Thursday, April 04, 2013

Gov. Christie Must Fire NJ Transit Officials Over Gross Incompetence Before Hurricane Sandy

I am once again reiterating my call on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to fire NJ Transit officials, starting with Executive Director Jim Weinstein.

Weinstein appeared before the State Legislature once again and admitted that the agency not only stored rail equipment in Kearny and Hoboken before Hurricane Sandy, but purposefully moved still more equipment into both low-lying areas before Sandy.
“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.”

NJ Transit Spokesman John Durso, Jr. refused to say how many pieces of equipment were moved into harm’s way, saying "that specific information had not been previously provided due to security-related concerns." Durso has repeatedly cited “security” as a reason not to release details about NJ Transit’s movement of trains during Sandy.

However, he has not explained how security would be breached by making public the number of cars moved to a yard where all the train equipment sits on tracks in clear view to the public.

The flooding at the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, and at the agency's Hoboken yard - a location that Weinstein acknowledged on Wednesday is close to the Hudson River's waters - damaged 272 passenger cars and 70 locomotives. Weinstein said it amounted to more than $100 million in damage that NJ Transit is hoping will be reimbursed from its insurance and from federal emergency grant dollars.
That was despite all manner of warning from weather forecasters who were predicting dire flooding throughout the New York City metro area - including the Hackensack River, Passaic River, and Hudson River basins. The Kearny yard and Hoboken yard are both squarely in the affected flood zones and yet NJ Transit has repeatedly stated that their experience was that neither yard would fully flood during a storm.

The Hoboken Yard isn't merely close to the Hudson River. It abuts it. The station has been prone to flooding in the past, though not to the extent it was during Sandy. Likewise, the Kearny Yard is surrounded by water. Rivers and waterways can and do flood during severe storms.

View Larger Map

They gambled with money and equipment and lost. More than a third of the rail fleet was flooded and the agency is still scrambling to restore the rail schedule to pre-Sandy levels. The Main and Bergen line is still below its pre-Sandy level, and dozens of railcars and locomotives, including the agency's newest dual mode locomotives are out of service until repairs can be completed. The delay in repairs is exascerbated by the fact that the agency has had problems sourcing replacement parts due to the severity of the flooding to its own facilities, replacement parts in-house, and from the manufacturers.

Christie must fire Weinstein, who has been less than transparent in the agency's failings before, during and after the hurricane hit. Weinstein has tried to bluster his way through all this, claiming that his agency didn't know the areas would flood - but that is a transparent lie to anyone who watched news reports in the 72 hours before Sandy hit. The warnings were there. The worst-case scenarios were already laid out.

And NJ Transit rail operations moved more equipment into the flood zone that everyone was warned to evacuate from.

Even now, they're less than transparent about how many cars remain to be fixed. It took months before the agency put up a site indicating how many cars and locomotives remain to be repaired, and the numbers haven't been updated since.

The agency is touting its ability to get Hoboken back up and running, but it downplays the fact that essential services were not restored for months - like restrooms or a warm waiting area for customers in the heart of winter. It took an outcry. They've managed to restore electrical service to a substation so that electric trains can now run to Hoboken, but the station is still in shambles and the retailers are still displaced due to flood damage.


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