For New York City and the MTA, the post-Sandy recovery has come in fits and starts. Transit managed to protect its expensive rolling stock from any storm- or flooding-related damage, but the tunnel infrastructure suffered billions of dollars in damage. The subway connection to the Rockaways and the 1 train’s South Ferry terminal remain temporarily out of service for the long haul.
For Transit officials, Sandy and the storm surge provided an opportunity to conduct a real-life test of contingency plans the agency had developed over the past half a decade. Since a strong summer rainstorm swamped the system a few years ago and since Irene’s near-miss in 2011, MTA staffers had worked to put together a plan that would provide as much protection as possible. Even though the agency got service back up and running within days of the storm, it could do only so much to protect some of the immovable infrastructure from damage. Tunnels were flooded; signals destroyed; but as I said, the rolling stock remained safe and dry.
Across the river, New Jersey Transit had no such luck. There, officials erroneously modeled storm surges, failed to heed internal warnings and suffered significant operational damage. To make matters worse, everyone involved in planning for the storm is still employed.
As more time has passed, we have come to learn that New Jersey Transit’s damage was even worse than first believed. A recent article in The Record from Bergen County reveals that damage to rolling stock alone could top $450 million, and to make matters worse, the agency has had trouble tracking down spare parts. Karen Rouse had the report:
NJ Transit said [last week] that more rail cars and locomotives — 342 — were damaged by superstorm Sandy than originally thought and that the cost of the storm to the agency has risen to $450 million. Originally, 323 pieces of equipment were reported as damaged and the costs of the storm was thought to be $400 million.
But even as the agency revised upwards its damage and cost estimates, officials could not say where the equipment would be placed if a similar storm were to occur in the near future. “NJ Transit does not speak in hypotheticals,” spokesman John Durso said, adding that the agency is “exploring both short term and long term solutions for safe harbor storage for storms on par with – or exceeding that of Super Storm Sandy.”
…Now, the race to repair the equipment is being hampered by difficulty NJ Transit is facing in finding spare parts, Weinstein said. “The major challenge right now is the repair of the multi-levels [rail cars],” said [Executive Director Jim] Weinstein. He said NJ Transit and Bombardier, a Canadian company that manufactures much of the rail equipment, will be meeting Thursday.
“We’re in the process now of fixing what we believe the price per car will be to fix it,” Weinstein said. He said there are 77 multi-levels that need to be repaired, as well as large diesel and dual-mode locomotives. “The challenge is parts. All of our replacement parts for all of those were destroyed when the maintenance facility flooded.”
You’ll have to pardon my repeated incredulity over the scope of this story, but as more information emerges in fits and starts from the Garden State, no one emerges looking as though they had a clue. New Jersey Transit keps its rolling stock and the replacement parts in the same low-lying flood plane that luckily — or unluckily — enough hadn’t flooded but was clearly vulnerable. They still haven’t identified a price per car for the repairs and seem to have no clear-cut contingency plan in place for the next big storm.
Some of these short-comings will clearly be resolved in the coming weeks and months, but to me, this shows a clear inattention to transit and a lack of understanding of the importance of New Jersey Transit in the region’s economy. Nearly 1 million riders rely on NJ Transit each weekday, but these folks are seemingly an afterthought in the eyes of planners tasked with protecting the system. Somehow, everyone in charge on the day Sandy swept through the area is still in charge today, and that should not stand.