"It worked pretty much everywhere in the system except lower Manhattan," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. (A giant inflatable plug, still under development, may have prevented more flooding.)
In the subway tunnels, electrical signals, relays and other equipment — "any type of component that could be quickly removed" — were taken out and stored above ground.
If the MTA had left the electrical signals to flood, it would have had to take them apart, dry them and reassemble them — a process that could take weeks, Jacob said. The equipment is 50 to 100 years old, and the replacement parts aren't sold anymore.
Many of the report's predictions were "eerily verified" by Hurricane Sandy, Jacob said. But by heeding the report's warnings and developing strategies to minimize the impact of flooding, he said, the MTA prevented a much longer subway closure and saved the city billions of dollars.
But other transit operators weren't so foresighted. New Jersey Transit didn't move its trains before the surge hit, and lost a large part of its rolling stock as a result, Jacob said. When asked about the losses, NJ Transit declined to comment. The agency lost about a quarter of its total fleet, according to the NJ Transit website. One year later, 93 percent of NJ Transit's fleet is now operable. (Video: NJ Sandy Flooding Seen in Security Footage)
The MTA's preparations for Hurricane Sandy were admirable — as good an outcome as could be expected under bad circumstances, Jacob said. But the city hasn't spent money on "hard changes" to protect transportation infrastructure from future severe weather threats.
"Are we as vulnerable today as we were on the day of Sandy? I would say yes," Jacob said.
Making the necessary changes will take years and billions of dollars of investment, he added.
For example, many of the subway tunnels with stations at the surface lie in flood zones. The ventilation grates are a hazard because floodwater easily flows into them. These grates should be sealed and replaced with ventilation systems like those already used in under-river tunnels, Jacob said. The technology is available, but it comes down to politics, he said.
Storms like Sandy are sure to happen again, and their effects will only become more severe as sea level rises. Ultimately, these problems won't be fixed by engineering solutions, Jacob said, but by retreat. All these solutions can do is buy time.
"The bottom line is, we have not faced up to what climate change will cost the nation and the rest of world," Jacob said.
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