Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Lessons from New York’s Flooded Subways

Time wrote: The Lessons from New York’s Flooded Subways

"New York’s woes are partly a function of the age of the subway system. It’s 108 years old, its tunnels and stations are situated adjacent to or underneath rivers and harbors, and water seepage is unavoidable. Street-level grates that provide light and air to the tunnels and stations act as natural drains during even ordinary rain, making a mess of platforms and often halting service. ‘We have three pump trains, 300 pump rooms and dozens of portable pumps around the system,’ says Seaton. ‘Even on a day when there’s no rain, we pump out 13 million gallons of water.’

Hurricane Sandy, of course, put a lot more strain on the system than an ordinary rainless day. Storm surges in lower Manhattan rose to 14 ft. (4.2 m), blowing the doors off the previous 10 ft. (3 m) record, set by Hurricane Donna in 1960. Much of Manhattan below 40th St. is without power, and even if the juice were still flowing, the subway system would not dare to go online. An unknown number of stations are flooded to the ceiling and all seven under-river tubes linking the boroughs are also inundated — hardly the environment in which you’d want to light up a system whose fabled third rail provides 625 volts of power to the trains. And it’s not just any water that’s swamping the system, it’s salt water. Even after it all evaporates, there’s still residue that would cause short circuits if power were switched on. That means a long, painstaking clean-up.

“Every single piece of equipment — signals, contacts, everything — has to be disassembled, cleaned and dried,” says Seaton. “Then it can be reinstalled.” The subway cars themselves, at least, are stored at high ground."

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