MTA Continues Work to Restore R Service Through the Montague Tube

The high winds and deep swirling waters generated by the most severe storm to ever hit the region drove hundreds of millions of gallons of salt water into the most vulnerable segments of the largest, most complex subway system in North America. The effects were devastating.

MTA Continues Work to Restore R Service Through the Montague Tube

A storm surge, higher than had ever been recorded propelled New York Bay atop the sea wall at the Battery and into the streets of Lower Manhattan, flooding eight under river subway tubes that link Manhattan with either Brooklyn or Queens. The water poured in past blocked entrances, through covered sidewalk grates and into stations and tunnels, stretching for thousands of feet and rising as high as the ceiling in at least four of the tubes. The inrush of salt water caused severe damage to the electrical and mechanical equipment that keeps the trains running.

“One or two tubes flooded? Yes we’ve seen that and we have corrected those conditions in the past,” said Joe Leader, NYC Transit’s Chief Maintenance Officer. But to have eight tubes flooded simultaneously? Incredible. But we didn’t stand around debating the logistics of the job, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”

One by one, the tubes were reclaimed from the storm through the combined efforts of transit workers and machines. NYC Transit’s pump trains were called into action, along with portable pumps placed on work trains. Thousands of gallons per minute were pumped from each of the tubes. When finally dry, workers went in to assess the damage, clean debris that had been washed in, and begin repair and replacement of critical parts.

The Joralemon and Steinway tubes were the first two to be returned to service, allowing 4 Subway
5 Subway trains to once again travel between Brooklyn and Manhattan and 7 Subway trains to run between Manhattan and Queens. Over the next several days, similar work was carried out on all of the affected tubes, but the biggest challenge was the Montague tube, supporting R Subway trains service between Court Street, Brooklyn and Whitehall Street in Manhattan.

The tube bore the brunt of the historic storm surge in Lower Manhattan, and was flooded for a length of approximately 4,300 feet with water reaching the tunnel ceiling—about 15 feet. Submerged equipment included relays, switch machines and cables. Highly corrosive salt water severely damaged approximately 50 cables to Whitehall Street and Broad Street relay rooms, 48 signal locations with line and track relays, and other associated equipment. With the flooding in the Montague tube, the MTA is also addressing the extensive damage sustained at the Whitehall Street station, including the two escalators at the southern end of the station which have been compromised.  The Whitehall Street pump plant was completely submerged, rendering all of the installed pumping equipment, electrical feeds, and controls inoperable. Track, third rail, and communications systems also suffered damage and is currently undergoing repair.

With the Montague tube out of commission, the R Subway is one of three remaining subway lines not operating full service. Instead the R Subway is operating in two sections: from 71st Av-Forest Hills to 34th St–Herald Square and Bay Ridge-95th St to Jay St –MetroTech. Approximately 95,000 daily riders still need to use other lines to reach nearby alternative stations.

Weeks of work lie ahead before trains can start rolling again. While a full assessment is being conducted, damaged relays are being replaced; cleaning and restoration of the track circuits and control circuits is also underway. Where damage is too extensive, circuit modifications may be necessary and when service is restored may entail the running of fewer trains at slower speeds. Restoration work also includes de-salinization, cable repair, elimination of grounds and operational tests.

Damage to electrical equipment was extensive with a total of 43 signal locations sustaining damage from salt water. The signal department replaced relays, transformers, resistors, fuses, LEDs, pins and switch machines and two power locations.All stop motors were removed prior to the storm except for one which was replaced.

With the clean-up of Hurricane Sandy still underway, it is only now becoming evident how much devastation was caused, but thousands of MTA workers continue to help get back up on its feet.