New York MTA completes one “L” of a tunnel project

April 27, 2020
The tunnel rehabilitation portion of the MTA’s L Project has been completed early and under budget using new construction methods that set a precedent for future rail transit projects in the U.S.

A multi-year project to rehabilitate the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) L Tunnel has been completed three months ahead of schedule and $100 million under budget.  

The tunnel rehabilitation is part of a larger L Project, which consists of train capacity improvements and station capacity and accessibility improvements. The Canarsie Tunnel, which carries the L trains connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, was one of nine tunnels to sustain significant damage following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

With the added challenges of pushing the tunnel project toward completion during the COVID-19 pandemic, MTA Construction & Development (C&D) implemented several health and safety projections for employees and contractors. These included the launch of a daily reporting app, mandatory use of personal protective equipment, disinfection of contact surfaces, a ban on sharing tools and closure of common facilities among other steps.

With work completed on the tunnel rehabilitation, L train service resumed its previous service schedules with adjustments under the MTA Essential Service Plan on Monday, April 27.

"Even in the face of this unprecedented global health crisis, the MTA delivered this project safely, months ahead of schedule, well under budget and with no shutdown of service,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye. “This innovative approach is further proof that the 'new' MTA is committed to doing things differently to the benefit of our customers.”

Originally, MTA had planned a 15- to 18-month shutdown of the tunnel to perform all the required work. However, the schedule was revised following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s convening of a panel of engineering experts from Columbia and Cornell Universities, who made recommendations on a series of engineering methods to streamline the required repair work and limit the impact on L Train service.

"While New Yorkers continue to cope with the devastating impact of COVID-19, the L train project completion is timely proof that when we are confronted with a challenge, we can build back better and stronger - especially when we work together and think outside the box," Gov. Cuomo said. "Everyone said we had to shut down the tunnel for 15 to 18 months, which was going to be a massive disruption for thousands of New Yorkers who rely on the L train. We challenged those who said there was no alternative solution and as a result, today the MTA is delivering a more resilient tunnel with improved service that is ahead of schedule and under budget - all while averting a shutdown."

Rehabilitation work included installation of a new cable management system using a racking system and new fire-resistant cables; a new structure using industrial fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) to encase the old wall and to serve as the new wall structure between the tube and the tracks; a new data-driven and preventative approach to monitoring tunnel resiliency that utilizes a fiber optic monitoring system; 12,610 feet of new track including new plates and continuous welded rail; repurposing the existing third rail as a fourth rail for power management; new discharge lines; new pipes, pumps and controls; and new energy-efficient tunnel lighting.

"At the new MTA C & D, our motto is 'faster, better, cheaper'. Thanks to the governor and his team of experts, the Canarsie Tunnel project was able to live up to those goals. We're finishing three months ahead of schedule, using innovative technologies and construction methods, and saving the public millions," said Janno Lieber, chief development officer and president, MTA Construction & Development.

Station capacity and accessibility work will continue through fall 2020 as part of the L Project. This work includes constructing three additional substations that will add up to 10 percent more power to the L line; constructing three new accessible platforms; improvements at 14 stations; and capacity projects at Bedford Av Station and 1 Av Station.

MTA provided a video of a virtual first ride through the newly rehabbed tunnel; the video can be viewed below. 

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.