Dec 10 New Jersey lawmakers on Monday pressed
the head of New Jersey Transit to explain $100 million in damage
to rail cars and engines flooded during Superstorm Sandy,
particularly why his agency stored hundreds of cars and
locomotives in low-lying railyards.
Executive Director James Weinstein told the General
Assembly's Transportation, Public Works and Independent
Authorities Committee his agency relied on "best available"
weather forecasts. He also said he would not raise fares to pay
for repairs of storm damage because he expected costs to be
covered by insurance and federal disaster funds.
All told, the storm caused an estimated $400 million in
damage to NJ Transit's system, Weinstein That includes $100
million in damage to the flooded cars and engines.
"I can tell you unequivocally: The decisions on where to
keep and move our rail cars and locomotives were sound, based on
the best weather models and forecasts, historical experience and
other information we had at the time, mid-day Sunday, when we
had to launch the railroad shutdown," Weinstein said.
"The facts are, the weather models we used at the time
indicated an 80 to 90 percent chance that the Meadows
Maintenance Complex in Kearny and the western portion of the
Hoboken rail yards would stay dry."
Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos Jr., a Hoboken Democrat, said
some weather advisories did warn of flooding in Kearny and
Hoboken. He said his neighbors in Hoboken heeded those warnings,
moving their cars from a street that had not flooded previously.
"My constituents are asking, 'Why didn't Transit have the
same common sense?'" he asked Weinstein.
"I would say to you that our common sense is informed by
this event," Weinstein replied. "Sandy fooled us once. No Sandy
in the future is going to fool us again."
NJ Transit had to make decisions early, Weinstein said,
because it takes 12 hours to shut down its system and to move
its buses and rail cars to safe haven.
His contention that he would not have to raise fares drew
questions from Assemblyman Upendra J. Chivukula, a Somerset
Democrat, who said the agency likely will see its insurance
premiums soar because of storm damage. He asked how long
Weinstein would stand by his pledge not to raise fares.
"As long as I am executive director," Weinstein replied.
"I don't know how long that will be," Chivukula said.
"I don't know either," Weinstein said.
A Reuters investigation last month showed NJ Transit stored
equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars in low-lying
rail yards that forecasters warned could flood. NJ Transit saw a
third of its locomotives and a quarter of its railcars flooded
in the storm.
NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder has said the agency
relied on a National Hurricane Center advisory issued early on
Sunday morning, Oct. 28, more than 30 hours before the storm
made landfall near Atlantic City and many hours before the
agency shut down its rail system to prepare for the storm.
The Hurricane Center issues a range of maps, from rosiest to
worst-case scenarios. At the time in question, the rosiest
scenario showed seawater lapping at the edges of the yard. The
worst case warned of inundation.