PATH Forward: NY/NJ Subway Reports Significant Progress on Sandy Repairs, Signal Upgrades

The controversial veto of a Port Authority reform bill by Governors Christie and Cuomo, and a suggestion by their special panel to cut overnight PATH service have dominated coverage of the bistate transit system, but another important development stands to benefit the system’s 72 million annual riders.

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On December 20, 2014, PATH resumed weekend service between Exchange Place in Jersey City and the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. For most of 2014, trans-Hudson service between the two stations was suspended each weekend from 11PM Friday-5AM Monday for repair of infrastructure in the Downtown Hudson Tubes damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and installation of a new Positive Train Control (PTC) signal system that will increase safety and permit trains to run more frequently. To mark the conclusion of the project for the year, PATH published a status report:

Since February, approximately 280,000 square feet of metal tunnel surfaces and equipment were power washed of salt residue left by Superstorm Sandy floodwaters and corroded metal replaced – the entire area along the line impacted by salt. Additionally, significant progress occurred toward installing new computerized signals for increased operational safety with the placement of thousands of feet of new cables.

Sandy’s floodwaters left behind an insidious salt residue that rusts metal cables, equipment and the shell of the tunnel itself. The corrosive salt required a painstaking, labor-intensive cleaning process, beyond what occurred in the initial aftermath of the storm to return train service as quickly as possible.

The Port Authority – like other mass-transit systems around the nation – also is working to meet a federal mandate to install a Positive Train Control (PTC) system to help reduce human or mechanical errors and provide added safety on the rails. PTC is an enhanced signal technology that automatically applies a train’s brakes if an accident appears likely, potentially saving injuries and lives.

Floodwaters in Sandy’s aftermath destroyed much of the substantial prior work PATH had completed on the PTC system, requiring replacement of those components and significantly setting back the agency’s schedule and budget. The Federal Transit Administration helped the Port Authority recoup those financial losses.

The PTC improvements are part of an overall $580 million, comprehensive signals modernization program that ultimately will improve service for PATH riders by allowing trains to run more frequently while maintaining or improving safety.

The 2014 weekend closures allowed PATH to continue with the installation of cable, fiber, compressed air lines and conduit material for signal and communications equipment, which will help meet the PTC requirements. The work also included installation of communication antennas and signal junction boxes.

Since Sandy, infrastructure improvements have been vast, with a myriad of utilities in the tunnel replaced, including power and communications equipment, rail, third rail and track. Nearly two miles of corroded rail fasteners were replaced to better secure the track bed.

PATH notes that work on the new signal system is ongoing, and some weekend closures will be needed in the second half of 2015:

Much has been accomplished, but work remains and additional closures are expected to be needed on weekends in the second half of 2015 on the Journal Square-33rd Street via Hoboken line, along with completion of remaining work on the Newark-to-World Trade Center line. Following a cable fire earlier this year that created outages, the Journal Square-33rd Street via Hoboken line work will assess the condition of stonework that comprises electrical cable ducts alongside the tracks. Dates and details of these outages will be provided once planning work is finalized. One line will remain open at all times on the weekend and alternative service options are under consideration to reduce inconvenience to riders.

With the significant work completed on the Downtown Hudson Tubes in 2014, maintaining weekend service on the Newark-World Trade Center and Hoboken-World Trade Center lines while work is performed on the Journal Square-33rd Street via Hoboken line could provide service at most, if not all, New Jersey stations, as well as connections to 11 New York City Subway lines within two blocks of the World Trade Center station.

Although disruptions can be inconvenient, the work underway is essential to the performance, capacity, and resilience of the 24/7 transit systems that power the NY/NJ urban economy.

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