When WNYC and The Record published their in-depth examination of New Jersey Transit’s failures leading up to Hurricane Sandy, one aspect of their story seemed like a bad joke. In response to a FOIA request for the agency’s storm preparedness plans, NJ Transit had released a four-page memo, all of which had been redacted. It harkened back to an old Onion story, and The Record had filed suit to gain access to the documents.
Today, facing pressure from lawmakers and that lawsuit, NJ Transit released a less redacted version of their storm plans, and unsurprisingly, the document is light on details. Whereas the MTA keeps five three-inch binders worth of materials, New Jersey Transit’s plan is four pages long and offers mainly boilerplate warnings. It urges crews to keep trains out of flood-prone areas without divulging what those areas are and features timelines that many NJ Transit officials admit aren’t sufficient.
Karen Rouse has more:
Details in the plan are sparse and offer little explanation as to why so much of the fleet was left in low-lying areas. The plan does not specify an estimated number of locomotives and railcars that need to be moved to higher ground; system locations that need to be sandbagged; or the impact a storm could have on the shutdown. Such details, however, are in a hurricane plan released by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The NJ Transit plan includes language similar to what the agency used in its pre-Sandy press releases. It says that an orderly shutdown will ensure customers and employees are not at risk, cites the need to protect rolling stock and infrastructure from flooding, and warns that the agency should not announce to the public a date for service resumption until after inspections are completed.
But in contrast to press releases and statements from agency officials following Sandy — which told the public a minimum of 12 hours is needed to shut down the system — the plan says “the actual suspension of service” is triggered “at least 8 hours prior to the storm impacting the state.”
Rail operations Vice President Kevin O’Connor, however, has said that it is not possible to move the fleet in less than 12 hours. “Having a plan to remove the equipment is not possible in 12 hours,” he said in an interview last week. “There is no way I can move every piece of equipment out of the MMC [Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny] in 12 hours.”
A full copy of the plan, courtesy of Transportation Nation’s coverage, is embedded at the end of this post.
What we’re left with though is a confounding conclusion: New Jersey Transit lived through Hurricane Irene; it witnessed the MTA implement its own storm preparedness efforts; and it did the bare minimum to protect its key assets. Nothing that’s come out has made me reassess my view that NJ Transit’s response to Sandy was an absolute failure in leadership. That no one has been held responsible is a real insult to the 940,000 people who use the system every day.