TRANSPORTATION

Head of NJ Transit Says Meadowlands Facility Suffered Historic Flooding

The impact of superstorm Sandy on New Jersey’s mass transit’s system continues to be felt by commuters. State and federal lawmakers have scheduled hearings to examine the storm’s impact. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein to get a status report about the state of mass transit in New Jersey.

Weinstein says 92 to 93 percent of the rail system is back up while the bus system is 100 percent operational. While challenges remain on the rail system, Weinsten says that all the lines are running. The last one to come back up happened on Monday with the opening of the Gladstone branch on the Morris and Essex line.

Ongoing rail issues include substation problems at Hoboken and at the Meadowlands complex in Kearny. Major damage was incurred at NJ Transit’s Meadowlands Maintenance Facility as a result of flooding from the storm surge. NJ Transit has been criticized by lawmakers, including Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), for failing to take the necessary precautions at the Meadowlands site where hundreds of locomotives and cars were damaged.

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Weinstein defended NJ Transit’s decisions, saying a lot of thought went into a plan that was based on reports from the National Weather Service and historical data.

“Twelve hours before the storm hits … we have to shut down the system based on the information we had at the time,” he said. “There was an 80 to 90 percent likelihood that there would not have been any surge flooding at the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility. The reality is that never in the history of NJ Transit — 35 years almost — never in the history of Meadowlands Maintenance Facility, which opened in the mid-80s, has there ever been flooding there.”

Last year, NJ Transit moved trains to its Morrisville location in preparation of Tropical Storm Irene. Those trains were left stranded due to flooding in Trenton. That experience informed how NJ Transit prepared for Sandy, says Weinstein.

“We had 22 train sets in Morrisville after Irene and we couldn’t use them for service because of the flooding in Trenton. This time, we had moved half of them out of Morrisville. We spread them around. It’s not that all the equipment was in the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility.”

As the primary repair and inspection facility for the railroad, ongoing issues at the site will prevent the rail system from being fully operational, Weinstein says. “We’re still on generator power. The rail operation center is also there. That’s the central nervous system of the railroad.”

He estimated that it would take about six to 10 weeks to get the substation back on an interim basis but says the goal must be for a permanent term.

According to Weinstein, the salt water damage from the storm surge flooding affected the entire facility, not just the electrical system.

“It wasn’t just the yards that flooded. The surge came into the building, flooded out the building. We’ve lost all sorts of replacement parts that had to be replaced,” explained Weinstein. “A variety of sister railroads and suppliers have been working with us to get that equipment back as fast as possible.”

The historic nature of Sandy has been a learning experience for NJ Transit. Weinstein says the biggest lesson from the hurricane is the knowledge that the Meadowlands Maintenance Facility is subject to flooding. “We need to prepare and do something to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Weinstein.

Still, Weinstein maintains that sound decisions were made with the information available at the time.

“The decision we made obviously didn’t turn out well,” he said, “and frankly they were the right decisions based on the information that we had and based on the fact that we had to make that decision 12 hours out.”