Amtrak Made a Smart Call to Let Tunnels Flood During Sandy

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Flood waters enter the Long Island Rail Road's West Side Yard, with tracks leading to Penn. Station. (NY MTA Long Island Rail Road/flickr)

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:


Comments [4]

JL from Brooklyn

I know this comment is WAY late (that's what happens when following link from link from link...) but here's what puzzles me:
Water seeks it's own level. And in this case, the water source is the friggin OCEAN. It's not like 60 million gallons is actually going to lower the ocean -- there's another 60 million gallons right behind it, and another 60 million behind that, etc. etc. Think of it this way: fill your kitchen sink with water. Float a coffee cup in it and note the level of the water in the sink. Now push the cup down and allow the cup to "flood." How much did the water level in the sink go down? Now imagine a sink 10, or 100 times bigger, and the same size coffee cup. We're not talking about rain water runoff here, we're dealing with the ocean!

Nov. 29 2013 12:00 PM
H.E. Pennypacker from All Up In Your Computer

Wait... So would flooding Penn Station be a BAD thing? The sooner we tear down that hot mess and replace it, the better!

Aug. 27 2013 05:28 PM
TOM from Brooklyn

I attended an after-action panel at the Transit Museum where people in the know shared the enveloping reality of Sandy. There was an acknowledgement that if the water did not flood, for example, the Battery Tunnel, then where would it go. Battery Park City? Wall Street? Since no plans had been made or implemented, no choice need be made.

But now we know a choice can be made but what do you do with 60 million gallons of salt-water?

The recent city report on crisis planning put forward the idea of a barrier across Gowanus Bay to protect Red Hook and the Canal area, now prime Brooklyn real estate.
The barrier would extend up on land into Greenwood Heights. As with other areas that flooded, what of those outside the protection of the barrier, to the south in Industry City? I'm sure the Jamestown real estate company will ask.

Aug. 20 2013 09:42 PM

Though one would be forgiven for imagining little difference from a flooded Penn Sta. and the status quo.

Aug. 20 2013 10:37 AM

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