Two-hundred and thirteen days after Hurricane Sandy, the A train finally rolled into Rockaway.
At a ceremony on Thursday, at the newly rebuilt Beach 116th Street Station, Federal Transportation Administrator Peter Rogoff, told the hundreds of people gathered, “Today we got the people of Rockaway all the way home!”
Service had been out since Sandy severely damaged or destroyed tracks and equipment leaving commuters to scramble for alternate means of transportation for seven months.
At 10:49 a.m. a specially designated train consisting of vintage R1 and R9 subway cars, which first saw service in the 1930’s, arrived at Howard Beach Station to begin the historic first journey to Rockaway. The banner stretched across the first car read “Rockaway Here We Come!”
More than 150 people came aboard for the run which would once again connect three communities ravaged by the storm- Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways- and signal yet another step in their recovery.
The final destination was Rockaway’s newly rebuilt Beach 116th Street Station, where the train arrived shortly before 11:31 a.m., after a stop in Broad Channel.
On board the maiden trip were Rogoff, Acting Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Chairman Fernando Ferrer, Interim Executive Director Thomas Prendergast and Acting NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco, along with MTA officials, workers, civic leaders, elected officials, media and enthusiastic members of the public.
Prendergast said, “We finished this one month ahead of schedule. With this step we have returned to full service in the Rockaways.”
More riders joined in at Broad Channel, where all were shown the nearly completely renovated station and the community garden which the MTA is helping rebuild. After a few minutes, everyone reboarded for the trip across Jamaica Bay.
Passengers saw reminders of the hurricane as they crossed the bay, pointing out homes and businesses which were affected. Some were rebuilt, while others still showed severe storm damage and still others were now gone, demolished after Sandy.
Coming off the train at Beach 116th Street, riders were greeted with live music from the group Acapella Soul. Appropriately among other familiar numbers, they sang “Under The Boardwalk.”
As Acting President Bianco noted, “This is the best beach day we’ve had so far.”
Speaking at the event, Councilman Donovan Richards proclaimed, “Today we say, Rockaway is open for business again!” He noted that many Rockaway and Broad Channel residents faced two or three hour commutes each day, while still facing the task of rebuilding or repairing their homes.
Prendergast added, “I know it’s been incredibly tough to be without subway service for seven months, but we have truly appreciated your patience. It just goes to show how tough, how resilient New Yorkers can be.”
The much anticipated reopening of this vital transit line follows what the MTA describes as “after an all-out, seven-month MTA effort to rebuild the 3.5 mile-long stretch of the Rockaway flats including 1,500 feet of washed out tracks, replace miles of signal, power and communications wires, and rehabilitate two stations that were completely flooded.”
Acting Chairman Ferrer told the crowd, “When Sandy hit, no New York community took it more on the chin than the Rockaways.”
He went on to state the efforts to rebuild the Rockaway train line were only the beginning of several projects designed to harden New York’s transit infrastructure and protect it from any future storms.
As a start, to prevent flooding from future storm surges, the MTA has been building a $15.7 million sea wall on low-lying Broad Channel, which carries the line across Jamaica Bay.
“This project is designed to prevent future storm surges from doing what Sandy did,” said Prendergast. “Sandy ripped the embankment out from under 400 feet of track and left an entire community without subway service.” The wall will extend along a two-mile stretch adjacent to the Manhattan-bound tracks. Made of thick corrugated marine steel designed to resist saltwater corrosion, it is expected to last about 100 years.
The 40-foot tall panels were pounded 30 feet into the ground by pile driver, between the North Channel rail bridge and the Broad Channel station. It will also serve to keep debris off the tracks from any future storm surges.
Jet skis, boat docks, fuel tanks and 48 boats came to rest on the A line’s tracks after Sandy. The clean-up of debris alone took more than three months to complete.
Since November 20th, 2012, limited free subway service on the Rockaway peninsula itself was provided by the specially inaugurated H Train, nicknamed by some the “Hurricane Train,” which shuttled riders from the Far Rockaway- Mott Avenue station to Beach 90th Street.
Special “subway” buses, operating 24/7, carried riders back and forth from Mott Avenue to the Howard Beach Station. On a more limited schedule subway buses also ran from Rockaway through Broad Channel, leaving many disgruntled Channel and Rockaway residents with limited transportation options.
The return of the A train is tremendous relief to Rockaway and Broad Channel commuters, many of whom felt the area was greatly underserved even before the storm. Unable to work with the excessive commute times after the storm, some residents had to move out of the area to be able to maintain jobs.
Noted Barbara Toborg, who rode the train from her home in Broad Channel to Rockaway, “I think it’s a great day. The people in Broad Channel and Rockaway certainly missed (the A train).
“It will certainly make our lives easier.”
Regular A train services and schedules resumed as of 12 noon on May 30th.