Friday, March 02, 2007

And Oh, Oh, Oh, Look At The Rain Falling

A deluge of biblical proportions has been sweeping over Long Island since early in the morning, with about three inches of wet falling by the time I was ready to depart for work. I was giddy with anticipation over seeing the Long Island Rail Road's contingency planning in the well-known floodplain that is Mineola Station.

Mineola has the worst drainage I've ever seen. The Ganges in full flood carries a mere fraction of the water that accumulates in the lower levels of Winthrop Hospital's car park on a drizzly day, and I have actually ridden on a train on which the conductor hung out of a window with a radio as we crawled through the station so he could warn the driver if the bow wave we were making looked as if it would wash against the third rail and short it to ground. I remember almost passing out due to laughing so hard I couldn't breath when the town council floated1 a plan to replace one of the many grade crossings by having the road dip under the track. The thought of what this would look like when it filled with water on the first rainy day has often cheered me up when my spirits sagged. I think the technical term for such constructions is "sump”. After receiving a good soaking just by crossing the carpark I was in the mood for a bit of schadenfreude2 so I was all eyes as we approached Mineola station.

I was in luck. Flooding was so bad due to the weather, which had been aided by some railway maintenance crews in a manner I will get to eventually, that the train was forced to stop, then proceed at about 3 miles per hour through the station.

First up for the edification of Stevie was the crew desperately trying not to get sucked into the ten-foot pit someone had dug for a foundation of some yet-to-be built building. There was a very impressive scale model of the Horseshoe Falls improvising itself over the lip of the pit where it approached the side of the trackbed3. When you remember that the ground on Long Island is typically one foot of topsoil over several tens of feet of sand you will appreciate the danger posed to the crew. It looked for all the world like a time-lapse film of the Goose River4 erosion taken over several geological eras. Truly impressive quantities of water were finding a new place to drain into in the absence of any formally arranged ones like, ooh I dunno, storm sewers5.

Then it was westward ho! to the small substation I never spotted before (it's possible some occluding structure had been washed away overnight).

Here a team of engineers had deployed an emergency pump to keep the rising water away from all those shed-sized transformers. The bright blue hose was laid for about a hundred feet along the trackbed where it disgorged the water...nowhere special. This team of experts were apparently happy to simply move the flood somewhere else rather than mitigate it by pumping into, ooh, I dunno, a storm sewer maybe. As is was, there was a nice deep pool of water forming under the Eastbound train platform of the station. The thing is, unless my eyes deceived me, the power station lies slightly downhill from the platform in question and so about an hour or so later I imagine the engineers were taken by complete surprise by a sudden unexpected and totally unpredictable inundation from this catch-basin.

No doubt when I return to La Maison Stevie I will find my own domestic flood in progress. The water table is already very high where I live and more than a light spritzing causes interior tidal activity. Either I or Mrs Stevie will have to vacuum it all up and then pump out the vacuum. It is all very tedious, and the one who gets stuck with the job usually ends up getting soaked again. Fortunately, the weather will likely disrupt the evening commute badly.

I expect I shall probably be late home tonight.

  1. See what I did there?
  2. Joy in the trials and tribulations of others. I know it's small minded but my clothes are still wet almost four hours later. I had, in the words of Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau "received considerable soak" and I take my small pleasures where I find 'em these days
  3. And how long will it be before the trackbed is undermined by this unexpected turn of events? No man can say
  4. The Horseshoe Falls were once about a mile further downriver than they are today. Google "Horseshoe Falls" "Niagara" and "Goose River" to begin your own voyage of discovery (in a barrel, preferably)
  5. This is a base calumny. Mineola has plenty of storm sewer gratings. The leap of intuition that the local civil engineers need to make concerns placing them at the bottom of the hills

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