Wednesday, December 12, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The National Weather Service says New Jersey Transit didn't call.
The Star-Ledger is reporting the agency never consulted the National Weather Service, which predicted storm surges of up to 11 feet.
But NJ Transit isn't backpedaling from its costly decision to store rail cars in yards that later flooded during storm Sandy.
NJ Transit director James Weinstein told a State Legislative panel Monday the agency relied on weather reports and past storm experience to determine where to store hundreds of rail cars and locomotives.
The transit agency's Kearny facility, which sustained almost $100 million in damage, is only ten feet above sea level.
Weinstein told lawmakers the agency's decision-making process was sound.
New Jersey Transit says it's standing by his testimony.
To see what areas flooded during Sandy, check out the map below.
Monday, December 10, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The head of New Jersey Transit dug in his heels on Monday, defending the agency's preparations in advance of Sandy -- and adding it previously thought it would have at least 20 more years to adapt to climate change.
As Transportation Nation reported, critics say there's a direct line between NJ Governor Chris Christie's inaction on climate change and New Jersey transit’s costly decision to store brand-new trains in low-lying, flood prone rail yards during storm Sandy.
At a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg questioned NJ Transit's decision to park trains in rail yards that flooded during Sandy. But when agency head James Weinstein defended that decision, saying his information indicated an "80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would happen," the questions stopped.
For four days.
At a New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee hearing in Trenton on Monday, Weinstein was asked to retread the steps the agency took to secure its fleet in the face of the oncoming storm -- and explain why it decided not to study the impact of climate change on its rolling stock.
Assemblywoman Linda Stender picked up the issue. "Back in March," she said, "it was reported that New Jersey Transit declined to have climate change consultants do an analysis -- they were told to skip it."
Not so, Weinstein said.
"Basically, it was a study to determine a study," he said. 'It was sort of the beginning of a process, and I think the response and the decision that as made at that time was that if we understand the vulnerability of our properties, where we store equipment -- the way you deal with equipment is to move it to places where it's not vulnerable. So I'm not quite sure what a consultant would have told us, other than ' this facility is in harm's way, you need to move it out of harm's way.'"
Stender wasn't mollified. "I guess my concern is I don't understand why a decision like that was made," she said, pointing out that other transit agencies were studying the issue. "It really seems to me that was a very bad choice to have skipped something like that."
Weinstein disagreed with that characterization. The agency did the study, he said -- just not all of it.
"We did not skip the study," Weinstein retorted. "We actually executed the study. The only thing we didn't do in that study was an analysis of the actual equipment. We did an analysis, the beginning of an analysis, on the facilities...and the reason that we did that is because if you determine that the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility, for instance, is flood-prone, then.. that informs your decision not to keep equipment there...We actually -- that study is actually complete, I've seen a copy of it, although I confess I have not studied it, but I don't want to leave the impression that we just said 'no, we're not going to do that.' That's not what we did. We did the study; we just concluded that the way you address the equipment problem, the rolling stock problem, is by moving it."
But wouldn't a study show that the facility was vulnerable and the equipment should have been moved, countered Stender?
"Actually, Assemblywoman, that study showed -- concluded -- that we had as much as 20 years to start making -- to adapt to climatological changes that are taking place," said Weinstein, "and I just go back and say this: it was the worst storm in my memory, in our generation, and the reality is that there is no history of flooding at the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex. I know everybody says it's in a flood zone. It's not! The western part of Hoboken Terminal is not in a flood zone. Now, having said that, we are informed. We know now that under circumstances like Sandy that that's going to flood. So we've got to come up with a better idea."
"I would really recommend that ... you revisit that issue," said Stender. "The fact that it happened means that there was a possibility that it could happen and somebody didn't see it."
Later in the hearing, Weinstein said the Meadowlands facility could not be relocated -- "nor frankly do I believe, at least at this point, that there is a necessity to do it. I believe that we can build some resiliency in, and we're going to be looking that those, but frankly, rail yards have been located in that area of our state for well over 100 years."
He said NJ Transit planned to elevate some electrical substations. And, he said, it had learned from Sandy's experience. "I can assure you that we will not be parking equipment at the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility in the face of a similar storm in the near future."
Weinstein also assured lawmakers NJ Transit wouldn't raise fares to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage it sustained during the storm. "Absolutely not. There will be no fare increase to cover the costs. We believe all of those costs will be covered by other means -- insurance, FEMA reimbursement. Period."
That assertion was questioned by Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who sounded incredulous. "You're assuring [us] that there won't be any rate increases, even though the insurance companies -- once they cover your damages -- they're going to hike up your premiums?"
"There will be no fare increases," Weinstein said firmly.
"For how long?" pressed Chivukula. "This is the question the committee - "
"For as long as I am executive director," Weinstein interjected.
"I don't know how long that will be," said Chivukula.
"Nor do I, sir," responded Weinstein, causing the assemblyman to dissolve into laughter.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
New Jersey Transit lost $100 million in trains and equipment during storm Sandy, NJ Transit chief James Weinstein told a U.S. Senate panel Thursday.
The $100 million is part of a $400 million bill Sandy left for NJ Transit. The total includes damage to all 12 rail lines, which suffered flooding and some 630 downed trees. This is the first public accounting of the Sandy-related damage to NJ transit equipment.
The transit agency has been scrutinized in the wake of its decision to store trains during Sandy at two facilities that are in high-risk areas for flooding during hurricanes. By contrast, the New York MTA moved its trains out of Coney Island and Queens, two areas in New York's evacuation zone.
"Based on the information that we had in terms of the likelihood of flooding occurring at the Meadowlands complex, or at the Hoboken yard, that indicated there was a likelihood in the 80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would happen," Weinstein told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, chaired by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
In 2011, as TN has reported, the Federal Transit Agency issued a study warning transit authorities that storm surge-related climate change would create risks for transit agencies, and exhorted local transit agencies to move their trains out of harm's way during storms. The FTA said the risk of flooding would increase over the years.
But just months ago, NJ Transit specifically rejected a climate change adaptation plan, as the Bergen Record reported this week. "At a symposium of state and federal transportation officials in March, NJ Transit executive David Gillespie said he had told climate-change consultants working for the agency to skip any analysis of potential impacts on train cars and engines," The Record wrote.
By contrast, the NY MTA had developed a climate change adaptation plan and appointed two officials to oversee the MTA's response to hurricanes.
Weinstein maintained NJ Transit had little choice. He said the agency has few options about where to store trains. "That combined with the history led us to conclude that [yards in the Meadowlands and Hoboken were] the appropriate place to put the equipment, based on the information we had at the time we had to make the decision."
In response to a question from Senator Lautenberg, Weinstein said "this was the best decision, especially in light of what happened during Irene." Weinstein said during that storm, NJ Transit stored equipment in Pennsylvania -- where it was stranded as a result of inland flooding and trees falling on the tracks. "That's another factor that informed our decisions," Weinstein said.
"Some of that equipment was new, up-to-date?" Lautenberg interjected.
"Yes, sir," Weinstein responded. "We had some new locomotives that hadn't been accepted yet. Water penetrated up to the axles where the bearings are."
Then Lautenberg tossed Weinstein a lifeline: "It didn't sound like there were other choices to be made," said the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey -- who, like Weinstein, is in a position of pleading for relief funds from the federal government in the middle of difficult negotiations over tax hikes and spending cuts to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"If you lay a flood plain map over our rail map there are very few places that are not prone to flooding," Weinstein said. "I had 630 trees come down. If that starts coming down on equipment, it damages equipment every bit as badly as flooding would."
Thursday, December 16, 2010
By Jim O'Grady
New Jersey could be off the hook for almost half the $271 million the federal government says the state owes for scrapping a rail tunnel under the Hudson.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
By Jim O'Grady
(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey could be off the hook for almost half the $271 million the federal government says it owes for scrapping a rail tunnel under the Hudson after work had been started.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will give the state $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion. But only if New Jersey pays the whole bill by December 24.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a letter containing the offer. A spokesman for Governor Christie said he had no comment on it because the department hasn't contacted him.
Governor Christie halted the $8.7 billion ARC tunnel project in October because of potential cost overruns. The decision has been controversial. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, for one, repeatedly decries it as “disastrous.”
Lautenberg took credit on Wednesday, along with fellow New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, for brokering the rebate offer from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. A press release from Lautenberg claimed that, “The Senator has been working quietly with DOT on reducing New Jersey’s burden since the project was killed.”
Now the Christie administration must decide if half a loaf is enough to end its scrap with the feds. Earlier this month, the governor directed New Jersey Transit—the state agency overseeing the project—to hire well-connected DC law firm Patton Boggs at $485 an hour to fight the tab from LaHood, which is for preliminary work on the ARC tunnel.
James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, stood before reporters after a recent board meeting at the agency and contended the federal government was wrong to ask for money it spent in collaboration with the state.
“This isn’t like they sent us a check for $270 million and then walked away and let us spend it,” Weinstein said of the U.S. DOT. “They were a participant in everything we did, every day, every minute, every hour.“
If the Christie administration sticks to that position, it could be that the Transportation Secretary just made an offer that can be refused.