Monday, May 13, 2013
The weekend before Sandy thundered into New Jersey, transit officials studied a map showing bright green and orange blocks. On the map, the area where most New Jersey Transit trains were being stored showed up as orange – or dry.
And it might have been a good plan. Except the numbers New Jersey Transit used to create the map were wrong.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
NJ Transit's board meetings will now be videotaped, and the agency is expanding the information on its Sandy recovery website.
It's part of an agency attempt to provide more transparency to the riding public -- many of whom have showed up at NJ Transit board meetings since Sandy to complain about confusing schedule changes, last-minute service outages, and a general lack of effective communication.
Jim Simpson, the state's transportation commissioner and NJ Transit chairman, said Wednesday at a board meeting that the videos of each board meeting will be available on the agency's website within 48 hours "to increase transparency on the board. We think it's really a good thing for everybody."
Executive director Jim Weinstein also said the NJ Transit website will now "include a listing of contracts associated with the Sandy recovery, as well as background on all projects." And the site now offers details on agency efforts to repair and replace trains damaged by Sandy.
NJ Transit has been under scrutiny for its decision to store rail stock in flood-prone areas during the storm, which caused nearly a quarter of its fleet to suffer damage.
The board also approved paying another $28.5 million to Canadian rail company Bombardier, which is repairing train cars damaged by Sandy. NJ Transit says it will reimbursed for storm expenses through a combination of federal aid and insurance money.
Following the meeting, Weinstein less enthusiastic about a different subject: a recent study endorsing a proposal to extend the #7 subway to Secaucus. "It’s not a New Jersey project," he said. "It emanated from the mayor’s office in New York and it clearly has some different points of view in New York, from the MTA." Weinstein sounded lukewarm about the project. "We'll see where it goes," he said.
One recent bright spot for the agency: Weinstein said NJ Transit got a ridership boost during last week's Wrestlemania, when the agency provided more than 35,000 bus and rail trips to the Meadowlands. The agency views the event as a dress rehearsal for next year's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets and Giants play. Weinstein, who was on site for much of the event, described Wrestlemania as "quite an enlightening experience."
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
New Jersey Transit says it could be next fall before service is restored to pre-Sandy levels. And the cost of its damage is now pegged at $450 million -- a $50 million increase over previous estimates.
Speaking Wednesday at a board meeting, NJ Transit executive director Jim Weinstein said the agency was still assessing the damage and putting together its request for federal aid. The $450 million figure includes approximately $100 million in damage to rail cars and locomotives, as well as approximately $20 million in lost revenue. Weinstein said insurance will be covering the damage to rail cars and locomotives, and the agency is also submitting a request to the Federal Transit Administration for funding.
But full recovery will take more than money. During the storm surge, replacement parts for rail cars and locomotives were damaged. And these are not off-the-shelf items. So Weinstein says bringing service back to pre-Sandy levels will take some more time. “All of the equipment back? I mean we're talking the better part of a year,” he said.
Right now, service is at about 94% of pre-Sandy levels. Weinstein said that number will increase further in March, when repairs are complete at Hoboken’s electrical substation, allowing the electric trains that ply the Gladstone and Morris & Essex Lines to operate again. Right now those lines must use diesel locomotives, which are slower than electric.
Also on the agency’s agenda: finding a more flood-proof rail yard. During Sandy, trains and equipment were stored in low-lying rail yards. Officials have maintained there was no need to move them because the areas had never flooded before. But now, the agency is looking to expand a rail yard south of New Brunswick to provide a safe harbor for trains and equipment during future storms. When asked if the new storage facility would be in place in time for hurricane season, Weinstein answered tersely.
"No, I don't want it to be in place by the next hurricane season," he said. "It will be in place by the next hurricane season."