Archive for New Jersey Transit
In my review of WNYC’s reporting on NJ Transit’s response to Sandy, I noted how the transit agency had offered up four redacted pages as an overview of their storm preparedness efforts but neglected to mention the ramifications of the document. The WNYC report was but one half of a two-headed effort with The Record of Bergen County to tackle the story, and Karen Rouse has details on the dispute over the document in her piece in the paper.
According to her reporting, New Jersey Transit refuses to share the four-page document and hundreds of emails due to safety concerns. “Recent events including the uncovering of an al-Qaida-led terrorist plot targeting rail service reinforces why NJ Transit will not disclose sensitive information |that could potentially undermine the security of our transit infrastructure, our customers or our employees,” John Durso Jr., a spokesman for NJ Transit, said to The Record.
The Record has filed suit over the redacted and omitted documents, and they are essentially requesting what I said should be requested of NJ Transit. As Rouse writes, they asked for “details about whether NJ Transit had identified locations in its statewide rail network that were at risk for flooding prior to Sandy; whether rail crews were on duty and prepared for Sandy prior to its surge making landfall; and if NJ Transit police officers assigned to its Office of Emergency Management were trained in reading weather forecast data.” The MTA, also vulnerable to terrorist threats, could provide this information readily; New Jersey Transit opted not to. What are they hiding?
Since Superstorm Sandy swept through the region in November, I’ve followed the story of New Jersey Transit’s utterly inept reply very closely. The agency suffered $450 million worth of damage to its rolling stock because it made many mistakes including erroneous modeling and the ignominious decision to ignore a report on vulnerabilities which led agency officials to move trains to vulnerable areas. No one has been fired yet.
Now, though, we have the ultimate tale in this saga as WNYC’s Kate Hinds and Andrea Bernstein have put together a comprehensive look at New Jersey Transit’s response. Their piece compares NJ Transit’s actions with those from the MTA, and the Garden State’s rail agency does not come out looking prepared or knowledgeable. It remains a stunning gap in leadership that has gone unpunished in the intervening months.
Throughout the piece, Hinds and Bernstein tackle some familiar territory. The two reporters focus on how NJ Transit used models with incorrect data inputs that led them to think vulnerable areas were safe. They track how officials ignored dire warnings relating to flood zones and rising tides. They touch upon the excuses officials have put forward and the lack of responsibility assumed by anyone in the storm’s aftermath, but as an exercise in synthesis, it tells a very damning story.
“The fate of NJ Transit’s trains – over a quarter of the agency’s fleet – didn’t just hang on one set of wrong inputs,” the two write. “It followed years of missed warnings, failures to plan, and lack of coordination under Governor Chris Christie, who has expressed ambivalence about preparing for climate change while repeatedly warning New Jerseyans not to underestimate the dangers of severe storms.”
When compared with the MTA’s uber-preparedness in the aftermath of both a crushing summer rain storm in 2007 and Hurricane Irene in 2011, NJ Transit’s response is even more bewildering. The trouble started at the top, and even as Andrew Cuomo and Joe Lhota stayed in close contact, Chris Christie and Jim Weinstein did not. Meanwhile, Hinds and Bernstein offer us more details on the reports NJ Transit commissioned and ignored:
In 2010, David Gillespie, the agency’s Director of Energy and Sustainability, rustled up funding for his own study: “Resilience of NJ Transit Assets to Climate Impacts.” The report was commissioned, Gillespie explained in a presentation to planners in March 2012, to help him sort through a pile of literature that he described as “two-and-a-half feet high.”
The report, prepared by First Environment of Boonton, NJ, also did not mince words. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” it said. And, on page three, it referenced the “Flooded Bus Barns” report, emphasizing that “NJ Transit is already experiencing many of the climate impacts (flooding, excessive heat, larger storms) that are expected to occur in the Northeast over the next 20 years.”
The report specifically did not include recommendations for how to handle train cars. “The mitigation plan we have for moveable assets – our rolling stock – is we move it out of harm’s way when something’s coming,” Gillespie said in his presentation. Still, the report suggested the Meadows Maintenance Complex (MMC), located on dozens of acres in Kearny and positioned between the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers — might have actually been in harms way in a “storm surge area.”
Gillespie gave several presentations of the report at professional conferences. He shared the report with counterparts at other transit agencies and with the Federal Transit Administration. But, requests under New Jersey’s Open Public Records act for all of Gillespie’s emails referring to climate change (which filled an entire box) unearthed no evidence he sounded alarms at NJ Transit about the report, or that he even delivered it to the rail operations team.
The reporting then moves to focus on how NJ Transit ignored week-of forecasts as well:
In the days leading up to Sandy, NJ Transit was at the receiving end of a series of increasingly chilling reports from the National Weather Service that warned of record storm tides of up to 15 feet. “Very Dangerous Hurricane Sandy,” read the briefing issued Sunday, October 28. It contained a personal plea from Szatkowski to take the storm seriously. “If you think this storm is over-hyped and exaggerated, please err on the side of caution,” [National Weather Service's Gary] Szatkowski wrote to the agency. That kind of warning “never happens,” he later told WNYC.
New Jersey’s state climatologist, David Robinson, told a panel at a January transportation conference that the forecasting was “brilliant.” “Sandy hadn’t even formed yet,” he said, “and models were showing a major storm.… We had plenty of warning.”
But despite this, NJ Transit was not prepared for the storm surge that swept in and engulfed its yards. Weinstein maintains he was at the yards at around five p.m. on Monday evening when the storm was on its way. “There was no flooding, no indication of flooding. The elevation is about 10 feet. A storm surge of six feet reinforces what we are telling you.”
But the prediction was for up to 15 feet, and even at low probabilities, Szatkowski says those numbers “convey huge, dangerous risk to both life & property.… Based on an analysis, if there was a 10 percent risk of a particular bridge collapsing over the next 72 hours, would that be deemed an acceptable risk? I don’t think so. A 10 percent risk of a catastrophe is huge.”
The real kicker though comes in the documentation. The MTA has publicly released hundreds of pages of documents concerning storm preparedness efforts. New Jersey Transit’s response to a FOIA request for its rail operations hurricane plan was a four-page document in which every single word was redacted. Did they even have a plan or did they just black out four pages to make it seem like their super-secret (and seemingly inept) plan can’t be revealed to the public?
It’s been nearly seven months since Sandy, and the same people are still in charge in New Jersey. We’ve heard story after story highlighting the poor responses, the bad decisions and the misinformed officials, and yet no one has been fired. Does Chris Christie have such a low regard for New Jersey Transit? Is he concerned that admitting an error in hurricane response will hurt his national image? Is everyone willfully ignoring what happened? Now that we know the story from Sandy, these questions demand answers.
New Jersey Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein keeps digging his own grave over the agency’s response to Sandy, but no one seems willing to fire him. After spending months defending his and his employees’ actions leading up the storm — the same actions that resulted in $450 million worth of damage to vital rolling stock — Weinstein was at it again on Wednesday. This time, he sat in front of a New Jersey State Senate committee and discussed how New Jersey Transit moved trains into low-lying areas ahead of the storm.
Karen Rouse of The Record was on hand to report on Weinstein’s testimony. She summed it up:
NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein acknowledged publicly on Wednesday that the agency actually moved rail cars and locomotives into its flood-prone Meadowlands rail yard for storage just before the yard was inundated by superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters in October. The move resulted in millions in flood damage to the rail equipment.
“We brought some additional equipment in there to store during the storm,” Weinstein told members of the Senate Budget Committee during a hearing on the Christie Administration’s transportation budget Wednesday morning. At the time, he said, “there was no reason to believe it would flood.”
Weinstein did not say how many rail cars were moved into the vulnerable spot, but that it won’t happen again. More than a quarter of the agency’s rail fleet was damaged during the storm, most at the maintenance facility. “We are informed by the experience,” he said. “We won’t be bringing equipment there in the future in the event we are faced with a similar situation as we were with Sandy.”
It won’t happen again! Well, what a relief.
Now, the first question that pops to mind concerns Weinstein’s truthiness. Could he actually believe that “there was no reason to believe it would flood”? Hard to say. Four months before Sandy hit, New Jersey Transit received a report warning of flood-prone infrastructure, and the Meadowlands yard was clearly highlighted in this summary. In late 2012, Weinstein admitted that he hadn’t bothered to read the report despite the fact that New Jersey Transit had specifically commissioned it after Hurricane Irene.
To make matters worse, when handed their own storm-modeled software, New Jersey Transit officials couldn’t figure out how to use it properly. Thus, they were lead to believe that it would be perfectly fine to move trains from high-elevation areas to low-lying spots near rivers that could flood. It was, in effect, the perfect storm of ineptitude and bad planning.
During his testimony on Wednesday, Weinstein further elaborated on the decision. According to The Record, the agency had moved trains to higher ground during Irene, but “after that hurricane, NJ Transit rail crews could not access the equipment because it was surrounded by flood waters in lower-lying areas in Trenton.” So their solution involved moving the equipment into these lower-lying areas and then acting surprised when those lower lying areas flooded. How do all of these people still have their jobs anyway?
In a week from this Sunday, New Jersey Transit’s electric-powered train service will return to the Hoboken Terminal. Nearly five months since Sandy, this announcement marks a major recovery point for the beleaguered transit agency, and word of this service restoration came during the same week NJ Transit issued its request for federal aid. It’s not nearly as extensive as the MTA’s, but it should have been much, much lower.
Over the past few months, I’ve been very unforgiven toward New Jersey Transit. The agency ignored outside warnings, botched its own internal projections and left a large portion of its rolling stock in vulnerable areas. It suffered damage to 272 of its rail cars and 70 locomotives, and as of Thursday, only 97 cars and 45 locomotives had been returned to service. Only 13 of the 84 multilevel coaches that were damaged are back in service.
Somehow, someway, no one has been held responsible for this destruction. While New York City Transit suffered extensive infrastructure damage, everything that could have been moved to higher ground was. No subway cars were damaged by storm flooding, and the MTA’s preventative measures ensured that a bad situation didn’t get worse. New Jersey Transit officials seemingly sat back and shrugged. They’ve been very defensive in the aftermath of the storm, and everyone in positions of power is still there.
This week, as NJ Transit received its first federal funding grant of around $144 million, Executive Director James Weinstein thanked Garden State officials — including both Senators and his Governor — and outlined the full request for $1.2 billion. “Repairs and resilience both take funding. Money invested in preventing future storm damage will limit the bill for future storm relief – as well as ensuring that our transit systems have a better chance of avoiding service interruptions. We are committed to rebuilding our system in a stronger, more resilient manner to withstand future storms on par with, or exceeding that of Sandy,” he said.
The bulk of NJ Transit’s funding request [pdf] is for rolling stock resiliency. The agency wants $565 million for both short-term safe-harbor provisions and long-term emergency facilities. It’s not hard to make the argument that this requests and facilities should have been in the planning stages, if not completed, long before a calamitous storm swept through the area.
Transportation Nation has a summary of the other requests:
- $194 million to replace wooden catenary poles with steel ones along the Gladstone Line, constructing sea walls along the North Jersey Coast Line, elevate flood-prone substations, and raise signal bungalows
- $150 million to upgrade the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, including building flood walls
- $150 million for flood mitigation at its facilities in Hoboken and Secaucus and to provide crew quarters “to ensure the availability of crews post-storms”
- $26.6 million to improve the resiliency of the Hudson-Bergen light rail and the Newark city subway.
I won’t begrudge them these requests. New Jersey needs the money for transit investment one way or another, and the region needs New Jersey Transit to be up and running. But Weinstein’s comments continue to irk me. “If you think about it,” he said, “what Sandy has created [is] a billion dollar-plus capital program overnight, basically. And that billion dollar-plus capital program has to be evaluated, implemented, executed and completed, under some very strict guidelines that were enacted by Congress.”
A good portion of that “billion dollar-plus capital program” came about because Weinstein and his deputies didn’t take the storm seriously enough. So now taxpayers get to foot their bills while everyone else keeps their jobs. That doesn’t quite add up.
Every now and then — or let’s be honest, rather regularly — stories come out about New Jersey Transit that remind us of just how inept the agency can be. Lately, seemingly everyone has escaped responsibility for leaving rolling stock in an area vulnerable to floods as a giant hurricane came in, and despite a $450 million repair bill, Gov. Chris Christie has yet to fire anyone in charge. But there’s more to New Jersey Transit’s problems than that.
On a smaller scale, even mundane stories are a cause for concern. Take, for instance, New Jersey Transit’s decision, after decades of ignoring the problem, to close up a shortcut. For decades, Manhattan-bound riders walking to the Teterboro station were faced with a tough choice: Walk a mile on Route 46, a dangerous road with no shoulder or sidewalks or cross the tracks, an otherwise illegal maneuver that NJ Transit had tacitly approved. That approval ended recently when the NJ Transit built a fence. Officials cited “safety” as the primary concern which is laughable if you consider the remaining access options. It might be “safer” for New Jersey Transit’s exposure to liability, but it’s not safer for the people walking to the train station.
We could debate the best way to solve this problem for a while. Maybe an underpass would work or an overpass, but for now, New Jersey Transit has gone with a fence. And just how much does this fence cost? According to the NorthJersey.com report, NJT will spend $100,000 to build a fence eight feet high and 300 feet long. One hundred thousand dollars. It blows the mind. According to a fencing cost estimate site, installing 300 linear feet of chain-link fence in Teterboro, New Jersey, should cost a little over $5000. Instead, New Jersey Transit is going to spend twenty times that amount. No wonder it’s impossible to have a rational discussion on expanding the region’s transit network.
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.
Come next February, New Jersey Transit will be in charge of taking tens of thousands of Super Bowl-bound riders to and from the Meadowlands, and to that end, someone decided to go on a scouting trip to New Orleans a few weeks ago. It was, unsurprisingly, a trip not without controversy. As The Record reported today, three New Jersey Transit officials managed to spend $14,000 on a four-night trip, including nearly $8000 on lodging and over $5000 for airfare. I realize Super Bowl week in the Big Easy is expensive, but that is one hefty bill for taxpayers to stomach.
To make matters worse, one of the men on the trip was Joseph Meade III, the superintendent of the Hoboken rail yards who was one of the people in charge during New Jersey Transit’s disastrous non-response to Superstorm Sandy. Meade has come under fire from New Jersey politicians for his role in the storm planning, and this latest development won’t make matters better.
Now, on the one hand, it is important for New Jersey Transit officials to prepare for next year’s Super Bowl and the related festivities, but on the other hand, a $14,000 four-night trip seems particularly egregious. It’s worth noting, as well, that everyone involved in NJ Transit operations during Sandy is still employed by the agency. What a mess.
Even as New Jersey Transit nears its pre-Sandy service levels, stories of its storm preparation failures have continued to emerge. Despite questions concerning what NJ Transit executives knew and when, we’ve seen Gov. Christie defend his deputies in charge of the transit agency. Now, a new casts further light on mistakes New Jersey Transit made in advance of Sandy’s landfall.
The latest comes to us from Reuters where Ryan McNeill and Janet Roberts have reported that NJ Transit botched its own modeling. They report:
New Jersey Transit incorrectly used federal government software that otherwise could have warned officials against a disastrous decision to leave hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment in a low-lying rail yard before Superstorm Sandy struck, a Reuters examination has found. The agency based its decision, at least in part, on software provided by the National Weather Service that allows users to simulate an approaching hurricane and show areas vulnerable to flooding from storm surge, according to Sandy-related forecast documents obtained by Reuters from New Jersey Transit. Exactly how the agency used the software is unclear because the agency declined to answer any specific questions.
Reuters asked for the documents that New Jersey Transit relied upon in deciding to leave the trains at its Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, New Jersey. Among the documents was a screen-shot of storm prediction software that indicated the user had the storm traveling northeast, away from the New York area, while moving at the wrong speed. As a result, the software predicted surges that were about half the levels actually forecast – errors that underestimated the threat to the Meadows complex.
New Jersey Transit takes issue with the findings. But a Reuters analysis shows that had the software been used to produce surge estimates similar to forecasts, agency leaders could have seen a different picture. The result would have pointed to potential inundation of a large portion of the rail yard, mirroring the flooding that ultimately occurred.
In a back-and-forth with Reuters, New Jersey Transit defended its actions. “NJ Transit used the most current weather forecasts and available data at that time,” spokesman John Durso said, “along with accepted analysis practices by emergency management professionals and historical experiences, to inform and guide decisions up to and through Sandy.”
Yet, despite these protests, a Reuters examination of documents made available by the agency showed that their inputs into the modeling software differed from the forecasts at the time. Additionally, New Jersey Transit did not reach out to the National Weather Service’s New York or New Jersey offices to receive updated forecasts or storm surge predictions.
Ultimately, New Jersey Transit cannot undo their costly mistakes to model the storm and protect their rolling stock, but it seems, again, that someone should be held responsible for the agency’s failures. If anything, the corporate culture seems to be one of isolationism and stubbornness, and the people who suffer the most are the riders. At a certain point, saying “Well, we tried” isn’t good enough, and we’re well past that point.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is flying high these days. After taking a hard stand against his GOP colleagues in the House on Sandy relief, his star has risen among both Republicans and Democrats in the northeast. While his national future is cloudy — it’s hard seeing too many GOP establishment figures lining up behind him right now — he has bipartisan support in his own state and in New York as well. Still, his defense of New Jersey Transit’s actions during Superstorm Sandy leave much to be desired.
While speaking to reporters earlier this week about his extreme disappointment in Congress, Christie again responded to criticism over New Jersey Transit’s handling of its rolling stock. Saying that NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein’s decisions were “not a hanging offense,” Christie issued a rigorous defense of the transit agency. A reporter and Christie engaged in the following exchange (via Transportation Nation):
Reporter: In light of the report last week that NJ Transit had been warned months ahead of time that rail yards in Kearny would likely flood in the event of a storm like Sandy, do you still support the leadership?
Christie: “I absolutely support the leadership — and I don’t believe that that’s what the report said. I mean, I think you’ve gilded that report up pretty well in the lead up to your question. I don’t think that’s what the report said. I think these guys made the best judgement they could under the circumstances. And all of you are geniuses after. Once you see that the Kearny yards flooded, you could say ‘well, geez, they should have moved the trains.’ Well, you know, if they knew for sure it was going to flood, believe me, executive director Jim Weinstein would have moved the trains. This is a guy with decades of experience in government, with extraordinary competence, who made the best decision he could make at the time. Sometimes, people make wrong decisions. It happens. It’s not a hanging offense.”
“If they knew for sure it was going to flood, we would have moved the trains” is a great statement in modern times. We already know what the report said because we had a chance to read it last week, and we know that Weinstein himself admitted that he hadn’t studied it much prior to the storm.
What strikes me about Christie’s language, though, is the definitiveness of it. Last summer, Christie yelled at surfers to get off the beach before Hurricane Irene when we didn’t know how Irene would hit the area or behave. We didn’t know what would or wouldn’t flood, but citizens were expected to act as though the worst might happen. Here, with Sandy — a stronger storm aiming directly at New Jersey — Christie is excusing NJ Transit’s response because they didn’t know Kearny would flood. Of course, they didn’t know; that’s part of the unknown of a weather event. But being safe rather than sorry is why New York had its transit system up and running relatively quickly.
New Jersey failed, and, as an added insult, some Metro-North trains suffered damage because of it. They were warned; they ignored the warnings; and Weinstein should be replaced. I think it’s that simple.
In late November, as Garden State lawmakers grilled the state’s agency officials on their responses to Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey Transit executives seemed rather defensive. The rail agency had kept a significant portion of its rolling stock in low-lying areas, and employees and executives kept excusing their decision on the grounds that the areas had never flooded before so why would they know. In light of a new report, these mistakes, which I examined in November, seem even worse today.
As The Record reported yesterday, NJ Transit officials had a document on hand that warned of vulnerabilities and flood risks. The final document [pdf] had been delivered to the agency in June, four months before Sandy hit, and NJ Transit failed to act on its recommendations. That $400 million price tag for the damage continues to be a tough one to swallow.
Karen Rouse has more:
The $45,990 study included a map that shows the Kearny and Hoboken rail yards sit squarely in “storm surge areas.” Sandy floodwaters inundated both yards, swamping locomotives and rail¬cars — including 84 new multilevel passenger cars — and damaging spare parts. In those two yards, damage to railcars and locomotives was estimated at $100 million.
Nearly two months after the storm hit, NJ Transit’s rail service is still not operating at 100 percent. And the decision to leave locomotives and passenger cars in the low-lying yards has provoked a torrent of criticism from lawmakers and rail advocates. Throughout it all, NJ Transit officials, at hearings in Trenton and Washington, D.C., have maintained that they had no prior knowledge the yards could flood.
“I wish I had had the foresight and the understanding to know that a yard in the Meadowlands, in Kearny, that the western part of the yard in Hoboken, which had never flooded before, was going to flood. But I didn’t,” Executive Director Jim Weinstein told the Assembly Transportation Committee during a Dec. 10 hearing that focused largely on the agency’s costly decision not to move the equipment out of harm’s way…
NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr. said the report was read by David Gillespie, NJ Transit’s director of energy and sustainability, but characterized it as “generic,” with no specific predictions for flooding of the magnitude caused by Sandy…
Weinstein acknowledged to the Assembly committee earlier this month that while the report was completed, “I confess I have not studied it…That study concluded that we had as much as 20 years to adapt to the [climate] changes that are taking place,” he told lawmakers.
He also said NJ Transit relied on weather reports that showed there was a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of flooding in the yards and that the yards had never flooded before in 30 years. Neither Weinstein nor Durso offered details on the data the agency relied upon.
New Jersey rail advocates are livid. “If someone said there is a 10 to 20 percent chance you’ll get hit crossing Route 1, would you?” Joseph Clift, a former LIRR planner and current NJ-ARP member, said. “That’s basically the equivalent risk they took in the Meadowlands.”
The report also flies in the face of public statements made by New Jersey Transit in November and makes me question current leadership’s ability to lead effectively. Yes, it’s true that these areas had never flooded before, but New Jersey Transit officials essentially played chicken with key equipment and infrastructure. With the forecasts from Sandy particularly dire and state leaders urging residents to move from flood-prone areas, New Jersey Transit left its rolling stock in a spot rather likely to flood. And then when it flooded, they were surprised it did.
To me, New Jersey Transit’s attitude toward Sandy and its aftermath speaks to the way rail is classified in the northeast. Despite the fact that more commuters rely upon commuter rail to get into the city each day than they do bridges and tunnels, rail is treated as an afterthought. It’s impossible to fight for an expansion of the rail network or additional service, and executives running these organizations don’t seem too concerned with the safety and well-being of equipment. Sandy was an absolute failure of leadership at New Jersey Transit, and someone should be held accountable.