Climate Change Fears Meet Development at the New Hudson Yards

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The West Side Rail Yards in Manhattan (Jorteh Senah/WNYC)

It’s not easy building over the West Side Rail Yards in Manhattan.

Used for storing Long Island Rail Road trains in between their runs to and from Penn Station, the rail yards, formally known as the John D. Caemmerer Yard, were redesigned in the late 1980s to accommodate a platform above them that could hold buildings.

Madison Square Garden even flirted with moving there back then, according to a history of the site by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Then came Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan for a football stadium, a second proposal by the Garden that threatened to thwart that plan, and then a series of fits and starts as the economy sputtered. Finally,  the Related Companies broke ground last week on the first of several office and residential buildings that will one day cover the 26-acre area between 30th and 33rd streets, 10th and 12th avenues.

Except—what about Sandy?

The West Side Rail Yard flooded during the storm and is partially located in a 100-year-flood zone and the city’s Evacuation Zone A, which was evacuated during Sandy.

According to Related, the towers above the platform will be located 40 feet above sea level. But Klaus Jacob, special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, has another concern: the trains underneath. Generally, he says, infrastructure such as train yards should be designed to last hundreds of years. And these days that means taking steps to plan for rising sea levels.

“It will be almost inevitable that they will have to raise those tracks,” Jacobs said, “or abandon them for their original usage, which is always an option. But then the question is, where do they store their moving stock?”

Jacobs, who has consulted for the MTA about climate change, fears that by building a deck over the rail yard, the authority is literally putting a ceiling on how high the train tracks can go.

An MTA spokesman, Kevin Ortiz, said in an email that the Long Island Rail Road is “hiring a consultant to study the hardening issue to see what can be done in the future.”

This is where the slow pace of development of the site might come in handy. The first office building, at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, is going up on terra firma. The platform over the rail yard will come later, and will depend on the market demand for office and residential space.


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Comments [5]

Dale Latimer from Northern NJ

Matthias, your idea first requires NJT and MTA to merge.

That's a whole topic of itself.

Dec. 13 2012 10:41 AM
Matthias from New York

The solution is to through-run trains to New Jersey, rather than terminating at Penn Station. This would not only free up yard space but also improve regional transportation tremendously.

Dec. 12 2012 03:58 PM
city engineer from Queens

The solution is pretty simple. Wall off the rail yard from the Hudson River with watertight flood walls that extend from below ground to the future platform above.

Dec. 12 2012 01:06 PM
Ericka from staten island

Too much money here, as usual with NYC real estate. the development concept is hair-brained, was from the beginning, and is particularly nutty now that everyone knows the waters will rise again. but the developers and politicians never live on the ground floors, unless its in the Hamptons.

Dec. 12 2012 10:10 AM
Sara from Park Slope

Bloomberg and Pinsky and Burden and Deputy Mayor Quinn are not making any significant changes whatsoever. The plans for towers along the water is proceeding apace in every borough. What a shame.

Dec. 12 2012 09:00 AM

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