Streams

Subway Sea Wall Of Steel Rising Between A Train And Jamaica Bay

Monday, April 01, 2013 - 04:19 AM

Pile driver installs a section of steel wall between A train tracks in the foreground and Jamaica Bay behind. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York is Holland now: the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a wall to keep out the sea along a two-mile stretch of the A subway line on its way to the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The wall is made of thick steel and runs along the eastern side the tracks on the island of Broad Channel, in the middle of Jamaica Bay.

The $38 million project is the MTA's first big step since Sandy to prevent flooding from future storm surges.

To make sure the wall is strong enough to hold off another flood, workers are pounding each section about 30 feet into the ground. In the end, the wall will rise only seven feet above the rails, two feet above Sandy's height. The MTA thinks that's high enough.

On a recent windy afternoon, Contractor Mitch Levine was watching workers pile drive and weld each section into place. He said the wall is designed to withstand salt water. "This steel is special steel," he said. "It's marine steel, which will stop it from eroding over the course of 100 years."

Keeping the hungry waves at bay

NY MTA program manager Raymond Wong said the wall is supposed to prevent future storm surges from doing what Sandy did in this area, which was rip the embankment right out from under 400 feet of track.

"The tracks were hanging in the air," he said.

For three weeks after Sandy, each tide took another bite from a larger section of the embankment--until the NY MTA rebuilt the shore by dumping tons of stone and concrete next to the tracks. But this stretch of the A train across Jamaica Bay is still not in service. Thousands of riders now cram into crowded shuttle buses and face rush hour commutes that can end after midnight.

The wall will also serve a second purpose: keeping debris off the line. Forty-eight boats came to rest on the tracks after Sandy, along with jet skis, docks and fuel tanks. The clean up alone took three months.

Why a wall?

NY MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said engineers chose a steel wall to protect the A train because, "It could meet strength requirements as well as timing requirements--we wanted to make sure the wall would be in place by May 1." The line is scheduled to return to full service by summer.

Although Jamaica Bay is part of Gateway National Park, Ortiz said the wall didn't need to go through "any type of approval process" because it's within the right-of-way of the tracks, which is controlled by NYC Transit. Ortiz said the NY MTA did consult with the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers about the plan.

At the Broad Channel station replacing signals and thousands of feet of cable and other components. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Kevin Ortiz)

Bringing the power back

The MTA is taking a much more short term approach to repairing the A train's damaged electrical system. A mile away from Broad Channel, a control house sits in the railyard at the end of the line in Rockaway Park. Inside, Wong showed off rooms stuffed with equipment that looked modern in the 1950s, when it was installed. One panel has thousands of fuses, each with its own hand-lettered tag. Sandy turned these rooms into temporary aquariums.

"Everything was just coated in salt water that undermined the copper," Wong said. "When we came here, this whole thing was a big block of rust."

Electricity is vital to the subway. It powers signals that keep the trains apart, and switches that move those trains down the right track. There's also lighting at stations, public address systems, and power to the third rail to move the trains--the list goes on.

So what is the MTA doing to protect the electrical equipment at low-lying sites from future storms? "We're just trying to get up and running over here," Wong said. "There's really not much you can do."

Wong said, ideally, the MTA will lift the control house 10 feet in the air, rip out the old components and computerize the system. But that's millions of dollars and years away. His goal right now is to get the A train back by summer, however he can.

Click here for more photos of restoration work on the A line.

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