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The MTA and climate change: Protecting our transit system

After Sandy, the MTA set out not only to repair damage from the storm, but to strengthen NYC's transit system for the future.

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy inundated our transit system. Subway tunnels flooded, tracks were washed out, and crucial parts of our infrastructure — including signals and electrical systems — were damaged by corrosive salt water.

In the wake of the storm, we embarked on a $7.8 billion plan to repair damage from Sandy and ensure our system is able to withstand even bigger storms in the future. Storm surge is not the only way the system can flood, but the corrosive effects of salt water make it even more destructive than heavy rain or melting snow.

It's imperative that the MTA network is protected in the long term from climate impacts. Public transit is the best way to get around New York, and the best way to a greener future. Shoring up our system through climate resiliency projects helps keep our subways, buses, railroads, bridges, and tunnels — and our customers — safe.

Learn more about some of the projects we have completed in the past decade to keep New York moving.

Protecting our system from future storms

How we're fighting climate change

Keeping water out of tunnels

When Sandy's storm surge struck and flooded the subway system, the damage was extensive. Our first line of defense to keep that from happening to the same degree is more than 3,000 flood mitigation devices — flex gates, flood logs, manhole covers, marine doors — at 31 vulnerable stations. We also fully restored 11 underwater tunnels, upgrading pumping systems and strengthening the protections on electrical systems.

Protecting infrastructure behind the scenes

Many of the facilities that are behind the scenes for riders were impacted by coastal flooding during Sandy. In the aftermath, train yards and maintenance shops, including ones in Harlem and on Staten Island, were rebuilt to be more resilient. Improved power and signal systems not only give us the ability to rebound quickly after future storms, but also run more trains when the weather is good. 

Improving service for a better future

Providing faster, more reliable service for our customers is also crucial to helping fight climate change; the more people we can get out of cars and onto mass transit, the better off we'll be. Subway rides are 10 times greener than car trips. Riding the bus cuts commuting emissions by 41% compared to driving. And railroad riders cut their commuting emissions by 84% by getting out of their cars and onto public transit.

People stream toward the entrance of South Ferry Station, where new marine doors have been installed to protect the subway from storm surge.
Marine doors at South Ferry protect the station from storm surge.
The rebuilt St. George Terminal has a new interlocking for better service, and enhanced flood protection for Staten Island's busiest station.
The rebuilt St. George Terminal has raised signals and enhanced flood protection.

Subway and Staten Island Railway

Every station at risk from up to a Category 2 hurricane was fortified with flood mitigation devices to protect from storm surge. At our train yards, we installed multiple flood mitigation measures, including a new perimeter wall and tunnel portal at 148 Street in Harlem.

Eleven subway tunnels flooded during Sandy, and after the storm, infrastructure continued to degrade. We spent billions repairing them, most notably the Canarsie Tunnel, which carries the   train between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Repairs to that tube, which were completed in 2020, brought upgraded signals, new power substations, and station enhancements.

We also completed work in the Rockaways protect the above-ground  and  line, which is particularly vulnerable to storm surge. Repairs included building a 13,000-foot-long flood wall to protect the Jamaica Bay crossing from another washout, and improvements to the Hammels Wye signal and power station.

On Staten Island, we rebuilt the St. George Terminal and added a new interlocking to move trains in and out faster. We also raised the signals by four feet to prevent future flood damage, and rehabilitated the tower facility that controls train traffic. An all-new Clifton Maintenance Shop, including administrative offices that are SIR’s nerve center, was built to withstand storm surge from a Category 2 hurricane.

LIRR and Metro-North

Long Island Rail Road's Long Beach Branch was severely damaged during Sandy, including by saltwater corrosion and track washouts. Three substations at Oceanside, Oil City, and Long Beach sustained loss of traction power and damage to their electrical infrastructure. We replaced these substations with new facilities that are at higher elevations to protect against future floods.

We also raised signals along the Long Beach Branch, and built elevated platforms provide protection from floods. This will allow us to restore service faster after future storms.

Upgrades to pumps in the tunnel between Atlantic Terminal and Nostrand Avenue will keep service running in and out of Brooklyn.

 

The Harlem River Lift Bridge, which carries Metro-North's Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven Lines between Manhattan and the Bronx, needed repairs before Sandy. After the storm, we modernized electrical equipment for bridge operations and installed new flood protections to keep that new equipment safe and working.

At Yankees-E. 153rd Street, we installed deployable flood barriers to keep service running through the Bronx. When a storm is coming, the logs are used to keep water from the Harlem River from inundating the station.

A flood protection wall along the Rockaway Flats
Flood walls installed in the Rockaways.
At the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the large portal door is visible as an Access-A-Ride van goes into the tunnel.
Massive flood doors protect the Queens Midtown Tunnel from storm surge.

Bridges and Tunnels

At the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial and Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridges, we raised emergency equipment and increased protection against storms. We also made sure that the bridges remain safe by strengthening eroded shoreline abutments with solutions both natural (big rocks) and human-made (watertight sealants).

One of the most visible climate projects we have done is the portal doors at the Hugh L. Carey and Queens Midtown Tunnel. Each one is 14 feet high, 25 feet wide, and weighs more than 22 tons.

What else have we done?

  • Flood protection at five NYCT bus depots
  • Hardened 32 subway ventilation plants
  • Protected signals and communication rooms
  • Elevated power stations on Metro-North
  • Purchased emergency equipment systemwide