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Aging Infrastructure: Small Storm Cripples New York Subway


So, New York City's transit system has pretty much been brought to its knees by a small storm that went through for about a couple hours this morning, bringing with it torrential downpours that have flooded the subways. Above, a screen grab of the storm just after it went through.

God help us all if we get hit by a hurricane.

After the jump, check out the number of trains that are down:


Bad Weather Destroys New York City [gawker]
Further Adventures in Decrepit Infrastructure: MTA-in-the-Rain Edition [new york magazine]

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  1. Man, we sure could use some of that rain...(southeast NC)

    Posted by: Michael W. | Aug 8, 2007 10:54:50 AM

  2. In this heat I would go nuts stuck on a subway, or even the platform, in NYC. If no one has been, trust me, it is hotter than Miami in July down there.

    Posted by: secretagentman | Aug 8, 2007 11:03:19 AM

  3. I think "small" is a bit misleading. I took my husband to work early this morning and roads were torn apart, manhole covers blown and everything you can imagine strewn on the roads. It not only shut down much of the subway but Metro-North as well. What usually takes me ten minutes to drive took well over an hour.

    Posted by: Jon-Marc | Aug 8, 2007 11:10:07 AM

  4. yikes! and all this time we have been begging for rain here in atlanta. maybe just a smidge of what you guys got. nothing like 103 in the dirty ol' south.

    Posted by: Andrew | Aug 8, 2007 11:13:59 AM

  5. Huh ... Bridge in Minneapolis ... Subways in NYC ... what's next? The levees in New Orleans? Oh yeah ... that already happened.

    Posted by: Allen | Aug 8, 2007 11:15:36 AM

  6. Such gullible children! Don't you know it was really terrorism? Don't you remember the Homeland Insecurity Director telling us about his "gut feeling"? You must have heard those "defense" committee reports recited by the attractive blond woman Repug—given that every news agency in the country deep throated them whole having learned nothing from all the fake claims the Bush Reich has put out since 9/11. Remember we MUST vote for Guiliani because terrorists are hiding under every bed and we'll all die if a Democrat is elected. Of course, not even his own daughter supports the bald vampire, but......

    Posted by: Leland | Aug 8, 2007 11:17:10 AM

  7. yeah, I'm not sure I'd call that "small", while it may not have been big in scope, it certainly was in terms of intensity. It's been a long time since I've seen rain like that, straight down and almost blocking visibility. Very intense.

    Considering that some parts of the subway date back to 1904-ish and how just a little water and a fair amount of electricity don't mix, I'm surprised this does not happen more often.

    Posted by: hoya86 | Aug 8, 2007 11:20:28 AM

  8. i walked for nearly 2 hours this morning trying to get out of williamsburg and to work. back at home now-no way of getting anywhere near grand

    Posted by: bigggnasty | Aug 8, 2007 11:20:50 AM

  9. That storm was not small by any means. It lasted for several hours with intense rain and lightning.

    Posted by: anon ( | Aug 8, 2007 11:49:08 AM

  10. I don't know that this is an "aging infrastructure" problem so much as a "so many people living in one place that it requires an unreasonable amount of resources" problem. Much of NYC is built on former swampland - new or old infrastructure, there will be massive groundwater issues across the board.

    Posted by: scientitian | Aug 8, 2007 12:06:53 PM

  11. I would agree that this was no "small" storm. Maybe to some lucky folks in Manhattan, but to us in Brooklyn, specifically in Sunset Park / Bay Ridge area where a tornado hit last night uprooted trees, shattered windows, blew off awnings and moved several cars on my block alone, it was hardly a "small" storm.

    Posted by: Highney | Aug 8, 2007 12:10:45 PM

  12. my coworker was chargered $12 to get on a $2 city bus! the driver told him it was due to "high demand"... shame!

    Posted by: jay | Aug 8, 2007 12:11:46 PM

  13. I think it seemed "small" because it left the impression of happening quickly because of the time of day the storm hit. I, too, thought it was just some thunder, rain and lightning that woke me up around 5am. After the rain subsided, I went to the subway and got on the train. It wasn't until I was connecting at Jay Street (when I saw a G train on an F track) that I realized sh*t was f*cked up. It ended up taking me 2 hours to commute what usually is a 45 minute train ride. Waiting on a subway platform for 30 mins just to then be told all downtown trains were suspended.

    I was so pissed at the time...

    Then I saw the news and how in Bay Ridge uprooted trees landed in roofs and I saw one of my neighbors sweeping water out of his brownstone. Then I got over myself.

    Posted by: Derrick | Aug 8, 2007 12:25:16 PM

  14. Walking to the J,M,Z in South Williamsburg and seeing an unusually large number of people on the sidewalks -I knew then and there the L train was down. There was a line up the steps to the platform. A train was coming every 15 minutes and there was no way anybody at the Marcy Street stop was getting on.

    So I turned around, went back to my apartment, and made a nice breakfast. From my window I could see all these people walking across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan.

    I am always impressed by the way New Yorkers are able to deal with these things. I didn't see anybody losing their mind or throwing a fit, though I'm sure that wasn't the case with every one this morning.

    Posted by: Andy | Aug 8, 2007 1:04:46 PM

  15. I can't say I'm surprised. There were hundreds of streams and creeks throughout Manhattan, and all of them are still there. It's just that the subways are kept dry by thousands upon thousands of pumps, and that's under normal conditions. It just takes more rain than the pumps were designed to handle and you get a flood.

    Posted by: Gitai | Aug 8, 2007 1:41:22 PM

  16. Small storm or big storm, unless it's a freak hurricane, it shouldn't make the ENTIRE public transportation system collapse. It's not as if big rain storms never happen in the NY area.

    The city's infrastructure is hanging by a thread and everyone just ignores it. The last time I was in Manhattan, I was trying to leave to drive to Philadelphia at 1 AM on a Thursday morning. There were 45 - 60 minute delays at BOTH the Lincoln AND Holland Tunnels with twisted chaotic traffic for dozens of blocks in all directions around both entrances. Again, at 1 AM on a Thursday !!! Why? "Unexpected repairs." I finally drove up to the GWB and down to PA through New Jersey.

    I used to say I would move back to NYC if I were rich. Now I wouldn't live there if I were Bill Gates. It just feels as if the entire city is continuously two broken wing-nuts away from disaster.

    As for all the (too many) people who live there, I'm reminded of the apocryphal experiment where a frog thrown into boiling water will leap out and save its life, but will stay in a pot of lukewarm water and die if the temperature is gradually raised to boiling. The idea that so many millions of people tolerate the kind of transportation nightmare that happened this morning (as you sit at home, unable to get to work, why aren't you packing rather than just grumbling about the MTA?) is frightening.

    Posted by: Buster | Aug 8, 2007 2:16:25 PM

  17. I will put up with the occasional travel hassles that go with living in NYC, rather than live anywhere else.

    Posted by: Walt | Aug 8, 2007 2:54:26 PM

  18. Hey Buster,

    I am not sure if you live in Philly however I lived there all of my life before moving to NNJ. That entire city has shut down (literally shut down) for 25 mph winds and less than an inch of rain.

    This storm was a shock to the system. You can only dump so much water before an area becomes overloaded. Especially since we have been having a lot of smaller rain storms here lately.

    It was not just NYC that was hit hard either. People who live in New Brunswick NJ were reporting 3-5 hour commutes to get to NY. The Pulaski Skyway was shut down for hours because of accidents(which made it GREAT for getting into the Holland Tunnel and to Manhattan VERY quickly...only to be stuck on 9a for about an hour), 1-9 was completely flooded in some spots, Certain parts of Hoboken were under close to 5 feet of water...its pretty ridiculous. Yet people move on. I guess thats the great thing about this area is that people really do make lemonade from lemons. Even though they may honk at and give you the finger from time to time.

    Posted by: KP | Aug 8, 2007 3:59:36 PM

  19. It definitely was a whopper. And as several people hear pointed out, no one freaked out. Although I'm sure the Post and evening news will find a couple who did. I can already see tomorrow's headline screaming off the front page and the harried looks captured on people's faces in the story.

    Posted by: MT | Aug 8, 2007 4:29:34 PM

  20. I agree with Andy and had the same thoughts. I was attempting to go to appointments this a.m. before it dawned on me that people were walking around in huge numbers a la 9/11. I guess the storm wasn't "small," but it wasn't a truly major event, nothing big enough that people expected it to incapacitate the subways, etc. When I first came to NYC after having lived in Michigan and Illinois (Chicago), it took me forever to get used to all the "STORM WATCH!" graphics and over-reactions to every little bit of rain. I guess the subways truly can not take anything, and that being the case, we should figure out some other possibilities. Because as Andy correctly points out, a sudden, catastrophic storm would really mess this system up more than is necessary, let alone terrorism.

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | Aug 8, 2007 5:04:37 PM

  21. Oh God - NYC gets some rain and storm and world has to hear about hiss get over yourselves.

    Posted by: Graig | Aug 8, 2007 6:53:06 PM

  22. I am a born and bred New Yorker, I have survived in NYC through thick and thin. Now I am frankly sick and tired of how the MTA has run and ruined the train system. So when the subway system is shut down it is a major thing.

    Bloomberg is selling out what remains of this once wonderful town and when something like this happens the Billionaire poo-poos the legitimate complaints of the people who truly make this city run.

    I will have to put up with this city until I can afford to move someplace fun. Sadly, there is only on NYC.

    Posted by: Robert Alan | Aug 8, 2007 7:46:14 PM

  23. Hey Buster. Cut the drama. Getting around New York on a normal day is a breeze when compared to the freeways of LA, Houston, or any other sprawl-suffering city. Maybe if the rest of the country got there fat asses out of their SUVs and walked and used transit a bit more, there would be less obesity and global warming.

    Second, I agree our infrastructure needs major investing. But that is across the country - case in point, Minneapolis, New Orleans, etc. And three inches of rain in two hours is A LOT. That is about global warming, not the MTA.

    Anybody going on about how New York is falling apart should read "The Bronx is Burning" about the summer of '77. Every subway train and station looked like a war zone back then. Not to mention blackouts, looting, Son of Sam, and near bankruptcy. Get a grip folks.

    Posted by: Andy Z | Aug 8, 2007 8:09:09 PM

  24. The book that I am reading right now, "The World Without Us" by Alan Weismann, has a chapter that deals with this very matter. It is fascinating and terrifying how fragile the system is.

    Posted by: Aaron | Aug 8, 2007 8:14:29 PM

  25. Maybe it was small in Manhattan, but in Brooklyn it was quite a big storm.

    And this breakdown is just part of a chain of events showing that the 'guns & butter redux' has once again failed the United States.

    Posted by: Gary | Aug 9, 2007 11:24:36 AM

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