Amtrak Made a Smart Call to Let Tunnels Flood During Sandy

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Amtrak might have been able to avoid the flooding in at least one of its Hudson River tunnels during Sandy, but it is probably best that it didn't.

In a conference call about disaster planning, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan described a meeting he had with transit executives where they discussed putting floodgates on transit tunnels. (Excerpt audio available above). 

"The executive from Amtrak said, well we had a barrier that could have closed off our Hudson River tunnel, but if we closed it, Penn Station would have flooded instead," Donovan summarized the Amtrak exec as saying.

Amtrak confirms this is accurate, though a spokesperson didn't know which meeting Donovan was referring to. 

A former employee said the barriers were designed in the middle of the century to protect Penn. Station from flooding in the event of something like an explosion in the tunnel or World War II sabotage. Because the water that flooded the tunnel entered through the mouth of the tunnel, closing that off could have created a lake right at the entrance to the underground Penn Station, which would have backed up into the tracks and maybe more. 

Donovan used the Penn Station example to argue that disaster planning needs to be coordinated at the regional level. A sea wall in one place can lead to a tidal surge in another, he said. 

We're trying to find out a bit more about floodgates in the Hudson River transit tunnels, both Amtrak and PATH. We will hopefully have more for you soon. If you ever worked on or in them, email us at: