Home New Jersey Transit On NJ Transit’s $1.2 billion Sandy aid request

On NJ Transit’s $1.2 billion Sandy aid request

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Adirondacker12800 March 15, 2013 - 12:06 am

So now taxpayers get to foot their bills while everyone else keeps their jobs.

Including everyone in the Legislature, Congress, the governor’s mansion, the White House, that has starved the agency of money for the past 30 years or sol. Well the ones who retired won’t be keeping their jobs but they will be keeping their pensions.

SubwayNut March 15, 2013 - 12:57 am

Should the wooden catenary poles on the Gladstone Branch be replaced with steel ones?
There such a part of that unique branches rustic, historic and unique charm (the only other commuter rail line in the nation with wooden poles is Chicago’s South Shore Line).

Would it be cheeper not to build flood walls at the Meadowlands and simply just move all the equipment to higher ground before a storm like NYCT?

Corey Best March 15, 2013 - 3:37 am

Considering they cannot handle faster speeds nor Double Deckers due to low clearances along with Breaking more Easily in Storms they should be replaced. However numerous Constant Tension lines were brought down on the LRT network , New Canaan Branch and Shore Line East. However the Coast line poles held even with washouts and boat damage so their pretty strong poles….depending on how their hit.

Eric F March 15, 2013 - 9:30 am

“Would it be cheeper not to build flood walls at the Meadowlands and simply just move all the equipment to higher ground before a storm like NYCT?”

It sounds like they are trying to do both by hardening Meadows and building new sites in Linden and New Brunswick. NJ is lucky that they can, in theory, do this. Siting a place to store literally miles of idling trains is not easy in the U.S. in 2013.

Bolwerk March 15, 2013 - 10:53 am

It’s probably reasonably easy in the USA. Maybe not so easy in New Jersey.

Though, it’s a wonder they don’t at least electrify more of the system.

Corey Best March 15, 2013 - 3:55 pm

They originally planned on Electrifying the rest of the system and high level platforming everything. The cost was 2 Billion back in the 90s….for some reason it fell through.

Bolwerk March 15, 2013 - 7:48 pm

Well, I understand why, though given the general NIMBYism in NJ and the fact that idling diesels can be loud and disgusting, there is a case for at least expanding it.

lawhawk March 17, 2013 - 9:12 am

Part of the reason it hasn’t been electrified as other lines have is also due to the way that many of the lines are owned by entities other than NJ Transit. They are owned by freight lines, and the costs to install, maintain, and upgrade have to be borne by someone – and there’s a tax ramification as well. It’s the tax issue that has slowed electrification in NY on the NYC to Albany line.

Roxie Mika March 15, 2013 - 1:21 am

I feel like maybe the MTA should’ve left some of its older rolling stock lying around so they could get a big fat check to replace it all with R179/R188/R211s.

Someone March 15, 2013 - 7:51 am

And what is the point of that, exactly?

Bolwerk March 15, 2013 - 11:00 am

Are you already hitting the ganj? Roxie quite clearly was making fun of the fact that NJ is being rewarded for its incompetence and irresponsibility.

Corey Best March 15, 2013 - 3:45 am

The whole NJT management needs to go , and you won’t find a Rail Advocate / Group or Employee who will disagree with you on that. Between this , and scrapping the perfectly good ALP-44s for the ALP-46s , the derailing overweight Double deckers that have speed restrictions on certain lines , the ripping up of the old Boonton line , the lies about Rail Expansion in Urban Jersey and Suburban Jersey alike , The Firing and Harassment of Gay and Disabled Employees , the kickbacks from developers for Expansions that benefit developers over towns or cities like Wesmont , North Brunswick and Laurence Harbor infill stations , the selling of the Princeton Dinky , the botched New Fare playment system , the delays in high level platforming all stations , and the bullying by the Agency are just so of the issues with NJT Management which has gotten worse in the last 10 years. There are over 25 billion in unfinished Transit and Rail projects….

Nick Ober March 15, 2013 - 7:04 am

The fact that NJ Transit still hasn’t performed the high level platform upgrades that their regional peers all completed over the last two decades really bothers me.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 5:02 pm

To be fair, SEPTA hasn’t finished its high level platform upgrades either.

It seems to be progressing faster than NJT, though.

Larry Littlefield March 15, 2013 - 7:47 am

“So now taxpayers get to foot their bills while everyone else keeps their jobs. That doesn’t quite add up.”

Perhaps I can help with the addition. Governor Christie inherited a fiscal disaster from 20-plus years of responsibility, and had to hand out sacrifices. Particularly sacrifices that didn’t get a lot of pushback. And one of the big targets of sacrifices was New Jersey Transit.

His appointees covered his back by keeping quiet. So he is covering their backs. Privately he is probably furious with them, but he is not about to fire them.

You have the same situation across the river. Had I been on the MTA Board when the massive debts and retroactive pension deals were going through, I would have stood up and screamed and eventually resigned in protest. That’s why people like me don’t end up on the MTA Board. As it is, they were all in on sacrificing the future — board members, legislators, Governors, Mayors. The use “the MTA” as a whipping boy.

But no one gets fired. Instead, the Executive Directors who figure out they will be the whipping boy serve a year and then leave town. Perhaps Cuomo has decided to dispense with someone in charge altogether, so no one can complain.

Someone March 15, 2013 - 7:52 am

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.

How careful NJT is toward their equipment.

lawhawk March 15, 2013 - 8:57 am

NJ Transit has made a big to-do about how they’ve not got a recovery progress report online that shows how many scheduled trains are operating, railcars and locomotives that are operating and still awaiting repair, as well as equipment damaged due to their own negligence/incompetence.

The numbers posted are based on restored service as of 3/24.

It shouldn’t have taken months to get to even this sad point.

At each step along the way, NJ Transit has stonewalled about just how much damage was done to its rolling stock and the time frame for restored service. Even now, there’s no indication on when full pre-Sandy service will be restored to its rail service.

The agency has rolled out proposals for dealing with damage going forward, including hardening its Meadows and Kearny yards, purchasing two new areas for storage in emergency, and that makes tremendous sense.

Oh, and all this work has to be done in two years or else the money is lost. Can NJ Transit be trusted to prudently spend the funds to the extent they are needed? I’m not so sure based on their inability to control and curb costs on other projects, whether it’s Secaucus Junction or even building a fence in Wood-Ridge.

John-2 March 15, 2013 - 9:20 am

The MTA was ‘fortunate’ to have both the 2010 bus and subway blizzard fiascos and the 2011 track washouts north of Suffern staring them in the face when pre-Sandy preparations were drawn up.

They learned by example, while NJT’s management, having avoided the worst from the two earlier storms, believed their system was 10 feet tall and bulletproof. A setback in 2010 or 2011 likely would have made the agency more prepared for 2012 (which isn’t an excuse, but it is human nature to not learn lessons until a painful example of not learning them is applied).

Andy Battaglia March 15, 2013 - 4:56 pm

But the 2010 blizzard fiasco and the 2011 washout of the Port Jervis line both occurred in NJ Transit’s backyard. Do executives not have access to newspapers or something? The fact that a regional transit agency operates in such a bubble is problem enough.

Eric F March 15, 2013 - 9:26 am

About half of the request is to construct entirely new facilities at key points along the NEC. It sounds like they are looking at the siding area near Merck in Linden and a spon in New Brunswick. Intuitively, these areas make sense because they are on relatively high ground and are on the key NEC route where the coast line overlaps (i.e., Linden is). Linden seems like a really good spoty because it also has Route 1/9 going though it which makes it convenient for staging employees and equipment.

But note, these facilities do not currently exist as emergency trian storage areas. They have to be constructed from scratch. When people are alleging that NJT was supposed to do an amorphous “something” to avoid damage, the fact that there was no “something” readily availble to do back in 2012 should be part of the analysis.

AlexB March 15, 2013 - 10:15 am

It really is sickening how well this incompetence is being rewarded. At the same time, we have extremely competent people like Jay Walder leaving one of the most important transit authorities in the world for a much smaller system because he will be given the tools to do his job. Little did he know, you don’t have to move to Hong Kong, or even institute congestion pricing, all you have to do is “accidentally” destroy the thing you want to replace and a brand new system will magically appear from the thin air of federal largesse.

Spendmore Wastemore March 15, 2013 - 11:15 am

Look at it in evolutionary terms:

Reward incompetence, cronyism and fake jobs for the connected and you get more incompetence, cronyism and backscratcher executive jobs.

g March 15, 2013 - 11:32 am

Let the NJ Gov and NJT continue to make a worsening mess of things, the state will just continue to become more unattractive to residents who need access to the NYC employment market. This is a win for New York and Connecticut if ever I saw one.

steven kennedy March 15, 2013 - 7:58 pm

All of these problems are part of government owning infrastructure. Nobody is ever held accountable. I understand that there are numerous problems with privatization but jeeze can we try something different for once? Like the education system, we keep throwing money at it and test scores keep trending lower. THE Tappan Zee Bridge is falling apart what a waste of money. Who was responsible for maintenance the past 20 years?

Larry Littlefield March 16, 2013 - 7:22 am

Private infrastructure companies also have a history of cash cowing their physical plant to take money out of it. In fact, it is even worse.

The history is that private infrastructure gets built in bubbles and then, after the bubble bursts and investors take losses, gets cashed cowed thereafter.

There are two advantages. Private companies are less ripped off by contractors. And private companies tend to figure out ways to use infrastructure more intensively, get more value out of what they have.

For example, a private company would be more likely to run twice as many trains OPTO in non-peak hours, and do all rail car maintenance overnight to operate the system with fewer spares.

Nathanael March 24, 2013 - 5:05 pm


Look up the 1950s-1970s history of the NY Central / Penn Central / Conrail selling off its downtown stations and track, *single-tracking* its mainlines, and allowing its passenger cars to fall into states of decrepitude such as we cannot even imagine today.

Amtrak and Metro-North have been struggling to recover from this. CSX doesn’t particularly want to help and is happy to leave crucial bridges with 10mph speed restrictions.

Alex C March 16, 2013 - 3:31 pm

I suspect you haven’t heard of how corporate utilities companies in the United States operate. They use their control to gouge their customers (and forward said revenues directly to their top executives’ bank accounts).


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