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.