Superstorm Sandy will go down in the books as an historic weather event that wreaked havoc in the region.
But thankfully Metro-North was able to re-establish service quickly because of the basics: good emergency planning and preparation, a focused management team, and a dedicated and hard-working workforce. With these extraordinary efforts, we were able to resume service within 48 hours after Sandy hit on October 29-30, 2012, despite many enormous obstacles and extremely difficult conditions.
This recovery was made possible by actions taken before, during, and after the hurricane, including:
- Undertaking preparations to shut down the railroad prior to Hurricane Sandy’s arrival to ensure safety for our employees and customers;
- Keeping you, our customers, and our employees informed for the duration of the hurricane;
- Providing the necessary storm preparations at our shops, facilities and stations;
- Removing switch machines in flood-prone locations and crossing gate arms to prevent damage;
- Moving equipment and employees to safer ground;
Even with all the preparation, Superstorm Sandy was unlike any other weather event Metro-North had ever encountered.
Approximately half of the Hudson Line was under water during the height of the storm, damaging 30 miles of communication cable, switch machines and many electronic systems that keep our railroad running.
As you can imagine, the damage to that line was extensive. The electronic systems in our power and communications substations were severely damaged as water engulfed circuitry to a height of almost four feet. The list goes on:
- Powerful tidal surges washed away the stone ballast along our tracks as well as ripped heavy snow melter mechanisms out of the ground.
- Extensive power outages affected grade crossing signal systems as well as the lights, elevators, ticket selling capability and communication systems at many stations. Over 40 generators were deployed system wide to keep customers safe and informed.
Even though we moved equipment out of high-risk areas of our territory, our shop at Croton-Harmon, including some of our rail cars housed there, flooded requiring our crews to make repairs to the cars before they could return to service.
We can’t forget that Superstorm Sandy also brought with it hurricane-force winds. These winds, with gusts that clocked as high as 100 mph, always create a significant amount of damage in and of themselves. And this more traditional type of hurricane storm damage is what resulted on the Harlem and New Haven Lines.
Our crews cleared the multitude of trees and debris—including a boat—that fell across the tracks; they repaired the third rail, switches and catenary wires that were damaged; and they restored the track in areas that were washed out due to the rising Hudson River. We had to also re-establish power, which included cleaning out our water-damaged substations and power.
While this work was underway, we were developing and implementing plans to return train service as quickly and safely as possible.
By Wednesday, October 31, we restored limited hourly service on the Harlem Line between North White Plains and Grand Central Terminal. (The Harlem Line, which runs up the center of Westchester County, was the least-damaged line. Because the New Haven Line runs along the Long Island Sound and the Hudson Line runs at water level along the Hudson River, both suffered more extensive damage and took a little longer to bring back.)
The next day, on Thursday, November 1, the Harlem Line was back to a near-regular schedule between Mount Kisco and Grand Central Terminal. Regular service also resumed on the New Haven Line between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal. In the afternoon, Harlem Line service was extended north from Mount Kisco to Southeast Station.
By Friday, November 2, Hudson Line service resumed between Grand Central and Croton-Harmon, the mid-point of the line. And on the New Haven Line, regular service was restored all the way to New Haven.
On Saturday, November 3, the Hudson Line was reinstated to its full extent, to Poughkeepsie.
By Monday, November 5, service was restored to the Waterbury and Danbury branches on the New Haven Line and the Wassaic Branch on Harlem Line.
Because the New Haven Line’s eight-mile-long New Canaan Branch suffered extensive damage to its catenary system, we were not able to restore that final segment until Tuesday, November 13.
Superstorm Sandy also impacted our Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines. In the aftermath, fallen power lines and debris initially blocked off our right-of-way so we couldn’t run trains, and there were also some rail equipment shortages.
On November 4th, however, limited train service was re-established on the Port Jervis Line, supplemented by an off-peak bus operation bringing customers to our Hudson Line. And while we first put a bus plan into effect on the Pascack Valley Line, on November 12th limited train service was restored.
With a lot of hard work and great effort, nearly regular weekday service was brought back on Monday, November 19, on both lines.
Restoration & Resiliency Efforts
Sandy caused a tremendous amount of damage that required immediate repairs. We made those repairs as quickly as possible to get the railroad and the region moving again. However, we know that we had only fixed what was obvious.
Following Sandy, we began assessing the condition of the infrastructure, and what it would take to keep it running now and in the longer term. We know to expect a significant shortening of the useful life of components that were subject to water infiltration and flooding. The damage caused by salt water infiltration is insidious. Electronic components that did not immediately fail are failing prematurely due to the exposure to salt water. This not only affects our reliability; it affects the cost of maintaining this system.
We began to look at proactive measures to mitigate the effects of future storm surges that may affect our system. Some obvious mitigation measures include elevating substations, burying cable and installing cameras so we can be aware of the condition of our right-of-way in real time.
In addition to repairing what was broken, Metro-North also has identified $128 million in projects to make our system more resilient, including water-level monitoring systems and improvements to our power and signal systems to harden them against water incursion.
Finally, we have distinguished the parts of our territory that, if damaged, prevent us from operating at all. The recent Con Edison power failure in Mount Vernon on the New Haven Line is a stark example of the need to identify and address single points of vulnerability within our system. For example, all of our East of Hudson trains run across the Harlem Lift Bridge at 138th Street. Should it be out of service, more than 200,000 daily customers would be prevented from getting into and out of Manhattan. It is a critical facility, and we have included money in the capital plan amendment to make that structure more resilient.
It is also obvious, however, that whatever we fix today or plan for tomorrow, we will be dealing with the impacts and repercussions caused by Superstorm Sandy on our system for years to come.