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Report: Internal Emails Contradict Christie Account on NJ Transit

Sunday, October 06, 2013 - 07:52 AM

WNYC

A report by The Record is contradicting Governor Chris Christie's recent account of why NJ Transit moved hundreds of pieces of rail equipment into a flood zone prior to Sandy.  [To listen to an interview with The Record reporter Karen Rouse, click on the audio player above.]

The governor this week blamed that decision on a low-level employee, whom he said made the call with no input or oversight from top managers. But a Record examination of agency emails found at least 15 agency officials knew the trains were headed to the Meadowlands -- a violation of its own hurricane plan -- including NJ Transit chief James Weinstein.

Just prior to Sandy, NJ Transit moved most of its equipment into low-lying rail yards in the Meadowlands. The yards were inundated, and NJ Transit lost almost a third of its fleet, at a cost of $125 million and months of frustrating commutes.

In an email, Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, offered this explanation when asked about the apparent contradiction between the emails and the governor's account: "The individual in question was disciplined within the procedures provided for at NJT. The discipline was related to this individual's particular failure amid the overall transit losses caused by Sandy. The equipment is insured, services were quickly restored in the aftermath, and we have moved on with the experience and lessons learned from an unprecedented storm. There is nothing else to add."

But, as a WNYC/Record investigation has shown, the decision to move the trains into the yards followed years of missed warnings, failures to plan, and lack of coordination under Governor Chris Christie, who has expressed ambivalence about preparing for climate change while repeatedly warning New Jerseyans not to underestimate the dangers of severe storms.

Until now, official response to this blunder has largely stuck to one script: no one could have predicted the severity of the storm, and the yards had never flooded before. But NJ Transit’s miscalculations came even as New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority dived into climate change adaptation preparations.

The MTA had five binders, each about four inches thick, with hurricane preparation plans, which it developed because officials had increasingly grave concerns climate change would lead to more frequent severe storms, threatening billions of dollars in assets.

NJ Transit's plan was three and a half pages. Initially, the agency gave WNYC and The Record copies of the plan with everything but the title blacked out, citing security concerns. But after months of litigation, NJ Transit was forced to release the full plan. Revealed, it seemed more embarrassing than threatening to the agency.

Nowhere did it contain guidelines to move trains to the Meadowlands. The outline called for trains to be moved to several specific locations on higher ground, not the Meadowlands.

This week, Governor Christie added a new wrinkle.

In an editorial board meeting with The Record, when asked whether he had any confidence in Weinstein, Christie said: “A person made a stupid decision that he was supposed to vet up the chain and didn't. It was a lower level manager that made the decision on the cars that you’re talking about, where they were placed. It was not vetted up the chain as it was supposed to be vetted up the chain.”

Governor Christie said the employee was disciplined but couldn't be fired, as a result of civil service rules.  But Record reporting found that civil service rules don't apply to NJ Transit.

 


 

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Comments [13]

Loser

After watching this fat cow deliberately eat a donut on late night TV just to flip-off people who were talking about his obesity, I'll never support (as if I could ;-)) Christie for anything.

If he can't make good decisions about what to eat, then what CAN he decide well? Nothing!
Surgery that makes people less fat is all the proof one needs that he can't manage it himself.
MOOOOOO On down the road to your pasture, please.

Oct. 07 2013 08:09 PM
aw hess from Long Island NY

Fortunately, Gov. Christie is likable; unfortunately, his actions are not. No wonder there is little trust in government
to 'do the right thing'.

Oct. 07 2013 07:56 PM
Cal Oric

There are many who knew the truth from the beginning: that the higher ups knew that the equipment was being moved to locations that would flood. Many of those people worked at NJ TRANSIT during the Nor'easter of 1992 when Hoboken Terminal had 3 feet of water in the waiting room and water cascaded into the PATH tubes. They were told that it could, and would happen again. It did but they ignored it. For Christie to cavalierly say that "The insurance paid for the damages" is reckless and ignores the fact that insurance rates will climb as a result. The governor also does not know the people who work for NJ TRANSIT because he claims that they are civil service, which is simply untrue; they never were. The Executive Director's office is where the buck stopped. He should have been dismissed. The fact that the governor refuses to acknowledge the errors in the chain of command is an example of political patronage at its worst and a disservice to to taxpayers of New Jersey.

Oct. 07 2013 05:12 PM
Peter Engel from Metuchen

Of course Christie has to run for Prez now. While he'll win re-election, do you have any idea how sick NJ will be of this lying SOS within a year?

Oct. 07 2013 12:01 PM

This is classic Christie at his "best" - "heck of a job, Brownie!" for his buddies, blame a lower level person (and erroneously say he couldn't be fired because of "union rules"), and make a screw up that affects the lives of millions of people, while spinning it as "we did a heroic job under very trying circumstances". I don't like his bullying, but I was willing to let him go at it as NJ obviously needs to have the political establishment shaken up, but he is out of control with his own ego now. Kudos to The Record for getting the story, sticking with it, and putting it front and center. This should be picked up nationally for all to see who he really is.

Oct. 07 2013 10:49 AM
Tom

Obviously I missed the news that "services were quickly restored" while waiting in long lines for the bus at Port Authority instead of taking midtown direct home every night for months...

Oct. 07 2013 09:14 AM
BJ

The only reason why Chris Christie succeeds is because it's NJ. a.k.a the bowels of the USA.No where else would his act ever play out or all politicians would be putting on the same show. In fact shows like NJ Shore and Governor Christie personify the very intellectual caliber of this State. The Democrats refuse to support Barbara Buono because who would you rather run against in 2016? A imbecile like Christie or someone as articulate, affluent and well connected as Jeb Bush? Or even Rand Paul who's starting to garner some major attention?

This is the same man who threatened to use the F Bomb if his 3 minute video wasn't included during his GOP convention speech. The only threat Chris Christie is to anyone, is himself. There are no speed bumps between his thoughts and his mouth. The man doesn't have a modicum of couth decency or discipline. Becoming the GOP nominee is the greatest gift he could bestow on the Democratic Party.

Oct. 07 2013 09:07 AM

ahhhh, refreshing sunlight and the shining example of journalistic excellence by a investigative reporter.... kudos! to the 5th estate.

Oct. 07 2013 08:50 AM
dpatriss from NY

Hasn't Christie heard of "the buck stops here." Blaming a lower lever employee, then lying that he can't fire him is so Christie. He is such a bully. No climate change because he is an expert at it. Doesn't listen to judges who have a different opinion than his or the majority of the people of New Jersey. With fewer trains and no extra runner that he vetoed even though it had begun and was to be mainly paid by federal funds. One has to realize that everything Christie does is for his own political future.

Oct. 07 2013 08:36 AM
Robert from Brooklyn from Brooklyn

How about this angle:
Were the trains flooded in the Meadowlands old stock? If so, brilliant planning.

Oct. 06 2013 06:04 PM

Unfortunately voters are not always literate, or get "shortcut" news online or on Fox. Christie thinks he can run as a TeaPartyGOP favorite, but he's not doctrinaire enough. He realizes that New Jerseyans won't tolerate someone who throws them under the bus to please a bunch of out-of-state ignorant (and proud of it!) people.

Oct. 06 2013 11:51 AM
rags from Maplewood, NJ

Blaming a "lower level manager" is not only a lie, its a cowardly attempt to shift blame from where it belongs; squarely with Christie and Weinstein. This is a $125,000,000 screw up neither Christie or Weinstein have the dignity or honor to own up to. New Jersey deserves better.

Oct. 06 2013 11:11 AM
3ddi3NYC from NYC

How is this not a bigger scandal? Christie has only damaged public transit in NJ since he came into office. I hope the Dems hit him hard if he tries to go for higher public office.
First he cancels the ARC tunnel, then he steals the money to fund roads, he raises the tolls, then he claims there's no climate change.
This guy should be fired.

Oct. 06 2013 10:47 AM

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