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?