Jan 17 A senior state legislator said New Jersey
Transit appears to have made a "deliberate effort to obfuscate
the facts" about its preparation for Superstorm Sandy, which
caused $100 million in damage to critical rail equipment.
General Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski also
questioned NJ Transit's ability to protect its rolling stock
following a Reuters report that the agency had misused storm
surge modeling software and failed to seek adequate guidance on
its use from weather experts ahead of the storm.
Sandy's flood waters damaged one-third of NJ Transit's
locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars left in two
low-lying rail yards in the New Jersey communities of Hoboken
and Kearny. The $100 million in damage was a crippling blow to a
critical link for New Jersey commuters into New York City.
A spokesman for Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, did
not respond to phone calls or emails from Reuters this week. NJ
Transit has either declined to comment or refused to answer
specific questions in recent days about new evidence that the
agency made preventable errors in the leadup to the storm.
NJ Transit has maintained that it made its decisions based
on the "best available" forecasts and historical experience. But
National Weather Service forecasters have disputed those
interpretations and several press reports have called the
explanation into question.
Wisniewski is chairman of the General Assembly's
Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities
Committee, which has oversight of NJ Transit and held hearings
on the issue in December.
Speaking to Reuters this week, he said NJ Transit was
refusing to take responsibility for its mistakes.
"What's infuriating is we gave New Jersey Transit a chance
to come explain what happened and we were given a story that
proved not to be accurate," Wisniewski, a Democrat from the
center-state town of Sayreville, said in telephone interview.
"They ought to stand up and say, 'We messed this up.'
Instead, they are looking to justify and explain away the
decisions made. And I find that unacceptable."
"What rankles me is what seems to be a deliberate effort to
obfuscate the facts," he said.
NJ Transit faced questions from federal and state lawmakers
after Reuters published a November investigation that showed it
did not heed specific warnings from maps produced by the
National Hurricane Center's probabilistic storm surge models,
known as p-surge.
When NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein appeared
in December before a U.S. Senate committee, he said forecasts
showed "there was a likelihood in the 80 to 90 percent range
that no flooding would happen."
The new Reuters report last week detailed how NJ Transit
incorrectly used National Weather Service software, known as
SLOSH Display. The software is intended for emergency managers
to model a hypothetical hurricane and identify areas vulnerable
to storm surge.
Documents Reuters received from NJ Transit in response to a
formal records request show the agency modeled a storm going in
the wrong direction at the wrong speed and produced storm surge
estimates far below what forecasters were predicting.
NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr. said last week that the
agency has "very serious, substantive disputes" with Reuters'
newest findings, but he has declined to detail those disputes or
answer specific questions.
National Weather Service meteorologists have publicly
criticized NJ Transit for failing to seek its help on
interpreting forecasts and understanding how to use its
When Reuters contacted the governor's office to discuss
criticisms of the agency, a staff member provided comments
previously made by the governor in a press conference when
Christie said NJ Transit leaders "made the best judgment that
they could under the circumstances."
"This is a guy (with) decades of experience in government
with extraordinary competence who made the best decision he
could make at the time," Christie said about Weinstein,
executive director of NJ Transit. "Sometimes people make wrong
decisions. It happens. It's not a hanging offense."
(Editing By Janet Roberts and Claudia Parsons)