MTA responds quickly to Sandy, subway service returning to N.Y.

After Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, entire subway platforms were covered in salt water and equipment was destroyed. Under the East River, eight of 10 subway tunnels were flooded. In its 108 years, the Metropolitan Transit Authority had never before experienced the magnitude of damage it saw because of the storm.

Even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg predicted it could take up to five days for partial service restoration, some subway service returned less than three days after the storm.

“I give the MTA high marks for how quickly they brought back the subways after being so badly flooded,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for a New York City-based transit interest group called the Straphangers Campaign.

Rae Zimmerman, a professor of urban planning at NYU and director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems, agreed.

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“They certainly responded magnificently to getting the subway service up as [quickly] as possible,” Zimmerman said.

Nearly two and a half weeks after the storm, however, some lines are still not fully restored, including the 1, A, J, R and Z lines. As of yesterday, downtown express 1 trains were only running between 34th and Chambers streets. Some uptown 3 trains were discontinued at the 96th Street and Times Square-42nd Street stops because of technical problems at the Harlem-148th Street station.

Aaron Donovan, media liaison for the MTA, attributed this disparity to the differences in structure of the tunnels.

“The length of time it took to restore the tunnels depended on the height of the storm surge, how rapidly it penetrates the protective barriers, the length and diameter of tunnel tubes and the extent of flooding into adjacent underground sections and stations,” Donovan said.

Some members of the NYU’s commuter community, especially those who live in Brooklyn, said the partial service restoration has caused them inconvenience.

“Normally the commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan is a non-issue, but with the subway down, the distance between the boroughs slowed my life down almost to a halt,” said Claire Oliver, a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism. “It made me appreciate the trains even more once they were up and running again.”

Zimmerman said flood prevention would be important in the event that a storm with the caliber of Sandy hits the city again.

“Preventing the water from getting into the tunnels, that would be great, and I think they know the entrance and exit points to prevent leakage,” she said. “It’s going to be very forgoing in a city like ours. It’s not easy to change things because it produces a huge amount disruption for a very long time.”

But for now, Donovan said the MTA is focused on getting service back to full operation.

“When this is all behind us, the MTA will conduct a thorough after-action report specific to Superstorm Sandy,” Donovan said. “And with the new information gathered from the storm, we will continue our long-term strategic planning not only on procedures for storm preparation and response, but more broadly for adapting our infrastructure to a changing climate.”

According to Donovan, the MTA is completely focused on restoring train and tunnel service where it remains disrupted, but does not have a timetable for when service will be fully restored.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 15 print edition. Laura Entis is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected] 

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