Shutdown avoided? Maybe

Stephon Johnson | 1/10/2019, 11:09 a.m.
Andrew Cuomo announced a new fix for the L train, avoiding an outright shutdown of the tunnel between Brooklyn and ...
MTA//subway Photo by Suzanne Emily O’Connor on Unsplash

Why now? What took so long?

That’s the talking point shared by many elected officials and public transit activists after New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new fix for the L train, avoiding an outright shutdown of the tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

After months of activists’ social media pushing #CuomosMTA, the governor acknowledged his ownership of the problem.

A proposal presented by engineering experts from Cornell University’s College of Engineering and Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science concluded that the closure of the L Train tunnel was unnecessary. Cuomo wanted the MTA to hold an emergency meeting to determine the plan’s feasibility.

According to the governor, during a recent conference call, he contacted Columbia and Cornell, assuming they would review and confirm the initial plan for the total shutdown of the train tunnel.

“We then looked at the Amtrak Gateway Tunnel, which is of a similar design and time, and they started asking questions,” said Cuomo. “And it was very much a collaborative process. What Columbia and Cornell brought to the table was international experience and precedence that had been used in Europe. The London Tunnel, the Riyadh Tunnel, Singapore Tunnel, Hong Kong Tunnel, that use a different design than we use in the United States.”

The plan includes implementing a new power and control system design, a racking system design to suspend cables on the side of the tunnel, jacket cables with low smoke, zero halogen fireproof material and abandoning all old cables in the bench wall, among others.

“They don’t use this, quote unquote bench wall design, which was the original architectural design, which is construction of a cement wall on the base of each side of the tunnel,” said Cuomo during the conference call. “In that cement wall, they run conduits, ceramic pipes. In the ceramic pipe they run the cable. The original design was done for fire protection. Since then, the fire protection codings have increased in sophistication and you no longer need cement to protect these cables from fire.”

Cuomo noted that this type of construction hasn’t been done before in the United States and that fact brought out a plethora of criticism from people such as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. She remained skeptical of the governor’s surprise plan, but she said if the process is feasible, she’s OK with it.

“The governor has put forward a plan that would maintain weekday L train service with partial disruption on nights and weekends,” said Brewer. “Like many of my colleagues, I want to know how we got this far in a yearslong planning process for the shutdown without this new option coming up, but if the engineering is sound, then we should take yes for an answer and avoid a full shutdown.”

The MTA expects to begin tunnel repairs as promised April 27. But the agency has to renegotiate its $500 million contract with Judlau and TC Electric, who were picked to repair the tunnel. Then the MTA has to approve the revised deal and ending the 15-month shutdown. MTA officials have said that they’re discussing details of the new proposal with the Federal Transit Administration.