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

The New York subway system, inundated by Sandy's storm surge, began partial service Thursday. But full recovery for the city's 'lifeblood' will be long, complicated, and expensive.

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“Some of these things are not items you buy off the shelf,” he says.

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The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is likely to have some items in its inventory, says transit expert Kathryn Waters, a vice president at the American Public Transit Association, a lobbying group in Washington.

However, Ms. Waters, who was second in command at the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore, says she found that the manufacturers of some of the equipment Maryland used had gone out of business. “Sometimes you can use a substitute, sometimes you have custom work done,” she says.

Waters says other transit systems may be able to help New York, if necessary. “If New York does not have spare parts maybe someone else does,” she says. “We could coordinate that for them.”

All that takes time.

Mulhern says Boston got some subway service running in a week. However, he says the MBTA had to scale back the number of trains it could run at any given time. With signals damaged it had to space trains further apart. The trains also ran slower.

“When it was finally up and running it was initially far less service than commuters were used to,” says Mulhern. “It took us a year to get back to full capacity. I think it will be a long time before New York’s services are back to normal.”

Not only is it time-consuming to rebuild the transit system, it is expensive. Back in 1996, Mulhern says it cost $70 million (about $81 million in today’s dollars.)

For New York he expects it will cost billions of dollars.

“Most of the funds will come from FEMA,” he says, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides aid in times of emergencies. It is likely Congress will have to authorize the funding.

“I know the president has talked about cutting through all the red tape,” he says. “But, one of the things we did was to hire an engineering firm on day one to track all our expenditures – it built credibility with the federal government.”

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano got a tour of the damage to the city and the subways.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit her up for money right away. “We would like FEMA to reimburse us at 100 percent,” he said at a press conference. “The burden is too much for New York to carry.”

Normally, FEMA reimburses at the rate of 75 percent of the cost of a disaster. But, at the same press conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer said FEMA, which is part of DHS, had told him it was going to reimburse New York at the rate of 100 percent of emergency transportation funds as well as cover the cost of restoring power.

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