Sandy damaged the New York City subway worse than anything else in its 108-year history, flooding eight tunnels and shutting service for millions of commuters. Recovery efforts began even before the storm was over, and extraordinary work by New York City Transit brought lines back into service rapidly.
Yet while the subway seems back to normal for most of the 5.6 million daily riders, the damage behind the scenes remains extensive – nowhere more so than in the South Ferry electrical room.
Soon after South Ferry was pumped out and drained, crews removed hundreds of relays and tried cleaning them by hand to return them to service – a task that turned out to be futile, as seen by heavy corrosion marks visible on the banks of relays.
On Friday, March 8, 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that train service will return to one loop platform of the storm-ravaged South Ferry subway station in the first week of April, making commutes easier for more than 10,000 daily riders at the southern tip of Manhattan while a full rebuilding continues.
“The MTA has a long, tough job ahead as it tackles the immense job of virtually rebuilding the new South Ferry terminal station that was flooded 80 feet deep during Superstorm Sandy,” Governor Cuomo said. “For the extended period of time it will take for this work to be completed, we are returning the old station in the complex to service, making travel easier and more convenient for Staten Islanders and others who work and visit this area.”
Sandy’s storm surge sent a torrent of salt water into the South Ferry station on October 29. Some 15 million gallons of water filled the area from the track level to the mezzanine, destroying all electrical and mechanical systems and components and rendering the station unusable. As a result, trains now terminate at Rector Street, a major inconvenience for thousands of daily commuters and sightseers.
Faced with an estimated two-year timeline for restoring the new South Ferry station, MTA New York City Transit studied the former loop station directly above it which served South Ferry until 2009. The station is on a sharp curve and requires moveable platform edge extenders to bridge gaps between the platform and the cars, and it can accommodate only five cars of a 10-car subway train.
The authority said a decommissioned station had never been reopened in its history.
“We didn’t think that was even an option,” Carmen Bianco, the authority’s senior vice president for subways, said of reviving the old station. “But you start exploring, ‘Well, what other options do we have?’ ”
As recently as January, officials said, the prospect still seemed remote. The station is not merely old — it opened in 1905 — but antiquated even by mid-20th century standards. While many stations were enlarged in the 1940s and 1950s to accommodate 10-car trains, the length and configuration of the South Ferry platform prevented any change, allowing only passengers in the first five cars to exit.
The quirk survived until 2009, when a glossy new station replaced the old one at a cost of over $500 million. The authority has estimated the new station will cost $600 million to rebuild.
Though the agency has occasionally used the old station’s loop track for work trains — and as a turnaround point for No. 1 trains since the storm — the station itself has been almost entirely ignored.