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New York subways roll, but road to recovery will be long ... and costly

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At a press briefing on Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg said he would be surprised if the subways that run under the East River would be back and running by the weekend.

“If they could do that I think that would be amazing,” Bloomberg said. “It may stretch a little longer.”

According to subway experts, it may be even more difficult and time-consuming than Bloomberg realizes.

For example, in 1996, the Muddy River, a tiny tributary of the Charles River in Boston, overflowed its banks after 9 to 10 inches of rain in 24 hours.

Mr. Mulhern was then the director of subway operations at the MBTA when the flood took place. About six stations on Boston’s Green Line, a light rail operation, filled with water. While some service was restored within a week, it was a full year, he says, before the system was back at full capacity.

“That was fresh water,” recalls Mulhern in an interview. “Salt water worsens the situation.”

To get the New York subways up and running, the salt water will have to be pumped out, which is happening. Debris will have to be removed. Then, Mulhern says, the system will have to be power washed with fresh water.

“Then you have to step back and ask what has been damaged and must be replaced,” he says. “It is likely that a lot of the subsystems need to be replaced.”

In addition to replacing the vital system of signals that subway drivers rely on, some stations may require new escalators or elevators to help the disabled negotiate the system. Turnstiles and fare-dispensing machines may need to be replaced.

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