Bloomberg News

NJ Transit Puts Repair Shop, Parts on Sandy Casualty List

November 21, 2012

Flooding that damaged New Jersey Transit train cars and locomotives parked in Hudson County during superstorm Sandy also hit the agency’s repair shops and parts supplies, according to Executive Director James Weinstein.

Surging waters affected 62 of 203 locomotives, including a third of the engines that can run on either diesel or electric power, according to initial estimates, Weinstein said yesterday in an interview. Most of the damage occurred at a maintenance facility in Kearny.

“I think we’re going to be able to acquire the parts we need in a reasonable way,” Weinstein said. “I haven’t seen an estimate on that yet.”

Sandy battered New Jersey’s coastline Oct. 29 and has been blamed for 37 deaths across the state. The storm also crippled the statewide mass-transit system, the second-largest in the U.S., extending commuter times as it left many Manhattan workers navigating buses and ferries rather than their usual trains.

Most of the water damage occurred at the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, while some took place at the agency’s Hoboken rail yard, said John Durso, a spokesman. Sandy left 261 of 1,162 rail cars in need of repair, he said.

The nine dual-powered locomotives affected, and some of the newer rail cars, were manufactured by Bombardier Inc. (BBD/B) of Montreal. Since the company still makes them, Weinstein said supplying needed replacement parts may be easier than if production had ceased.

Borrowing Shops

Bombardier is also discussing the possibility of temporarily using repair facilities operated by other railroads in the region and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to get the damaged equipment fixed, he said.

State and federal lawmakers have called for hearings on New Jersey Transit’s infrastructure and on why it left the equipment in Hudson County rail yards that were flooded by Sandy.

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who leads a subcommittee that deals with railroads, plans a “general hearing on transportation infrastructure in the state following Sandy,” said Caley Gray, a spokesman. Gray wouldn’t comment on whether the panel would focus on the use of the Kearny and Hoboken yards to park locomotives and rail cars.

State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who heads the Assembly’s transportation committee, said he has asked Weinstein and James Simpson, New Jersey’s transportation commissioner, to appear before his panel to explain why the equipment was parked in areas that might be flooded by the approaching storm.

‘Vulnerable’ Yards

“Those trains should not have been left in such a vulnerable location,” Wisniewski said yesterday. “We need to make sure there are clear standards about what happens to the rolling stock when a severe storm comes ashore.”

Lautenberg, 88, and Governor Chris Christie, a 50-year-old Republican, said this week that they would work together to garner federal money to help pay for storm damage.

The two have had a simmering feud since 2010, when Christie ended an $8.7 billion project that would have built a new commuter-rail tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan by 2018. Lautenberg, who worked in Washington to secure federal assistance for the tunnel, called the cancellation “one of the biggest policy blunders in New Jersey’s history.” Christie said the state couldn’t afford cost overruns for the project.

Jersey Floods

Sandy came ashore near Atlantic City packing hurricane- force winds and driving storm surges that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to the National Weather Service. Water levels at New York City’s Battery Park, across the Hudson River from Hoboken, crested at almost 13.9 feet (4.2-meter) above the normal high-tide mark, more than 3 feet above the previous record set in 1960 during Hurricane Donna, according to the weather service.

New Jersey Transit has never had flooding in the Kearny and Hoboken yards, Durso said. The system hasn’t been hamstrung by the loss of that equipment, he said.

Saltwater fouled engine gears and electrical systems as well as rail-car upholstery, Durso said. He said the extent of needed repairs is still being determined and had no estimate of how much it would cost.

“The reason for the delay in returning service had nothing to do with rolling stock,” Durso said yesterday. “It had to do with our infrastructure, and our infrastructure being devastated as a result of the hurricane. We have the capacity to move our customers. We have done so and we’re continuing to do so.”

Track Washouts

Sandy’s floodwaters also engulfed the agency’s rail operations center in Kearny, affecting backup power and computers that help run the railroad. Kearny Junction, a main connecting point and control location about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) west of Manhattan, was heavily damaged. Tracks along its network were also washed out in sections and overhead wires brought down by falling trees.

Weinstein, the New Jersey Transit head, said the agency will review its storm performance after service is restored.

“We made a decision on where to put our equipment,” he said in the interview. “This was a decision based on sound forecasts and a lot of experience. Unfortunately, we got hit with the worst storm in New Jersey’s history and a lot of equipment was damaged, but it was not unrepairable damage.”

Joseph Clift, a member of the Lackawanna Coalition rail- rider advocacy group and former planning director for the Long Island Rail Road, said the agency should have had a backup plan to move engines and cars from the Kearny yard, which sits near a bend in the Passaic River.

“Just because history hasn’t seen something, doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” he said yesterday from his Manhattan home. “They damaged a tremendous fraction of their fleet.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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