Home New Jersey Transit Report: After Super Bowl mishap, NJ Transit head on the way out

Report: After Super Bowl mishap, NJ Transit head on the way out

by Benjamin Kabak

It has, to say the least, been a rough few years for New Jersey Transit. Over the past year and a half, the current agency leadership has overseen a disastrous response to Hurricane Sandy and, more recently, garnered bad press when football fans had to wait for up to three hours outside of Met Life Stadium when the Super Bowl ended. These were both avoidable problems, but no one seemed to care. It was surprising that no one in the upper echelons of management got the axe following the hurricane, but it seems as though the Super Bowl fallout will cause some heads to roll.

As Karen Rouse of The Record reported this past weekend, it appears as though enough is enough for New Jersey Transit. James Weinstein is ostensibly on the way out as the Executive Director of NJ Transit. As Rouse notes, Weinstein has been a loyal confidant of Gov. Chris Christie’s. He took on the burden of negotiating the cancellation of the ARC Tunnel and negotiated with the feds in coming to terms on a refund for federal funds.

Now, though, the failures have mounted — including one involving canceled NJ Transit trademarks — and amidst other scandals plaguing his administration, Christie is gearing up to cut loose Weinstein. Here’s Rouse’s story:

Weinstein now appears to be on his way out. His faithfulness may not have been enough to overcome a series of high-profile failures that occurred under his watch, most notably, the agency’s ill-fated decision to abandon nearly 400 railcars and locomotives in flood-prone rail yards during Superstorm Sandy and its clumsy handling of Super Bowl transportation. Thousands of football fans were stranded at MetLife Stadium for hours because NJ Transit was unprepared for the 33,000 football fans that overwhelmed the system.

He is expected to be replaced by Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, a former senior vice president at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital construction program who is currently executive director at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. His pending departure comes amid growing dissatisfaction among NJ Transit employees, who complain of low morale and favoritism in the upper ranks; tensions with Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, who, as chairman of NJ Transit’s board, is Weinstein’s boss; and a commuter rail and bus system so plagued with breakdowns that some customers have told the board it’s no longer reliable.

Weinstein declined multiple requests to be interviewed, but friends of the director say Christie’s tight control over NJ Transit has prevented Weinstein from effectively managing the agency’s operations. “Larger policy decisions, larger to medium-sized, the governor’s office is integrally involved,” said Martin Robins, a past deputy executive director at NJ Transit who considers Weinstein a friend. “That is a fact of life at NJ Transit.”

Rouse’s full story is well worth the read. She charts familiar ground in rehashing the problems surrounding the agency’s preparation and response to Sandy, but she delves into the internal state politics of New Jersey Transit as well. The battles between Simpson and Weinstein seem to have been a deciding factor as well.

From Rouse’s story, it doesn’t sound as though Weinstein’s ouster will change much at New Jersey Transit. It may improve morale on a day-to-day basis, but if Trenton is going to insert itself into every major decision, the person heading up the agency doesn’t have nearly enough autonomy to affect real change. Still, such a move shows that someone is watching, albeit symbolically. New Jersey Transit needed a change, and this may be a good first step. I’m not holding my breath for the improvements the railroad needs though.

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JJJJ February 18, 2014 - 1:56 am

If you ride NJ TRansit, and you voted for Christie, youre an idiot.

Larry Littlefield February 18, 2014 - 10:20 am

If you ride New Jersey Transit or ride on New Jersey’s roads, and didn’t do everything you could to get rid of every Governor and State legislature for 20-plus years, you are an idiot.

They borrowed against transportation trust fund revenues and didn’t make payments into the pension fund to keep taxes down and services (temporarily) up. Now all the tolls, gas taxes, etc. are going to past debts, and pension costs are set to soar.

The entire political establishment in Trenton (and Albany) has represented those grabbing all they could and then dying off and moving away. They’ve broken the states. They’ve wrecked the country. All the current administration did is keep the game going rather than biting the bullet and telling the whole truth.


Generation Greed. There you have one example. Just about every other public policy of the past 20 years in the two states has been just like it.

Douglas John Bowen February 18, 2014 - 12:03 pm

Well argued. But let’s not assume the places those folk flee to (if they do not die) are any more sound or morally stable.

And I’m glad Mr. Littlefield allows enough wiggle room by saying “just about” every other public policy, because there’s at least one such exception (NYC water supply) that does not follow suit.

All that said: Hey, Metro-North bashers — are you sure the railroad you love to hate is so deserving of being trashed?

From one of the Jersey idiots, very likely, because often I/we tried working around the gov and the lege, not necessarily do what we might to remove same.

SEAN February 18, 2014 - 3:09 pm

Well argued. But let’s not assume the places those folk flee to (if they do not die) are any more sound or morally stable.

Some great examples – Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona & Nevada. Nearly all of them spend as little as possible on social services, education & transportation outside of road projects.

Nathanael February 19, 2014 - 5:13 am

Here in NY, the problem was generally the state legislature, and we have the worst state legislature in the US (“empty seat voting” etc.), and it was completely impossible to oust the gerrymandered-into-place legislators. If the Republican Party manages to shrivel up and die, we might manage to dislodge things in the State Senate and get things moving. Until then, there is very little that anyone could do.

The dynamics seem to be a bit different in NJ.

Bolwerk February 19, 2014 - 10:07 am

For it to make a real difference, the Democrats would probably need a supermajority in the NYS senate. When they had control of the chamber a few years ago, the infighting was paralyzing because many of them are as parasitic as the GOP.

Nathanael February 23, 2014 - 3:20 pm

Actually, what happened was that 4 of the nominal Democrats in the State Senate defected, basically, offering their support to the highest bidder, which was the GOP.

And then the Dems won again, and 4 more defected, giving us the current situation.

That’s why I said “If the Republican Party manages to shrivel up and die”. If that happens, we’d first get a massive Democratic supermajority, but then after that we’d have a chance of getting an actual second party, and then things might shake loose. The Republican Party is not a real second party in New York at this point, it’s just a spoiler.

Jim Conklin March 5, 2014 - 3:11 pm

I take great exception to the statement that NY has “worst state legislature in the US.” Anyone who believes that is completely unfamiliar with Pennsylvania, where the legislature wears the mantles of partisanship, stupidity and intransigence as badges of honor.

Governor Tom Corbett completes the trifecta.
If you think it could not be worse in your state, gaze upon the prairie that lies between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Bolwerk February 18, 2014 - 2:29 pm

Yes and no. There was a massive propaganda blitz to portray Christie as a sensible voice in supposedly nonsensical northeastern politics. The national press couldn’t find an actual “moderate” Republican in power because, well, there aren’t any. What to do? Invent one by sexing up Christie, who heroically SPOKE to Obama.

lawhawk February 18, 2014 - 8:44 am

Things that will not change with Weinstein’s much needed ouster: an agency that can control capital construction costs, that will prioritize and build critical infrastructure in a timely fashion, and a state that will fund the needed critical infrastructure.

The latter will happen only once Christie leaves office; he’s prioritized roads over rails (though roads certainly need more attention – as structures like the Skyway need replacement/reconstruction to maintain a state of good repair). But the state has chosen an either/or rather than working to fix both by increasing the taxes that fund the transportation trust fund or delivering more general fund to replenish the trust fun.

Eric F February 18, 2014 - 9:00 am

Why do you say he’s prioritized roads over rail? That’s not actually borne out by anything going on.

He was very focused on getting the Bayonne Bridge raised, which is a port project. The PA has undertaken various port enhancement projects.

He wants the PA to put a billion dollars plus another half billion into a PATH extension project to Newark Airport.

The biggest road projects in NJ are a Turnpike widening project in central/southern NJ and a parkway widening project in southern NJ, which are part of the same initiative that was financed and undertaken by Corzine, not Christie. The biggest project launched under Christie is the Skyway repair project, which merely stops the thing from falling down.

I’d like to see more road and rail projects going on in NJ, but I really don’t see major road expansions occurring in NJ beyond what was already baked in the cake, none of which is anywhere near the doorstep of NYC anyway.

3ddi3 February 18, 2014 - 6:46 pm

Did you forget about the ARC tunnel? Single handedly the biggest blunder and thievery ever orchestrated by the CC administration.

Eric February 19, 2014 - 2:41 am

“He wants the PA to put a billion dollars plus another half billion into a PATH extension project to Newark Airport.”

Ah, yes, he’s in favor of extremely expensive rail projects of little value to travelers. He only opposes the useful projects.

Clarke February 19, 2014 - 9:44 am

Don’t forget the deal with UA to bring PATH to Newark in exchange for service to/from Atlantic City (jury’s still out on who is getting the worse end of that bargain)

SEAN February 18, 2014 - 10:32 am

Things that will not change with Weinstein’s much needed ouster: an agency that can control capital construction costs, that will prioritize and build critical infrastructure in a timely fashion, and a state that will fund the needed critical infrastructure.

The most ironic thing about your above statement Lawhawk is – if Weinstein’s name is removed, you would be describing the MTA.

Eric F February 18, 2014 - 10:41 am

“an agency that can control capital construction costs”

Are they really doing any big capital spending? I’m aware that they are procuring rail cars and buses and starting the glacial process to build a flood-proof rail yard. They have a line item to renovate the Elizabeth station, but I’m not aware of a planned start date. Is anything else big going on?

Ed February 18, 2014 - 11:50 am

Not really at all

JJJ February 18, 2014 - 12:34 pm

Both the river line and bergen line rail project extensions are slowly moving.

Eric F February 18, 2014 - 12:59 pm

Christie got the River Line / AC Line transfer station in south jersey built. There is some movement to get the HBLR extended up into Bergen, but they’ll need a federal grant, I’d expect. The transfer station was, I think, built with fed “stimulus” money.

Christie, I think, has been quite good at getting stuff off the shelf and into process. The amorphous “they” have been talking about the Goethals and Bayonne Bridges, some “portway” projects, the PATH extension, that the skyway has been falling down, seemingly forever. Christie has actually moved that stuff down the chain of process to get stuff done.

That said, I don’t see an overarching vision there whether pro- or anti- road or transit. I don’t see any re-envisioning of the system. I do see a notion of “what can we practically advance with the pot of money we have”, which is still something of an improvement.

Lou February 18, 2014 - 6:12 pm

The stimulus paid for pennsauken transfer not chirstie.

Ed February 18, 2014 - 9:35 am

Leave trains in the way of a flood – no problem.

Strand football fans – you’re fired!

SEAN February 18, 2014 - 10:43 am

Leave trains in the way of a flood – no problem.

Strand football fans – you’re fired!

I just had the immage of “The Donold” screaming “Your Fired!” at James Weinstein.

Rob Durchola February 18, 2014 - 9:29 pm

Here’s the big problem. NJ Transit was set up to be an independent agency of the state, even though the Commissioner of Transportation is its chairman. A truly independent agency, especially one as large as NJ Transit, would do an independent nationwide search for an Executive Director and, ideally, choose one with both transit executive managerial experience and some political survey. Yet both Weinstein and Hakim appear to have been selected not by NJ Transit’s Board, but by the Governor.


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