A train comes back to Rockaways after 7 months

By Christina Santucci

The A train between Howard Beach and the Rockaways is running again after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the line and forced a seven-month suspension, but the section of the subway has a long way to go before transit officials believe it can be protected against future storm.

“The Rockaway Line has been in service since 1956, and the MTA is glad to once again provide a safe, reliable and efficient train trip for our customers,” said MTA Interim Executive Director Thomas Prendergast. “But the MTA’s post-Sandy work is far from over, and we still have plenty of work ahead of us.”

In total, $75 million worth of work was performed to restore subway service to the Rockaways and an additional $9 million was shelled out to operate replacement bus and subway shuttle service, the agency said. Funding was supplied by the Federal Transit Administration, which allocated nearly $3.8 billion to the MTA for post-Sandy repairs.

And there is still much more work to be done to rebuild the infrastructure of the line and implement protections against future storms, according to the MTA.

“The bottom line is that was a lot to do. We did it and we did it faster than we had hoped, but it wasn’t soon enough for the people that were out here without the service,” Prendergast told a crowd of Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers, community leaders and would-be subway riders gathered at the Beach 116th station to celebrate the A train’s return May 30.

To commemorate the occasion officials rolled out a vintage train, comprised of R1/R9 cars first put into service in the 1930s, for the ceremonial journey from Howard Beach through Broad Channel to the Rockaways.

Prendergast, along with Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff were greeted with fanfare, including a doo-wop group and cookies with the A train logo and the words “It’s Back” at the Rockaway Beach stop.

Riders who heard about the celebration on Facebook showed up to welcome back the A.

Alexa Nieves, 23, had to cobble together transportation plans to and from her job at Citi Field while a portion of the line was out of service.

“To start off it has been a real blessing. I don’t have to ask for rides anymore. Working with just the bus that cuts out at a certain time made going to work, going to school very difficult,” she said. “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, so I’m very appreciative.”

The Q52 and Q53 buses, which Nieves took to mainland Queens, end service after midnight.

The Rockaway resident gleefully boarded the classic train last Thursday with her relatives and boyfriend, Keith Hernandez, as they snapped photos of one another with their phones and peered out the windows at the peninsula below.

Transit officials said the return of the train was certainly something to celebrate. The line sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy last year.

First, more than 3,000 tons of debris, including dozens of boats, had to be removed from the line before repairs could be made to tracks, signals and wiring. Officials called the damage to the historic and the details of the repair job staggering.

“In the context of government, this is the speed of light,” Ferrer said.

Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at timesledgerphotos@gmail.com or by phone at 718-260-4589.

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