Home New Jersey Transit NJ Transit rolling stock Sandy damage to top $450 million

NJ Transit rolling stock Sandy damage to top $450 million

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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political_incorrectness February 21, 2013 - 12:19 am

Wow, my mouth is just sitting down in how NJ Transit had the audacity to turn on the blinders and permit fairly new equipment to sit in flood prone areas. A nice $450 million could pay for renewal of the electrification south of Trenton to Philly perhaps and maybe allow the 160 mph stretch to go a bit further?

Hank February 21, 2013 - 1:17 am

They’re looking at a yard near Linden for the future, but I think this episode shows that NJT needs to move their maintenance facility.

Walter February 21, 2013 - 4:09 am

Was Metro-North’s West of Hudson fleet also damaged, or did NJ Transit keep most of it in Port Jervis or Campbell Hall? Did the MTA even have a say in how and where the MTA-owned equipment would be stored in an emergency?

LLQBTT February 21, 2013 - 9:26 am

Sound a bit ridiculous that NJT wouldn’t know where to put their trains the next time. They have hundreds of miles of tracks throughout the state and in NY too as Walter states. Heck, a few trains would even fit in the yard just north of Suffern. Can’t imagine ANY storm surge reaching that far.

lawhawk February 21, 2013 - 10:25 am

The site in Suffern is in a flood zone – and parts of the line (running to Port Jervis) between Suffern and Harriman washed out during Hurricane Irene when the Ramapo River overflowed its banks.

Not the best place to store trains in a potential hurricane situation.

A better choice is the small yard in Waldwick, but that’s hardly sufficient to shelter all the equipment used on the PJ/MB lines.

LLQBTT February 21, 2013 - 1:49 pm

Agreed, but I am referring to a storm surge, and were a storm surge to reach Suffern, we’d have many more things to worry about than a few rail cars.

Nyland8 February 21, 2013 - 2:39 pm

And therein lies the rub. A storm surge is usually accompanied by a storm.

In this respect, Sandy was unusual, being relatively dry on the north side and moving westward quickly. Most storms of that size and coastal pattern would drop enough rain to flood anything in a “flood zone”. So Suffern might be safe from the surge, but …

Nathanael February 25, 2013 - 11:15 pm

How about storing the trains on, for example, the running lines of the Morris and Essex Lines? That’s pretty similar to what the MTA did to protect its rolling stock, and would be quite safe.

Nyland8 February 21, 2013 - 6:12 am

Most astounding to me is the fact that this might have been the best predicted storm track in history. Computer modeling had forecast it paralleling the coast, passing Cape Hatteras, making a hard westward turn, and slamming into New Jersey before the eye had even crossed Cuba. Seven days before it hit, they were already predicting landfall would arrive around high tide.

I don’t think those early models were off by more than one hour and one hundred miles. They were astoundingly accurate and offered an entire week to planners to get their act together and make provisions for a worst-case scenario. What on earth were they thinking? Was the entire management of NJTransit away on vacation that week? Has anyone, even a spokesperson from their offices, ever offered an apology to their customers and rate payers?

Even if nobody is fired as a result of this catastrophe, at least somebody should have the decency to resign.

lawhawk February 21, 2013 - 9:22 am

And you wonder why I’ve been pissed at NJ Transit for years and warned that the agency can’t be trusted with capital construction projects?

This is the icing on the cake.

They cannot be trusted to handle their infrastructure and core mission. It was incompetence from the top down.

The Meadows Yard in Kearny is one of their primary maintenance facilities. It was renovated and rebuilt in 1989 for a couple hundred million dollars despite being in a known flood zone.

Between the trains damaged in Hoboken and Kearny, they’ve done enough damage to mean that it will be months more before all rail service is restored to pre-storm levels. That’s completely unacceptable.

As an aside, Benjamin, I wonder whether the MTA had similar damage to its maintenance facilities in Coney Island including wheel and signal replacement gear and equipment since that too was flooded by Sandy (but the rail fleet was moved to higher ground).

It’s also completely unacceptable that it took months to get even the most rudimentary services restored at Hoboken terminal – like a warm waiting area in the middle of winter, to say nothing of restroom facilities.

Walking through Hoboken, one has to wonder what exactly is being done in terms of repairs to fully reopen the waiting area (the seats and restrooms are closed and shrouded in plywood and plastic), the customer service areas, and retail spaces, and there’s no ETA on when repairs will be completed. It’s hard to say whether any work is under way either because the agency is notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to any kind of information updates.

No one has been fired because Gov. Christie hasn’t demanded it. He’s backed Weinstein and company despite the fiasco and fiscal mess that they’ve imposed on the rail and bus system.

As much as Christie gets credit for doing well in handling natural disasters, he needs to shoulder the blame for the way NJ Transit handled the storm preparations and recovery. It’s been unacceptable all the way around.

Frank B February 21, 2013 - 2:55 pm

If it makes you feel any better, “A March 2012 Government Accountability Office investigation report found Christie’s rationalization for stopping the project to be unsound and deceptive.”

LLQBTT February 21, 2013 - 9:23 am

The ‘good news’ though is that NJT will be able to ‘bury’ the cost of the NOLA trip in the fed $ they would surely get for this. Problem solved!

g February 21, 2013 - 11:02 am

I like the “NJ Transit does not speak in hypotheticals,” line. Nothing like an arrogant response to an entirely valid question.

Once the ESA is complete NJ is going to be at a huge disadvantage to MNRR and LIRR territory when it comes to where people want to live. Acting like a bunch of dicks after you Homer Simpson style fumble the response to most predicable storm in decades which consequently has crippled your service will surely endear you to the public.

Frank B February 21, 2013 - 2:30 pm

That’s 100% correct. Since the taxes between Jersey, Long Island and Upstate are rapidly becoming the same, Long Island and Metro-North are going to be highly advantageous over NJ Transit.

Remember: Amtrak is the owner of the North River Tunnels. When push comes to shove, Amtrak is not going to let NJ Transit get in its way of running more trains on its most-profitable and most-used route. The ARC Tunnel, despite its problems, would not be owned by Amtrak and only NJ Transit trains would be using it. Amtrak tickets sell at a far higher price than NJ Transit; even with NJ Transit paying Amtrak part of their farebox income for use of Amtrak’s tunnels, Amtrak would still make more money pushing their own Northeast Corridor trains through.

With both Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad serving both Pennsylvania and Grand Central, and business centers like Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City Rapidly growing, its clear that New Jersey will be stagnating in growth and be left in the dust for years to come, while New York grows and grows.

Long Live The Great State of New York! “Excelsior!”

Nathanael February 25, 2013 - 11:12 pm

Heck, on the New York side, the tracks are being upgraded all the way to Schenectady.

Though when you claim that New York will be the primary beneficiary of New Jersey’s incompetence, I think you have forgotten something: namely, Connecticut, which is putting even more effort in than New York.

Rob Stevens February 21, 2013 - 3:02 pm

Right abt “NJ Transit does not speak in hypotheticals” — sounds to me like “NJ Transit does not engage in planning”.

someone February 21, 2013 - 9:48 pm

NJT is still foolish, with their convoluted thinking that modeling the storm would help protect the rolling stock.

Spendmore Wastemore February 21, 2013 - 11:25 pm

What’s the problem? Free money, overtime to do the repairs and nobody gets fired. Management is positioning a few unpopular folks who tend to point out errors for firing and setting up a vacation at a “disaster planning” convention somewhere. Somewhere warm, that is. See if they’ll send you a pool ticket.

Try to be happy for them. It’s your money and that’s all you’re ever going to get for it!

Nathanael February 25, 2013 - 11:13 pm

Elect a different governor and you’d have a different situation.

Christie’s heart seems to be in the right place, but his brain appears to be missing entirely. Of course, NJ has a long history of stupid or otherwise terrible governors.

Phantom February 23, 2013 - 11:07 am

Why isn’t this a big story in the NY Times and other local media?


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