what the l

Hot and Bothered: Burning Cables Led to L Train Headaches

An L train heads toward Manhattan from Bedford Avenue, Sept. 12, 2019.
An L train heads toward Manhattan from Bedford Avenue, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Sign up for “THE CITY Scoop,” our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

Thousands of L train riders this week endured extensive delays for three straight days due to “smoldering and hot cables” in the line’s East River tunnel, THE CITY has learned.

Internal reports reveal that cables between the Bedford Avenue and First Avenue stops needed “emergency repairs” Wednesday afternoon, following the latest service disruption in a week that has been filled with them.

“Each day this week, it’s been a big guess whether I can get into Manhattan or not,” said Josh Whalen, 19, an NYU student who lives in East Williamsburg and takes the L every day.

The Wednesday delays to L train service in both directions — the cause of which was listed in a report as “cables burning north of Bedford Avenue” — stretched from 10:37 a.m. until close to 3:30 p.m., when the MTA acknowledged via Twitter that “critical repairs in the Canarsie Tube” had been completed.

On Tuesday, there were 45 service changes along the L, the reports show, because emergency repairs had to be made to “cables burning north of Bedford Avenue.”

And on Monday, 44 trains along the L ran late when service was limited to a single track after what a report obtained by THE CITY described as a “manhole fire north of Bedford Avenue.” That incident affected service from 9:09 a.m. until 2:24 p.m.

‘Under Investigation’

An MTA spokesperson said the repeated problems, which records indicate occurred north of the Bedford Avenue stop all three days, were not connected to the ongoing nights-and-weekends repairs inside the 1.4-mile Canarsie Tube, which runs under the East River. The MTA considers the three-day stretch of problems a single incident.

“The cause of the incident remains under investigation,” said Andrei Berman, an MTA spokesperson. “There are a few cables in need of repairs on the Brooklyn-bound tracks — not where the ongoing major tunnel rehabilitation has been underway — and crews worked tirelessly over the last few days to make repairs in a way that minimized the service impact to customers.”

A Manhattan-bound L train pulls into the Bedford Avenue station, Sept. 12, 2019.
A Manhattan-bound L train pulls into the Bedford Avenue station, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Riders said they had to pick between long gaps in service or taking circuitous other routes.

“I had to get off at Union Square and take the 6 downtown, then switch to the J to get back to Brooklyn,” said Dave Molino, 52. “It’s no good, man.”

A Fire Department spokesperson said firefighters responded only to the Monday report from the MTA of “heavy smoke” coming from a room inside the tunnel. The spokesperson added that they were “turned around” by the MTA.

“I’m moving from Williamsburg because of the L,” said Chanel Schartz, who was waiting for the train at Third Avenue. “It’s just too messy.”

‘Anxiety-Inducing’

The tunnel linking Brooklyn and Manhattan was set to be closed for 15 months’ of repairs starting in April. But in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo upended years of planning when he junked what would have been a full-time shutdown between the Bedford Avenue stop in Williamsburg and the 14th Street/Eighth Avenue station in Chelsea.

Cuomo instead pushed a proposal from Columbia and Cornell University engineering professors that kept the line open, but extended wait times for trains while work is done at nights and on weekends.

“This week has been the cherry on top of those nights when the people on this line have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for a train,” said Evelin Novas, 30, who was taking the L from Union Square to Brooklyn.

Whalen, the NYU student, said he was on a Brooklyn-bound L train Tuesday afternoon that “crawled and stopped” through the tunnel.

“Midday ‘critical repairs’ on a damaged underwater tube line raises a lot of red flags and makes the Bedford-First Avenue journey anxiety-inducing,” he said.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.