One of the biggest casualties of Hurricane Sandy was New Jersey’s mass transit system. NJ Transit has been working hard to get its buses back on the road. But when it comes to the railroad, that’s a whole different story. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with NJ Transit Spokesman John D’Urso, Jr. about the impact of the storm on NJ Transit’s operations.
Speaking from NJ Transit’s emergency operation center in Orange, D’Urso said NJ Transit’s infrastructure was devastated from the storm and despite the progress already made, there is still along way to go because the scale of the damage extends from light rail operations to rail operation in Atlantic there is still a long way to go.
“You saw massive washouts of whole sections of track that occurred along the Jersey Coast line,” he cited as an example. “You have a key section of track at Kearny Junction which allows tracks from Montclair as well as on the Morris and Essex line to be able to access Midtown Direct service into New York. And you also saw for a while, our bus operations unable to operate at full capacity. Currently, we are operating at about 95 percent capacity.”
D’Urso declined to put a time frame or deadline but says full restoration of services will take several weeks. Rail traffic into New York City was resumed within a week after the storm. “We’ve also opened up the main lines as well as the Port Jervis line and we’ve also begun bringing trains back into Hoboken terminal,” D’Urso added. According to D’Urso, the devastation wrought by Sandy surpassed last year’s damage on the Port Jervis track north of Suffern. “Compare that or even, say, the devastation that you have seen on the North Jersey coastline south of South Amboy going down to Bayhead would rival or even succeed that,” he said. “You see whole scale sections of track completely washed away. You have seen boats placed on top of bridges almost likely dirty laundry. It is a scene to believe and it’s a credit to our crews, our hardworking employees here at NJ Transit, the progress that we’ve made, but the sheer devastation that just has been felt by NJ Transit it’s still gong to take a while to go.”
The hurricane also brought record flooding to some areas that have never had like Hoboken and Kearny. And sometimes, all the planning in the world is no match for mother nature, says D’Urso.
“We are continuing to refine our operations, we are always learning from past practices and we continue to apply but the fact of the matter is we were prepared for the storm,” Said D’Urso. “We had taken the steps to place rail cars as well as other equipment out of harm’s way and those steps helped prevent a very situation from becoming worse.”
When asked about restoration costs, D’Urso refused to place a dollar amount but said it would be in the millions.
“It’s unclear at this point the process is still ongoing and we’re still in the recovery phase.”
NJ Transit is committed to helping customers resume their daily lives but detailed the challenges.
“The number of tunnels that we have to currently access service into New York Penn Station, half is the percentage of customers that are currently utilizing our services to go into New York and one third is the total number of trains that are serving those customers going into New York right now,” explained D’Urso. “We have an issue related to capacity and while we have increased the number of rail cars that are currently serving our customers, we still have a challenge when it comes to meeting that capacity to get into Hoboken, to get into Weehawken, as well as, to get into New York.”
In the meantime, NJ Transit has implemented temporary plans to help riders get to work.
“What we have done is to establish an emergency bus operation from points such as PNC Arts Center from Ramsey Route 17 as well as other locations within New Jersey that bring customers free of charge to locations such as Weehawken as well as Liberty State Park.” D’Urso added that “at Liberty State Park, customers can access free ferry service into lower Manhattan.”