2013-03-29 / Community

Tracking The A Train

By Katie McFadden

“We're really hopeful that we'll be able to restore service to and from the Rockaways some time in June.” That’s the official word from MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz on when the A train is expected to be up and running after the peninsula’s only train became one of Hurricane Sandy’s many victims. Yet trying to restore the A train has been no easy task and the alternative service provided by the MTA hasn’t been easy on resident’s commutes.

Now five months after Sandy, Rockaway and Broad Channel are still left without a train. With more than $5 billion worth of damage across the city, the MTA is working diligently to get the A line back up and running, but it hasn’t been easy.

The low-lying tracks of the A line in Rockaway Park and Broad Channel were completely submerged by water when Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge rolled through. The scene that was left behind was overwhelming, particularly along the tracks in Broad Channel.

Being right in the middle of Jamaica Bay, the tracks were filled with debris including jet skis, docks, tanks, coconuts and 48 boats, according to Mitch Levine, President of J-Track, a contractor hired by the MTA to get the A back up and running. “We could have opened up a marina,” Levine joked.

The MTA and a contractor force of about 100 people got to work on November 1st to start removing the debris - all 3,000 tons of it. It took workers until February to have all of the debris gone, but boats and coconuts weren’t the only obstacles.

In Broad Channel, track ballast was swept from underneath the tracks leaving hundreds of feet of track suspended in the air. Two security fences were knocked down. Signal cables were ripped from messenger wires and sprawled across the tracks. The entire signal system was submerged and needs to be replaced and hundreds of thousands of feet of cable needs to be replaced in Broad Channel and the Rockaways.

“It’s a big effort. There are a lot of parts that have to be put together,” Ortiz said. “The signals, switches and cables are the biggest challenge.”

Over the past few months, the MTA has made some progress. Most of the track work is done, allowing work vehicles and equipment to move freely along the line to transport materials. Contractors are also using this time to rehabilitate the station in Broad Channel.

Levine called this a “golden opportunity.” While working to restore service, the contractors are also fixing lighting, siding, rooftops, installing a new platform edge and warning strip and are even trying to make the Broad Channel station handicap accessible. “We’re taking advantage of Sandy,” Levine said.

They’re also taking steps to prevent this extensive damage from occurring during future storms. Using 40-foot sections of A690 steel, the contractor is installing a sheet piling protection wall along the line in Broad Channel to protect the tracks from future flooding. The long metal sheets are pounded into the ground, leaving 33-feet of underground protection against washouts and sevenfeet of steel to keep out above-ground debris.

While the MTA works to restore the A line, they’ve created alternative transportation options for residents. “We’re doing our best to provide replacement service,” Ortiz said. However, residents are not too satisfied with the alternatives.

Residents reached out to The Wave on numerous occasions with a long list of complaints about the lack of service with the A train being down. As an alternative to the A train, the MTA set up a shuttle bus which they said runs nonstop from Howard Beach to Far Rockaway. They also set up the H train which runs from 90th Street to Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway. However, those on the west end of the peninsula are left with few options and some have found out the hard way to not bother trying to take public transportation during late night hours.

Rockaway Boulevard is a big stop for the A train. During the day, residents can easily connect to the Q53/Q52 buses which service Broad Channel with the Q53 heading to 116th Street. However after 1 a.m., these buses stop running, leaving residents with late-night shifts stranded at Rockaway Boulevard until the next bus starts at 6 a.m., or paying $35 for a cab, if they can get one, back to Rockaway.

“Only after waiting at Rockaway Boulevard for almost two hours did a bus driver on the Q11 inform the six of us waiting there that the last bus to the Rockaways was at 1 a.m.” resident Diana Torres said. “I tried to catch a cab but none were available. I had no choice but to sit in Dunkin Donuts until 6 a.m. when the bus started running again.”

Resident Lisa Bautz Scotti noted that when the A train is down regularly, there are two different shuttle buses that go to Far Rockaway and Beach 116th Street, but since Sandy knocked out the A, the MTA only has the shuttle bus heading to the east end.

“Why is this track work different?!! Raise the fare but you don't have a shuttle bus to serve all of Rockaway,” Scotti said, noting that the MTA raised their price to $2.50 at the beginning of the month. “We need jobs to rebuild but can't get to our jobs!”

Those in Broad Channel have said they they’re left without any options. One BC resident who works late-night was told to take the shuttle bus from Howard Beach to Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway, transfer to the H train back to 90th street and then get on a bus heading back to Broad Channel, creating a senseless three hour commute, one way.

The MTA is aware of the longer commute times that residents might face. Instead of trying to increase service, the MTA extended the free transfer time from two hours to three hours, knowing that residents might have to wait longer to get their connections.

While the MTA does offer some alternatives, those who travel during rush hour are finding that the buses are so crowded that they completely skip stops, leaving people waiting until the next crowded bus comes along.

Residents are also finding it difficult to obtain Metro Cards in Rockaway Park. With the A/S station at Beach 116th Street flooded out, the MTA removed the Metro Card vending machines. “With all the bus traffic, why are there no metro card machines on 116?” resident Tommy Burke wondered.

The Wave reached out to the MTA to share some of these complaints and to ask if more service can be added or if these issues could be addressed. The MTA was eager to show us the progress that they’ve made on the A line, but after several attempts to contact them, they would not address the issues with the alternative service and limited bus options.

The MTA has given residents a glimmer of hope by saying the A will be up and running by June. It wasn’t clear if they meant closer to June 1st or June 30th.

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