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Originally published Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:32 AM

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NYC's old South Ferry subway station reopens

Five months ago, Superstorm Sandy sent 15 million gallons of seawater into a state-of-the-art subway station, paralyzing a major New York City transport link for years to come.

Associated Press

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NEW YORK —

Five months ago, Superstorm Sandy sent 15 million gallons of seawater into a state-of-the-art subway station, paralyzing a major New York City transport link for years to come.

Manhattan's South Ferry station partly reopened Thursday, but only a 108-year-old section of it.

It will take about three years and could cost an estimated $600 million to rebuild the newer section, according to officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Until then, the No. 1 train will roll through the century-old tunnel as it loops around its last, lower Manhattan stop before heading uptown again.

South Ferry, which is used by commuters who take the nearby Staten Island Ferry, was the last Manhattan subway stop damaged by the October storm to reopen. In Queens, the A train on the Rockaway peninsula is still not running.

Thursday's comeback of the old "loop" - part of the original subway system - hardly signaled a return to normal. Its curved platform can accommodate only half of a 10-car train.

"If you are not in the first five cars" of the downtown train, "you will not get off at old South Ferry," the conductor warned on the announcement system inside a train. "This is from now on."

The old, U-shaped tunnel was used until 2009, when it was replaced by a $500 million-plus transit hub - built with post-9/11 recovery funds - that could handle 24 trains an hour on two parallel tracks.

On Oct. 29, storm waters roared in from the nearby harbor into South Ferry, filling it 80 feet deep, said acting MTA chief Fernando Ferrer.

The water was pumped out and drained within days, but crews could not revive banks of corroded wires and electrical contacts that held relays - components that deliver signal information, control switches and keep trains properly spaced from each other.

The old station tracks took in only 3 to 4 feet of water, but there was no long-term component damage. Transit officials spent $2 million reactivating its wiring and controls and making sure the tracks were in good shape, Ferrer said.

The return to the old South Ferry station didn't faze Luis Nieves, a 49-year-old Manhattan maintenance worker.

"I'm a New Yorker, and New Yorkers are about getting around, 24 hours. We never sleep," he deadpanned as he emerged from underground after an overnight shift.

He was headed home to Staten Island, along with thousands of others who have been using stations up to a 10-minute walk away in the five months since Sandy.

"You reroute, you get around," added Nieves.

For the team fixing the worst damage in New York subway history, it's not that simple. While the initial debris was cleaned up, the rest will take "a couple of years, because the damage was so extensive," Ferrer said.

MTA engineers are now studying whether some of the station's electrical infrastructure can be moved to higher ground to guard against future flooding. Work also is needed on rusting stairs and a crumbling ceiling.

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