Home New Jersey Transit Non-redacted, NJ Transit’s hurricane plans sparse

Non-redacted, NJ Transit’s hurricane plans sparse

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

NJ Transit Rail Hurricane Plan

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PeakVT May 17, 2013 - 4:32 pm

Where’s the NJ legislature in all of this? Any hearings? Any subpoenas?

Clarke May 18, 2013 - 9:26 pm

Chris Christie 2016!

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 4:55 pm

So, this was a very poor piece of planning. Well, people do make terrible mistakes sometimes.

I’m still more offended by the bogus “redaction”, though. That sort of cover-up has no excuse. Whoever ordered that… seriously, guys.

This version is STILL redacted, in a completely offensive way — where the equipment is going to be stored is NOT high-security information, given that everyone will see it as soon as it happens. It’s particularly not high-security now that this plan is DEAD DEAD DEAD and will have to be replaced entirely.

Most critically, we need to find out whether they actually followed their plan.

“Hoboken Division MU fleet stored _____”?

Let me guess: it wasn’t supposed to be stored in the FLOOD PRONE YARD where it was actually stored, but it WAS stored there, and someone who knows he didn’t follow the plan is redacting the documents to avoid getting fired.

That person should be thrown in prison for the cover-up. If it were just a matter of not following the plan, being fired would be sufficient, but the cover-up is unconscionable.

Spendmore Wastemore May 17, 2013 - 11:25 pm

Yeah, “terrorists” are going to be very interested in empty train cars during a hurricane. And you can’t possibly find dozens of 100 foot long, 80 ton rail cars which can only be moved onto other NJT railroad tracks by, say, driving around likely storage spots.

Maybe they assume terrorists can’t drive, because the road signs are not in Arabic?

Chris C May 17, 2013 - 5:52 pm

So the plan was basically

1. Big wind and rain will come.

2. Do stuff.

3. Cross fingers and hope for the best.

No wonder they tried to hide this piss poor piece of ‘planning’

BTW interesting on page 4 that the MTA is NOT mentioned as an agency they will inform when services are restored.

lawhawk May 17, 2013 - 8:11 pm

It is absolutely insulting that this is proffered as a storm response plan for one of the nation’s largest mass transit systems. It has to handle hundreds of locomotives and railcars, plus thousands of buses/motorcoaches and light rail units.

All it can do is say that it’s moving them to higher ground, but redacts where? Kinda funny since there’s only limited places where those cars actually went (beyond Meadows and Hoboken where they never belonged during a storm with the surge expected during Sandy). There are rail yards in Waldwick and Suffern where some units could have found refuge, but that didn’t happen in sufficient numbers. Heck, it doesn’t take much to figure out where/how the trains were located along the Main/Bergen line – just looking at a map – so the redactions look even more ridiculous.

They could have placed the cars on higher ground on the actual mainline, but they refused, claiming that it would be tougher to get service restored with downed trees and lines (though Main/Bergen doesn’t have overhead catenary power lines).

And that Gov. Christie continues to stand by Weinstein and the rest of the rail operations team at NJ Transit speaks volumes. It’s a huge failing on his (and NJ Transit) part. That’s still to be adequately addressed, and I hope it does during the race for governor in NJ.

BTW, it’s more than living through Hurricane Irene. It’s living through Hurricane Floyd, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Lee, all the different tropical storms that dumped massive flooding on NJ Transit properties (like the low-lying areas around the Wayne bus depot and train stations), and flooding that regularly occurred at Hoboken Terminal.

They ignored all of that and made plans that didn’t involve moving equipment to higher ground – claiming that the last time they did, they had delays due to washouts/problems with tracks leading to those remote locations.

Instead of fixing those issues and making adequate preparations, they engaged in little more than wishful thinking.

And that’s not going to be fixed with the current crew in charge.

Rob Durchola May 17, 2013 - 9:44 pm

Note that we did not hear that NJ Transit lost buses in Sandy. Almost all NJT bus service was up and running shortly after roads reopened despite many of their bus garages being in flood prone areas.

The buses (many of which are full in normal operation) could not handle the spill over from rail; but that is to be expected.

Spendmore Wastemore May 17, 2013 - 11:19 pm

From my time working in large organizations I believe what’s going on is pretty obvious.

Management’s storm plan is short and without details so that it’s “not my problem”. “There was a plan, I followed the plan, not my problem”. The onus is put upon train operators to move equipment to unspecified areas, so that for management it’s “not my job”. Drafting a workable plan has several deficits from management’s POV:

1) It requires work. Do not underestimate the attitude issue here; when the zoo in run by the loudest, dumbest monkey any incursion of logic and planning is detected (correctly) as a threat.

2) It could result in responsibility being assigned. If doofus-in-a-suit drafts a plan with specific, incorrect details and their name on it, they may get transferred out of a soft job and a sweet retirement deal. They’re well aware that they have no career outside the buddy system.

3) Chances are pretty good that whatever goes wrong will happen after they’ve retired or transferred out of direct involvement. Doofus doesn’t believe in math, much less in ethics, and figures that than because an event hasn’t affected him/her, personally, within memory it’s not worth interrupting the TV or betting pool discussion.

NJT’s stab wound to the taxpayer wasn’t an accident, it was an attitude.

Nathanael May 28, 2013 - 6:38 am

This is a subtle point, but this sort of situation would be way better if everyone was guaranteed a basic minimum income (enough to live on) and health care.

That would mean that the Doofuses of the world could be fired without anyone having any worries on their conscience, and the Doofuses of the world would not be quite so likely to hang on to their jobs for dear life.


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