NY's MTA Invokes "Emergency Powers" To Rebuild Port Jervis Line

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Chairman Jay Walder surveys damage on the Port Jervis Line with MTA Board Members Susan Metzger and Carl Wortendyke (photo by Hilary Ring/MTA)

Rebuilding the Metro-North's Port Jervis commuter rail line will take months, not weeks -- and the MTA is invoking special powers to move forward with the work.

The line, which serves New York's Rockland and Orange Counties, was hit hard by Hurricane Irene flooding. MTA head Jay Walder described the damage as  "catastrophic" -- a description that seems borne out on the MTA's Flickr page, which has photos showing places where the track has completely washed out. In other pictures, the rails are canted at an angle -- more like a roller coaster than railroad tracks.

The MTA also says there is significant damage to the line's railroad bridges, as well as suspected significant damage to the signal system -- which is visibly exposed and under water.

There's no estimate yet of how long it will take to restore service. Also unknown at this time: how much repairs will cost, or how much money the federal government will contribute.

Jay Walder said in a statement today:  “There are sections of track literally suspended in the air, and in many places we will have to build a new railroad from scratch, from the foundation to the tracks to the signals. I have directed Metro-North to take such steps as are necessary to expeditiously and fully address the catastrophic damage suffered along the Port Jervis Line as a result of Irene. Rebuilding this infrastructure is going to be a long and difficult process, but we are taking every action in our power to continue serving our customers, to reduce unnecessary delay and to communicate every step of the way.”

Part of those actions: invoking "emergency powers," which the MTA described as necessary to quickly free up money and waive procurement rules.

"They’re going to do work now and sort the funding out later," said William Henderson, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. He said waiving the usual competitive bidding process will allow Metro-North to speed up repairs.

The MTA is providing bus service from Harriman, New York, to a NJ Transit rail station in Ramsey, NJ, where passengers can board trains heading to New York Penn Station. Marjorie Anders said the MTA is about to announce additional bus service which will take passengers from Port Jervis and Middletown across the Hudson River into Beacon, where riders can take that Metro-North line south to Grand Central Terminal.

You can read the MTA's statement on rebuilding the Port Jervis line here (pdf).