Archive for New Jersey Transit
It’s often challenging to write about subway-related deaths or collisions without seeming callous or overly concerned. The deaths — ranging from intentional suicides to homicides to accidents — that we’ve heard about underground are tragic, and non-fatal incidents can be life-altering. They’re newsworthy because people aren’t supposed to be hit by trains and because they can impact normal rides for millions.
Early on in 2013, many people were showering an overwhelming amount of attention on subway/passenger collisions. Newspapers were marking each accident, alleging an uptick, while the TWU seemed to latch onto the stories as something they could exploit for good P.R. The union called for all train operators to slow down to 10 miles per hour while pulling into stations. It would have been incredibly time-consuming and costly, and the MTA did all it could to shoot it down.
Even as I disputed whether or not these subway incidents were enough of a problem to warrant action, over the course of the year they crept in and out of transit-related news coverage. Spurred on by a dramatic image of a man who had been pushed into the tracks and facing down an incoming Q train, the press coverage drove the MTA to begin to pilot sensor technology that is supposed to alert transit employees when an unauthorized person has entered the tracks. We discussed the high price tag for platform edge doors, and the overall cost assessment of working to save lives. The answers aren’t easy.
Now, with 2013 in the rear view mirror and full-year numbers available, we can assess whether the concerned coverage was in line with the numbers. Not so surprisingly, it was not. As Pete Donohue detailed today, subway deaths were slightly lower in 2013 than in 2012 while the total number of people struck by trains jumped slightly. It is still exceedingly unlikely that anyone will get struck by a train though, any solution should reflect this reality.
According to the preliminary numbers, 53 people died due to train collisions, down from 55 in 2012, while 151 people overall were struck by trains, up from 141 in 2012. Donohue notes that these numbers are a bit higher than average as 134 people were hit by trains and 41 killed per year from 2001-2012. These averages, however, do not reflect a steep increase in ridership since 2001 of around 20 percent, and with over 1.6 billion swipes per year, a de minimums number of people are struck by trains. “The chance of being struck and killed by a subway train remains astronomically low,” an MTA spokesman noted to the Daily News said.
Eventually, when money and varying subway car lengths are no obstacles and when a company is willing to front installation costs in exchange for ad rights, the MTA should implement platform edge doors. They’ll protect passengers from trains, keep garbage off the tracks and improve temperate control during the summer. For now, though, paying too much attention to this issue obscures deep-seated ones affecting transit on a daily basis. These deaths and collisions shouldn’t happen, but not even one-one hundred thousandth of a percent of riders are hurt by trains. Riding the subway remains safe.
A few years ago, shortly after the NJ Transit spur to the Meadowlands opened, I attempted to take the train to a Springsteen concert. Heading there, I had no problems, but on the way home, the trip was a veritable disaster. Crowds surged against barriers; trains came and went; and what should have been a 30-minute trip took two hours.
Since my first attempt at taking the train to what was then Giant Stadium, I haven’t done so since. I’ve seen a few football games and another concert, and each time, I’ve driven. With MetLife Stadium and its higher capacity, the problem hasn’t gone away, and each Sunday, football fans are dismayed to find the train situation little improved since its early days. It will soon find its day in the spotlight though when the Super Bowl arrives in New Jersey in a few weeks.
For all the stadiums in New York City these days, MetLife is frustratingly inaccessible compared to the rest. It’s close to the city but on the wrong side of a bunch of choke points. When 80,000 fans — and 400,000 people — descend upon New York for Super Bowl week, they’re going to have to get around, and the region’s transit agencies are working together to make the process as smooth as possible.
For starters, New Jersey Transit yesterday announced a commemorative Super Pass for Super Bowl week. For $50, riders can enjoy unlimited travel from Monday, January 27 through Monday, February 3 on all New Jersey Transit rail, bus, light right and Access Link services. It’s part of a plan that New York and New Jersey officials hope will see 80 percent of those in the city for the big game use mass transit to get around.
“This is the first ‘Mass Transit Super Bowl, and we’re thrilled to be able to partner with Governor Christie and NJ TRANSIT to offer this convenient, cost-effective pass to efficiently and safely transport hundreds of thousands of visitors to events in New Jersey and across the region during Super Bowl week and for the game itself,” Al Kelly, Jr., CEO of the New York-New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee, said in a statement.
As for the game itself, with limited parking going for $150 a spot, a special $51 bus will run to the Meadowlands, but these plans are untested. The Times runs down the options and the concerns:
New York City subways, New Jersey Transit and PATH trains will have about the same level of service as during weekday rush periods. For the game, the host committee will operate a bus fleet called the Fan Express to carry people to and from five sites in Manhattan and four in New Jersey. The buses will cost $51 round trip, and one lane of the Lincoln Tunnel will be dedicated to them.
“The bus piece is different and new,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s like the Olympics model.”
Public transit is especially crucial to this year’s Super Bowl because only about 13,000 parking spaces will be available at MetLife Stadium. The rest of the more than 28,000 spaces there will be taken up by trucks used to televise the game and to provide entertainment. In addition to the buses, New Jersey Transit trains will be operating, with game-day service from Secaucus Station to the stadium…“If there’s any region that knows how to deal with public transportation issues,” said Jonathan Tisch, an owner of the New York Giants and one of the chairmen of the host committee, “it’s this region.”
The comparison to the Olympics is apt because this, with the 7 line extension, is how the city would have addressed congestion concerns had Bloomberg won his 2012 bid. Now, we’ll see this play out on a smaller scale for the Super Bowl. Hopefully, everything runs a bit smoother than my early train rides to the Meadowlands.
New Jersey Transit’s response to Sandy is the story that just won’t die. It’s not quite a scandal, even though perhaps it should be, but the developments continue to trickle out thanks to reporting by Karen Rouse from The Record and Andrea Bernstein from WNYC. This should be a bigger black eye on the face of the Garden State and its governor, but so far, the scandal just won’t stick.
Late last week, a story emerged that Chris Christie had absolved NJ Transit head Jim Weinstein of blame for the agency’s failures. These failures, as you’ll recall, cost the agency a few hundred million dollars in rolling stock and involved moving trains into locations identified as vulnerable to flooding. These failures also involved ignoring weather forecasts and generally assuming everything would be fine even as sister agencies in New York City prepared for the worst. Even Christie’s story rang a little strange, though, as Rouse reported:
[Gov.] Christie said that in the chaos of Sandy’s approach, a low-level manager who was in charge of securing hundreds of pieces of equipment at the last minute ditched a plan that was in place to protect the equipment, all without the knowledge of Executive Director Jim Weinstein. Christie claimed that the unnamed employee was a civil servant and because of civil service rules, could only be demoted.
“It was a lower-level manager that made the decision on the cars … where they were placed,” the governor told The Record’s editorial board on Thursday. “It was not vetted up the chain as it was supposed to be vetted up the chain. Mr. Weinstein handled it internally because he’s a civil service employee, and you can’t just fire the person. He was demoted as a result of that decision, and that’s what we could do…There’s certain people, when you’re governor, that you can fire, and there’s certain people that the law does not permit you to do that to.”
However, several officials close to NJ Transit said none of the agency’s employees fall under civil service rules, and that the law that created NJ Transit in 1979 excludes the agency from the civil service system.
A day later, Rouse uncovered emails that contradicted Christie’s story. She reported:
The day before Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, more than a dozen NJ Transit workers — from yardmasters to the top executive — shared emails describing where and how the agency’s rail fleet was being moved to shelter it from the storm. In one of the most questionable decisions made during the storm, many locomotives and passenger cars were parked in low-lying areas in Hoboken and Kearny — a key move that caused more than $120 million in damage after the storm surge flooded the rail yards with brackish water. How this occurred remains a mystery, particularly as damage was minimal to the operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority across the Hudson River in New York State, which faced the same devastating storm but managed to move its fleet to higher ground.
This week, at a meeting with The Record’s editorial board, Governor Christie said the decision at NJ Transit was made by one employee who didn’t follow the agency’s plan and didn’t inform his supervisors about his actions. NJ Transit officials declined to elaborate on that remark Friday, leaving open the question of how a single low-level manager could be responsible for a decision that led to so much destruction.
But a review of emails obtained through a public records request shows that in contrast to Christie’s remarks, at least 15 agency executives and managers, were aware of fleet movements into low-lying areas in the days leading up to Sandy. Included in at least one email, was NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein — whom Christie has held blameless for the damage and whom the governor praised enthusiastically during the editorial board meeting.
Unknown is whether other directives went out that were not recorded in emails and that contributed to the decision to park the rail stock in Hoboken and Kearny. But the email chains establish that information on rail fleet movements was shared widely by top decision makers at the agency.
The Record identified William Lawson, a former superintendent of equipment management, as the scapegoat for the response to Sandy. He lost about $10,000 in salary and received a titular demotion. Christie, meanwhile, continued to defend Weinstein even as the email thread suggested that the New Jersey Transit head had plenty of information concerning the agency’s response. “Jim Weinstein didn’t know about it until after it happened,” the governor said. “Everyone else at NJ Transit executed that plan except for one guy.”
Based on Rouse’s reporting, Christie’s comments don’t pass the smell test. Lawson’s emails made their ways to Weinstein with time left to change the plan, and yet, the rail cars were left to flood. Even a minor demotion is hardly an adequate response to the magnitude of the miscalculation, and a dismissal — which could have happened — didn’t.
But all of this is proverbial water under the bridge. Someone should be held responsible, but as the one-year anniversary of the storm approaches, it’s likely that no one will be called to answer for the damage. Rather, New Jersey Transit should be working to ensure every single one of its riders that these mistakes will not happen again. Instead of issuing a mea culpa and moving forward, as the MTA did after Irene, New Jersey Transit has played defense. I can’t imagine they’ll leave rail cars to flood again, but month after month of ducking and dodging has done little to instill much confidence in me.
After months of taking hits for its non-response to the threat of Sandy, New Jersey Transit announced storm-preparedness plans that will better protect its rolling stock. As The Star-Ledger recently reported, the rail agency has identified two new locations to house trains in the event of a flood threat. “We have an agreement with Conrail. It’s a lease agreement, basically, for that property,” NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein said of storage yards in Linden. “We also have made improvements at our facility in Garwood, which will be able to house a couple of hundred of the rail cars. Between Linden and Garwood, we can do 450 vehicles.”
During Sandy, New Jersey Transit saw damage to nearly 350 rail cars, and the agency has vowed to remove trains from vulnerable areas, including the Meadows Maintenance Complex, if forecasts dictate. As of last week, 46 of the 70 locomotives and 141 of the 272 rail cars had been repaired and placed back in service.
By identifying new storage facilities that are on higher ground, New Jersey Transit is hoping to keep its rail cars both protected and available. Numerous car sets were stranded after Irene when storage areas were cut off by flooding and track wash-outs, and Sandy swamped other storage yards. The agency can’t store trains along the right-of-way due to concerns over downed trees. Perhaps the next discussion should focus around clearing trees from the ROWs.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to take the Acela from New York to Boston, and after years of hearing about Amtrak’s terrible WiFi service, I was pleasantly surprised by the Internet connection. I could stream audio for the entire duration of the trip and saw my connection drop just once. Were I trying to do productive work that required web access, Amtrak’s service was more than sufficient.
More recently, I had the chance to compare Amtrak’s service with the cell signal available on Metro-North’s Hudson Line up to Beacon. It was abysmal. Despite the dramatic views of the river, I could barely get my phone to send text messages, let alone load web-based services. For anyone trying to be productive, the Hudson Line seems out of time and out of place, and I’ve run into similar problems along the Northeast Corridor route through New Jersey. The city’s underground subway stations, as we know, are slowly becoming WiFi equipped.
I’ve long been a believer that reliable WiFi can be a big driver of transit adoption. If daily commuters have the opportunity to be online and can hammer out an extra hour’s worth of work during their ride, such access can incentivize them to leave the car at home and hop on the train instead. Amtrak’s service is a good first step, and Metro-North has been threatening to equip their cars with wireless access as well. Now, New Jersey Transit is set to leap-frog them.
Earlier this week, the NJ Transit Board of Directors announced a public-private partnership with Cablevision to provide high-speed wireless internet access at stations and onboard trains. Cablevision will make this network available to NJ Transit riders via a dedicated, trackside Wi-Fi network, and the two companies say this is a first-in-the-nation arrangement.
“Through customer forums and surveys conducted as part of NJ Transit’s Scorecard initiative, we know that wireless internet service will be a welcome amenity for NJ Transit customers, enabling those who wish to remain connected during their commute to do so continuously,” New Jersey’s Transportation Commissioner and NJT Board Chairman James Simpson said in a statement.
Cablevision will shoulder the capital costs of installing new fiber-optics and getting the network up and running. The cable provider will also run the service for 20 years, and the parties believe a full system roll-out will be completed by the end of 2016. The initial phase will involve bringing service to Newark Penn Station, Secaucus Junction and Hoboken Terminal, three of the more heavily-used stations in the Garden State. Stations and rail cars will follow.
While Amtrak’s offerings and the subway’s new system are provided free of charge, according to other reports, only Cablevision customers will avoid a fee. Others will have to pony up if they want to surf while riding the rails. Still, for a modest fee, a reliable connection is well worth it for those seeking out the Internet.
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.
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.