Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Case Against NJ Transit's James Weinstein

Jim Weinstein is the executive director of NJ Transit and his latest round of hearings with members of Congress and the New Jersey legislature raise questions about how the agency was run before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

The main focus has been on how and why the agency failed to move more than 300 railcars out of flood zones in Kearny and Hoboken. That's a more than valid line of questions, and Weinstein and NJ Transit answers are anything but satisfactory.

It shows a disregard for the severity of the impending storm, and those decisions have long-lasting repercussions.

Case in point is word today that train service to Hoboken for electrified lines will be two months away from restoration. Fully replacing the damaged power substation in Hoboken would take more than a year.
Trains that run on diesel power are able to use the station. The Gladstone branch, which normally runs on electric power, has had to use diesel, which means service on some of the other lines has been cut back to compensate.

NJ Transit executive James Weinstein told the agency's monthly board meeting Thursday that it will take eight to 10 weeks to finish an interim replacement for the destroyed substation. Weinstein said it could take a year or more to finish a permanent substation.
Equipment that can't be moved is susceptible to flooding when it's placed in a flood zone. The agency is now looking at a long range rebuilding plan that includes moving the equipment to higher ground and reduce the chances of a repeat failing performance.

However, this situation calls out for the dual mode trains that NJ Transit purchased at a cost of more than $11 million a pop. Those trains were purchased because of their flexibility to address the fact that some portions of the NJ Transit system was electrified with overhead power lines (catenary) and other portions were not.

Nine of those trains are missing in action because they were among the 300+ cars and locomotives that were flooded out by Sandy in the Hoboken and Kearny yards.

In other words, the key equipment that could restore service to full functionality at Hoboken is unavailable because it was flooded out because of the failure to move that equipment to higher ground.

Weinstein has been going around saying that service has been largely restored and that most lines are back to full service, and yet his agency and his decisions led to significant portions of that system to see reduced service for weeks and months on end because they didn't move the equipment that could be moved to higher ground.

Dual mode trains would allow the Gladstone Branch and MidTown Direct service to return to full capacity in Hoboken until power is fully restored. That those trains are unavailable because they weren't relocated to a safer location is a decision that rests on Weinstein.

After all, the agency claimed that these locomotives were necessary even after the cancellation of the ARC tunnel project and that they could be repurposed for use elsewhere in the rail system.

I've noted that as well - the trains could help improve air quality at Hoboken and permit expanded service on electrified lines.

Now, they sit along with hundreds of other railcars waiting to be repaired from flood damage.

The delays in restoring rail service have been exacerbated by the flooded cars, and the agency has obfuscated on this point repeatedly. We need to get to the bottom of this, and Weinstein must be held accountable. That means that Gov. Chris Christie needs to get involved and make him accountable for the agency's failures.

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