Summer storms flooded the US subway and sparked a climate change wake-up call

When the remnants of Hurricane Ida threw record rain On the East Coast this month, stairs to New York City’s subway tunnels turned into waterfalls and railroad tracks turned into canals.

In Philadelphia, a commuter line along the Schuylkill River was washed away for miles, and the nation’s busiest rail line, Amtrak’s northeast corridor from Boston to Washington, was to turn off for a whole day.

Almost a decade after Superstorm Sandy spurred Billions of dollars in investment in coastal flood protection along the east coast, some of which remain unfinished, Hurricane Ida and other storms this summer provided a stark reminder that more needs to be done, and rapidly, as climate change grows stronger, more unpredictable weather to a region with some of the oldest and busiest transit systems in the country, experts and traffic officials say.

“This is our time to make sure our transit system is ready,” said Sanjay Seth, manager of Boston’s “climate resilience” program. “There is a lot we need to do in the next 10 years, and we have to get it right. You don’t need to build it twice. “

In New York, where some 75 million gallons (285 million liters) of subway water were pumped during Ida, ambitious solutions have been proposed, such as building canals through the city.

But in the meantime, relatively easy and short-term arrangements could also be made for the transit system, suggests Janno Lieber, acting executive director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Installing curbs at subway entrances, for example, could prevent water from cascading down the steps into tunnels, as seen in countless viral videos this summer.

More than 400 subway entrances could be affected by the extreme rains of climate change in the coming decades, according to projections of the Regional Plan Association, a group of experts that plans to present the idea of ​​a canal system.

“The subway system is not a submarine. It can’t be made waterproof, ”Lieber said. “We just need to limit how quickly you can get into the system.”

In Boston, climate change efforts have focused primarily on the Blue Line, which runs under Boston Harbor and runs on both sides of the coast north of the city.

This summer’s storms were the first real test of some of the newer measures to cushion the vulnerable line.

The #summer storms were a wake-up call on climate change for #subtes. #Climate change

Flood barriers at a key waterfront stop in downtown were first activated when Tropical Storm Henri made landfall in New England in August. No major damage was reported at the station.

Next, authorities are seeking federal funding to build a boardwalk to prevent flooding at another crucial Blue Line subway stop, says Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The agency has also budgeted to upgrade the port’s tunnel pumps and is considering building a berm around an expansive swamp along the Blue Line, he said.

In Philadelphia, some flood protection measures completed in the wake of Sandy proved their worth this summer, while others fell short.

Signal huts housing critical control equipment were erected after Sandy along the Manayunk / Norristown commuter line, but it was not high enough to prevent damage during Ida, said Bob Lund, deputy director general of the Transportation Authority. from Southeastern Pennsylvania.

On the positive side, shoreline “shielding” efforts prevented damaging erosion in what was the highest flooding in the area since the mid-1800s. That has prompted plans to continue shielding more stretches along the river with cable-reinforced concrete blocks, Lund said.

If anything, he said, this year’s storms showed that flood projections have not kept pace with environmental change.

“We are seeing more frequent storms and higher water events,” Lund said. “We have to be even more conservative than our own projections show.”

In Washington, where the Red Line flood-prone Cleveland Park station was closed twice during Hurricane Ida, transit officials have begun developing a climate resilience plan to identify vulnerabilities and prioritize investments, said Sherrie Ly, spokeswoman from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

That adds to the work WMATA has done over the past two decades to mitigate flood risks, he said, such as erecting ventilation shafts, improving drainage systems and installing dozens of high-capacity pump stations.

Ultimately, East Coast transit systems have taken laudable steps, such as outlining climate change plans and hiring experts, said Jesse Keenan, associate professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, co-author of a recent study examining the risks of climate change for T.

But it is an open question whether they are planning ambitiously enough, he said, pointing to Washington, where subway lines along the Anacostia and Potomac rivers into Maryland and Virginia are particularly vulnerable.

Similar concerns persist in other cities around the world that suffered severe flooding this year.

In China, Prime Minister Li Keqiang has promised hold officials accountable after 14 people died and hundreds more were trapped in a flooded subway line in Zhengzhou in July. But there are still no concrete proposals on what could be done to prevent the deadly subway floods.

In London, efforts to address Victorian-era sewer and drainage systems are too fragmentary to affect city-wide struggles against flooding, says Bob Ward, a climate change expert at the London School of Economics.

The city saw a monsoon-like soaking in July that caused the closure of metro stations.

“The level of urgency is just not required,” Ward said. “We know that these rain events will get worse and the floods will get worse, unless we significantly increase investment.”

Meanwhile, other cities have moved more quickly to shore up their infrastructure.

Tokyo completed an underground system to divert flood water in 2006 with chambers large enough to accommodate a space shuttle or the Statue of Liberty.

Copenhagen’s underground City Circle Line, which was completed in 2019, features strong gates, elevated entrances, and other adaptations to climate change.

How to pay for more ambitious climate change projects remains another big question mark for cities on the East Coast, said Michael Martello, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of the Boston study with Keenan.

Despite an infusion of federal stimulus dollars during the pandemic, the Boston T and other transit agencies still face staggering budget deficits as passenger numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Stunning images from this summer’s floods briefly kickstarted efforts to approve those of President Joe Biden. $ 3.5 billion infrastructure plan. But that gigantic spending bill, which includes money for climate change preparedness, is still being negotiated in Congress.

“It’s great to have these plans,” Martello said. “But it has to be built and financed in some way.”

Marcelo reported from Boston. Associated Press journalist Dake Kang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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