Environmental Sustainability in the MTA
By Gerard Hillenbrand, P.E.
That was the important subject presented at Met Section’s Technical Dinner meeting held on Tuesday, June 18th, 2009 at MTA Headquarters in lower Manhattan. The federal environmental protection agency has been emphasizing the sustainability issue since the 1970’s in response to the continuing degradation and increasing depletion of natural and man-made resources. The EPA has developed a series of standards covering the design and construction of projects as well as the need for continuing maintenance and management of all public facilities. This presentation described the MTA’s initiatives in complying with the federal guidelines as well as local government regulations. Professional engineers attending this technical meeting qualified to earn one professional development hour of credit toward satisfying the continuing education requirements established several years ago by the N. Y. State Department of Education.
The evening’s speaker was Thomas Abdallah, P.E., and Chief Environmental Engineer at the N.Y. City Transit Branch of the MTA. Mr. Abdallah, a 22-year veteran of service at N.Y. City Transit, is a Chemical Engineering Graduate of Rutgers University, a lead accredited professional, and specialist in Environmental Engineering. His presentation covered energy management, alternative energy, “Green” initiatives, and recycling projects that the MTA has completed or is now being constructed. His talk was illustrated by computerized slide and video presentation.
Mr. Abdallah began his presentation by noting that 33% of households in N.Y. City do not own or use private vehicles. Hence, public transit is absolutely essential in our city, and it must be environmentally sustainable. Recently N.Y. City transit purchased and placed in service more than 1000 hybrid electric buses correspondingly reducing diesel engine pollution and this program will be expanded in coming years. Another example of N.Y. City Transit sustainability is the Corona Rail Maintenance Shop completed and placed into service in 2007. This facility is LEED and “GREEN” certified and conforms to ISO 14001. The building has been oriented on site to maximize exposure to sun light and wind direction. The building is constructed to make maximum use of natural lighting and ventilation. The building has provisions for air conditioning but it is only activated when internal temperature reaches 86oF. Solar panels and fuel cells are mounted on the roof to generate electricity for in-house use. The roof also has an elaborate drainage system to collect rainwater and to store this water in a 40,000 gallon tank. The stored water is used to wash subway cars on the #7 line. The water is continually recycled and produces water use savings of 2.5 million gallons per year.
All new MTA facilities employ the following environmentally friendly features:
- All electrically operated signs use light emitting diode (LED) technology. New signals also use LED.
- All internal station lighting is of the fluorescent type.
- New construction projects use as much as 75% recycled steel and concrete.
- Electrical third rails powering trains are constructed of a composite of Aluminum core high wear resistance when contacted by the shoes on the subway cars.
- Solar panels installed on the roofs and canopies.
- Maximum use of natural lighting to reduce electrical consumption.
- The “Can it for a Greener Planet” campaign uses receptacles in stations to collect subway litter for recycling.
These features have all been successfully employed at the station renovations at 74th street and Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. The Stillwell Avenue facility roof has 70,000 square feet of solar and photovoltaic panels, which produce up to 50% of the station’s electrical consumption.
Typical of the design projects the MTA is currently working on is the proposed bus depot on 146th street in Harlem. This depot will feature:
- A “Green” Roof consisting of plantings to absorb rainwater and insulate the facility from excessive heat from the sun.
- Special materials, which reduce noise and absorb pollution.
- Solar wall construction providing ventilating gaps for deflecting hot air from the structure.
- A heat recovery unit limiting emissions.
- Low NOX Boilers to reduce pollution.
- A bus washing facility similar to the successful unit employed at the Corona Rail maintenance depot.
- Many tree plantings and special porous concrete for storm water management.
Other ongoing sustainability practices employed by the MTA include regenerative braking systems on all new subway cars (mandatory since 2001), low sulfur diesel fuel used on all buses (since 2000), and a recycling program upgrading all aging buses to conform to the latest environmental standards. Also in place is a system-wide recycling program for construction and demolition debris. Twenty percent of such materials were recycled in 2006, thirty five percent were recycled in 2008, and in 2009 the goal is to process forty percent of these materials. The MTA is studying the use of wind turbines on top of all buildings, locating turbines along railroad rights of way, and locating water turbines in local rivers, all to generate electricity. Yes, the MTA is serious about sustainability!