Sunday, November 18, 2012

Yet Another Reason Not To Trust NJ Transit

I've long written that NJ Transit could not be trusted to carry out capital projects such as the now-killed ARC Tunnel project and that it couldn't manage its current operating budget or priorities properly.

Now comes word that NJ Transit recklessly disregarded reports from the weather services that it positioned one third of its rail fleet in areas that were expected to flood.

That's no way to run a transit agency and Gov. Christie and the legislature must hold the agency accountable for this huge mess. And as usual, there's a stream of miscommunications, misdirection and general obfuscation by the agency about its current actions and plans on investigations in to how and why those trains were left in flood prone areas at a time when the MTA not only took flood warnings seriously, but didn't lose any buses or trains to flood damage.
- New Jersey Transit's struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy is being compounded by a pre-storm decision to park much of its equipment in two rail yards that forecasters predicted would flood, a move that resulted in damage to one-third of its locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars.

That damage is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars and take many months to repair, a Reuters examination has found.

The Garden State's commuter railway parked critical equipment - including much of its newest and most expensive stock - at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy's expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.

Among the damaged equipment: nine dual-powered locomotive engines and 84 multi-level rail cars purchased over the past six years at a cost of about $385 million.

"If there's a predicted 13-foot or 10-foot storm surge, you don't leave your equipment in a low-lying area," said David Schanoes, a railroad consultant and former deputy chief of field operations for Metro North Railroad, a sister railway serving New York State. "It's just basic railroading. You don't leave your equipment where it can be damaged."

After Reuters made numerous inquiries to state and local officials this week about the decision to store equipment in the yards, an unidentified senior transportation official told the New York Post that NJ Transit had launched an internal probe, the Post reported on Saturday.

NJ Transit Chairman James S. Simpson, the state's transportation commissioner, told Reuters on Saturday he knew of no such investigation. NJ Transit spokesman John Durso said the agency had not launched a probe but would examine its response to the storm, as "is standard procedure following any major incident."

The Post said it stood by its story.

As of Friday, almost three weeks after the storm, the agency was still struggling to restore full service for its 136,000 daily rail commuters, running just 37 trains into New York Penn Station during the morning rush hour, rather than its usual 63. More service will be restored on Monday. The disruptions have caused long delays and crowded trains for Jersey residents who work in the biggest U.S. city.

James Weinstein, NJ Transit's executive director, said he did not expect the loss of equipment to have a significant effect on service in the coming weeks and months.
It's absolutely unconscionable that NJ Transit would leave so much of its equipment in Kearny and Hoboken when it knew or had reason to know that flooding was likely to cause damage to that equipment.

And the agency still stands by the claims that it would not affect service.

That's total nonsense.

We've already seen that the lack of equipment and trains has affected service. Trains are far more crowded than usual (those that were running, that is), and service wasn't restored to lines that could have been restored fairly easily - those that required power to service switches and signals (did the agency ever hear of generators for those jobs?).

No, what we've got is a complete exposure of just how inadequate the agency's storm planning was and their inability to get service restored in a timely fashion to those areas that had minimal damage. The fact is that had many of those trains been moved to yards and areas along the Bergen and Main Lines, the train service could have been restored much more quickly. There are raised platforms in Paterson as well as a yard in Waldwick that is well above the flood plain. Trains could have been positioned at intervals in those areas, and been largely protected from water damage.

There's simply no way that the agency can claim that service was not hampered by the fact that 1/3 of the trains were flood damaged. If that's to be believed, then one needs to completely suspend their disbelief.

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