit that does not how to any repair and building quickly or effectively.

Cuomo basically read your blog and went to engineers and experts outside the MTA to come up with a solution that shorts circuits the typical MTA process that this blog HATES and actually doesn’t cripple a main line of the NYC subway for 15 months (or more).

the MTA is a powerful bureaucracy in the State . Perhaps Cuomo had to wait until AFTER the election to do this so that this did not become an election issue.

Zach January 3, 2019 - 7:47 pm


sonicboy678 January 3, 2019 - 8:55 pm


Stephen Bauman January 3, 2019 - 7:26 pm

Bravo! The MTA’s Canarsie Tunnel Rehab plans were a disaster, when they were proposed back in 2016. The MTA deliberately ignored any suggestions that would not provide an exact replacement. They did this by specifying construction methods that worked for small 100 to 500 ft long rehabs be used. This ignored construction methods that are not economical, when scaled down in size.

The reason that the tunnels had to be closed, was the silica dust generated by demolishing 37K linear feet of concrete duct banks. If the existing duct banks do not need to be demolished, there’s no silica dust generation and no environmental need to close the tunnels. Relocating the cables, to the other side was not a suitable solution for the small patchwork methodology the MTA’s engineers tried to scale up. It was a solution that was ignored by the MTA’s design approach.

sonicboy678 January 3, 2019 - 9:00 pm

Okay, so I don’t know where you’re getting this stuff from, but there’s no practicality in half-assing a major project such as this.

Stephen Bauman January 4, 2019 - 2:52 pm

I don’t know where you’re getting this stuff from

I have an engineering background and tried to explain the new design’s benefits in lay terms.

The information regarding the silica dust problem was explained by Tom Prendergast (then MTA Chair) at the first public presentation back in 2016. Prendergast also explained the rationale for trying to scale up existing procedures that worked for small projects.

Matt January 3, 2019 - 7:48 pm

I’m a PhD student in engineering. I’ve done subway station design work in NYC over many summers. Engineering academics have no clue how to manage complex projects. They have no clue how to design and build reliable, operable physical objects. They have no clue about how many of the most basic commercial or governmental organizations work. I doubt any of the faculty at either school specialize in tunnel design. The private engineering firms in NYC have the TOP tunnel engineers in America. These guys do this for a living. I’d listen to them and their detailed analyses. Bringing in the deans is a dangerous scam. Not properly rehabbing the tunnel may have very serious safety implications for L train riders.

Stephen Bauman January 4, 2019 - 2:38 pm

The private engineering firms in NYC have the TOP tunnel engineers in America. These guys do this for a living.

Engineering firms are paid according to the dollar value of a project. They have a vested interest in specifying an expensive engineering approach over one that’s inexpensive.

The same holds for project managers and senior engineers. The pay scale is higher for managing a $100M project than managing one that’s only $1M.

marv January 3, 2019 - 8:50 pm

We can control space ships millions of miles away with wireless technology
We can do surgery remotely with signals going through wireless networks

Why does controlling a train require banks and banks of wiring?

The L train is a self contained system so each train should be able to talk by wireless radio (with repeaters in place for curves) to the train in front and the train behind relaying its:
*braking or acceleration

this information should be able to allow signal free automated running of the trains

Where wires are needed, can’t waterproof wires be laid between the tracks?

TimK January 3, 2019 - 10:26 pm

So what’s going to power these trains? Hope?

Dave January 4, 2019 - 7:52 am

Budgets might have something to do with it. Hospitals have way more money to throw around than transit authorities do, since the medical industry gets a full 1/6 of the entire nation’s spending in any given year. Meanwhile, space programs don’t get as much money as transit authorities do, true – but space program budgets tend to be far more stable year over year than transit authorities’ primarily because transit authorities are expected to earn a good half of their revenue every year from “customers” while space programs are simply allocated almost all of their funds from taxes, whether or not they deliver anything useful in any given year. If your budget isn’t stable year to year (like space programs) and isn’t obscenely profitable (like medical programs), it’s hard to invest in the latest technologies.

Max January 3, 2019 - 9:19 pm

I didn’t see Andy at that news conference. Was he consulted over this plan or was it hoisted upon him by Cuomo?

On top of the fact he hasn’t gotten much traction on getting Fast Forward funding commitments yet…I think this is a bad sign for Andy. I don’t think he’s going to survive New York politics and I bet he’s going to be gone sooner rather than later.

Max Lam January 3, 2019 - 9:24 pm

Sorry, Andy was in attendance at the press conference. He didn’t speak so I thought he was missing.

Paul January 4, 2019 - 1:26 pm

The thing is Andy Byford was there. It’s just that he was sitting with the press. He was as much in the dark about this as everyone else.

Which is why what you said – that he’ll be gone sooner than later – is probably still valid.

M January 3, 2019 - 11:25 pm

Why is Mary Boyce considered a “top-notch engineering expert”. She researches soft polymers at millimeter scales. She has no subway or civil engineering design experience. Look at her in the press photos. She looks miserable as she’s pulled along for this charade. Neither her nor the “Cornell expert” are experts in this field. Neither should be asked for technical comment with regard to this project.

This whole fiasco is like a scene out of Atlas Shrugged.

Pedro Valdez-Rivera January 4, 2019 - 4:49 pm

As a millennial, there goes three years of my own skeptical life thanks to Governor Crony, whose aspiring to run for president in 2020.

kiers January 5, 2019 - 12:35 pm

OMG. They’re talking about “resin”, like they did in Boston’s “big dig”. As a former engineer, I remember the problems they had in Boston getting “resin” (ie. epoxy, basically “JB Weld” type binary hardener and resin mixtures) to hold the ceiling lag bolts in place against gravity.

And it appears cuomo is swinging for using carbon/fiberglass mesh composites wrapped around spalling concrete support structures in the tunnel, then painted (or bathed and covered) in resin.

Here take a gander at the technology:

If you deride it, you could call it a “superglue fix”, or “skirting the problem” etc (LOL).

Or, if you support it, you could call it “the same composite meshes used in the boeing 787”.

kiers January 10, 2019 - 4:25 pm

Has it occurred to ANYONE that the sudden flip flop on the L train repair could have something to do with getting “buy-in” from a new freshman class in ALbany (ie democratic legislators for the first time as opposed to RNC)??

After all it’s a $30bn budget in toto:

Walt Gekko January 16, 2019 - 2:47 pm

Could be the case for sure.


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