Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Another Report Shows NJ Transit Ignored Flooding Risks

NJ Transit continues to show that it ignored reports and warnings that its facilities in Hoboken and Kearny were in flood zones and equipment and materials stored there could be subject to flooding.

A report studying climate change and its effect on NJ Transit highlighted that both Kearny and Hoboken were in flood zones.
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.

“We now know under the right circumstances that they are prone to flooding,” Weinstein told the committee.

Weinstein has repeatedly said that NJ Transit made the right decision to leave hundreds of pieces of equipment in the two yards, based on what the agency knew at the time. Of them, 323 pieces were damaged.

“There is no history of flooding at the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex,” he said.

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.

NJ Transit hired First Environment Inc. of Boonton in 2011 to look at climate change and the risk weather events, such as rising seawater levels, wind velocity and temperatures, pose to NJ Transit bridges, tunnels, culverts, rails, terminals, stations, platforms, offices and other assets over the next 20 years. The report listed strategies the agency can use to minimize weather-related damage to its assets, and guide NJ Transit in capital planning.

It concluded that NJ Transit “will continue to experience weather-related impacts … can expect more frequent service disruptions over the next 20 years and must consider how the weather is affecting the state of good repair for its assets. The “next immediate step for NJ Transit is to prioritize its critical assets and determine … strategies it wants to implement,” the report said.
The report didn't specify a specific storm, but that's actually besides the point.

Jim Weinstein, the agency's executive director, has repeatedly claimed that it didn't get warnings that its facilities would flood, and that it was the agency's experience from past storms that they wouldn't flood.

Well, they did - and the flooding caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to a third of its rail fleet. The damaged and lost equipment has meant that service is still not back to normal.

NJ Transit knew that there was a risk of flooding in those storage yards, yet it didn't move the equipment to higher ground because it believed that those areas were safe from flooding.

The agency ignored warnings issued by the National Weather Service, other weather agencies, and anyone who listened to weather reports 48 hours before Sandy hit knew that this would cause massive amounts of flooding to low lying areas. That includes Kearny and Hoboken.

That's exactly what happened.

One doesn't have to believe in global warming to know that having rail maintenance facilities in flood zones exposes those facilities to potential flooding. NJ Transit did nothing to move the equipment out of those areas before the storm hit, claiming that by moving it to other areas that it would expose them to damage. That's nonsense and they know it. There were places up and down the Northeast Corridor and other NJ Transit lines that the equipment could be stowed more safely. It chose not to do so.

The agency claimed that had it stored equipment on other lines, it could be subjected to downed trees or downed power lines. Both are technically correct, but if NJ Transit maintained its rights of way (or on lines operated by freight rail or Amtrak) by properly trimming trees, then the damage would have been minimized.

NJ Transit is great at making excuses for its inexcusable actions, but not so great at providing rail services or communicating with the public. Heck, they rationalize poor communications and misleading service updates by saying that they're doing so despite the tremendous damage done to their system. It's nonsense.

The MTA could do a fantastic job with even greater damage done to its system. It wasn't the damage. It's the NJ Transit's missteps and miscommunication.

Excuses wont cut it. Things have to change at the agency, and that means that Gov. Christie and the legislature needs to come down hard on Weinstein and company.

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