Hurricane Sandy had a disastrous impact on many public transportation agencies. In some areas, the sustained winds toppled trees, causing power lines to be broken or downed, landing on rail tracks. Flooding of public transit system tunnels has been the worst result of Sandy, filling them in many areas and causing some agencies to suspend service for at least the next few weeks.
A few of the larger agencies survived the wrath of Sandy. Almost all East Coast public transit agencies initially shut down on Oct. 29, but some—after reassessing their properties and the weather the following day—were able to return to normal service. For example, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority restored “Sunday-level service” at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 after completing damage assessments and determining that it was safe to resume operations.
Other public transit agencies were not so lucky and are working diligently to pump out the flood water and evaluate the damage. Electrical components do not fare well submerged in water. Several substations are flooded. Many agencies are prepared and already have pumps to drain the water from tunnels, pits, or affected areas.
A Resource for Disasters
The Emergency Response Preparedness Program (ERPP) is an online resource that assists public transit agencies in need after a disaster. APTA set up the program, in partnership with FTA, to help them restore normal service and operations after a catastrophe.
APTA’s ERPP is an online “mutual aid” database tool designed to assist in times of natural disasters and other situations. This site provides a venue by which fellow public transit systems and industry partners can volunteer and /or access resources to prepare for an expected event or in the wake of an unforeseen situation.
The program also has a human side: APTA staff actively assist applicants with locating and obtaining the requested resource, much of which may be difficult to find. It also ensures that an agency gets in touch with the correct person.
Public transit agencies can sign up for the ERPP at www.aptaerpp.com. They should keep agency contact information updated so APTA can reach the correct individual in the event of an emergency.
Dealing with the Problem
The major problem with Hurricane Sandy is the amount of water she brought ashore and dumped in the agencies’ facilities, overwhelming the existing pumps. Several tunnels are completely flooded beyond the mouth of the tunnel. In some instances, neighboring jurisdictions or local government agencies have been able to provide pumps and other supplies, but the need for assistance remains.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the states of New York and New Jersey provided initial support, supplying public transit agencies with massive, industrial-size pumps, but additional requests may be made at any time. After draining water from the tunnels, agency personnel will go in and reassess the condition of their tracks and equipment. At that time, they may or may not request specialists in track, signal, or communication issues.
The agencies’ needs depend on their current situation, which will continue to change.