New York City’s transit system bears up under historic storm – Metro


Rising waters cut link to the Rockaways

The most exposed section of the New York City subway is the three and one half mile stretch of the A Line between the Howard Beach and Broad Channel Stations known as the Rockaway Flats.

Running for much of its length between Jamaica Bay and the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge, it resembles no other part of the New York City subway system. This vital link to the Rockaway Peninsula was violently severed when Superstorm Sandy sent waters crashing over and under the tracks, twisting steel rails, destroying the electrical and signal infrastructure and washing out hundreds of feet of track support. Additionally, more than 20,000 feet of fencing was destroyed and will have to be replaced.

Damage to that segment of the subway system was near-catastrophic, with the support grading washed away leaving tracks dangling in the air above rushing currents of water. Rails were heaved into a wavy pattern that resembled a mini-roller coaster and tons of debris was left strewn along the tracks after waters measured at four feet receded. Submerged in saltwater during the storm, the signal and power delivery systems were toast — for want of a better word — and they will remain that way for some time to come.

But five weeks after the storm, there were definite signs of progress. In fact, most of the damaged roadbed was repaired to a point where it is difficult to tell that only a couple of weeks prior, there was no roadbed. Over the weeks, a train of concrete mixers delivered and poured more than 700 cubic yards of concrete to fill and repair two major breaches, the largest of which was 270 feet across.

“We have been out here since three days after the storm, working to restore service for our customers. We have accomplished a lot, but there is a lot more work to do before passenger service can be restored. These areas have been hard hit and our contractor, J-Track, has been working from dawn to dusk seven days a week to restore subway service,” said John O’Grady Program Officer Infrastructure and Facilities for NYC Transit’s Department of Capital Program Management.

Men and track-borne machines are busy along the right-of-way straightening rail and dumping ballast, preparing the line for an eventual return to service for trains that carry more than 30,000 customers a day. In a makeshift construction yard created just south of the North Channel Bridge, a huge loader fills dump trucks with the 3,600 tons of debris that had to be removed from what was left of the tracks before work could even begin.

Everything had been dumped on the roadbed that you can think of and some things that you would never imagine. Heavy vegetation, boats, personal watercraft, logs-even a Coca Cola bottle dating back to 1902 were uncovered. This artifact was probably a remnant of the thriving beach and hotel community that existed on Jamaica Bay at the turn of the century. At one point, workers came across a backyard deck and chairs that had become detached from a neighboring home.

A walk through the Broad Channel Station was like visiting a ghost station. The floors and walls had been scrubbed and all the debris cleared, even the oil tank that had washed up on the Brooklyn-bound platform. To clear the station, a street crane was brought in to lift the debris over the station fence before depositing it in dump trucks. Everything appeared ready for service, lacking only customers and trains.

A return to service, however, will not come before spring as work continues to repair damage sustained by the power and signal systems.

As it always has during periods of adversity, NYC Transit will take the worst of Sandy and put it to good use. “There are lessons to be learned from this storm and we will be studying them for some time to come,” said Prendergast.