With Houston still drying out from Hurricane Harvey and Irma roaring toward Florida, NJ Transit unanimously voted Thursday to spend $185 million on property in Middlesex County where it can safely park its trains when catastrophic storms threaten, according to NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro.
“We need to relocate in the event of a projected storm event similar to Sandy. So we need to relocate trains out of the MMC which trains were obviously flooded back in Sandy and out of the Hoboken Terminal. We need a place to store them,” said Santoro.
The MMC, or Meadowlands Maintenance Complex, is where NJ Transit stashed more than 300 train cars that Sandy’s storm surge flooded and ruined in 2012. Critics called it a “bowl.” On Thursday, the agency offered little praise for the new property which includes 25 acres and a freight line called the Delco Lead in New Brunswick and North Brunswick. One called it flood-prone.
“It’s actually in a flood plain. They need something like 22,000 truckloads of fill to raise it up out of the flood plain,” said Joe Clift, former director of planning for the Long Island Railroad.
“There shouldn’t be any push. I mean, there’s another three storms sitting down south of us right now, and we’re all thinking about them,” said Santoro.
But Lackawanna Coalition Vice Chair Steve Thorpe claims NJ Transit has already got plenty of available track for storm storage located above flood-prone regions.
“Morris and Essex line, third track between Millburn and Newark and also the Raritan Valley line. They could put plenty of equipment on, and other places if they shut the system down, that are high and out of the way, that are protected where they can keep equipment,” said Thorpe.
“This project basically is a luxury. NJ Transit doesn’t have the bucks for luxuries,” said Clift.
That, even though the Federal Transit Administration has awarded a grant that covers almost half of the $368 million Delco Lead project’s price tag. Transportation advocates want NJ Transit to spend its precious millions on a project they call far more important, both for commuters and the economy.
“We need another tunnel into New York,” said Thorpe. “And throwing money at a project like that, while it does have some merit, doesn’t rise to the level of what a tunnel does. The only real benefits to this Delco Lead will be to the developers, building this North Brunswick station.”
Santoro denied Delco Lead is being built to benefit developers. He said it will create longer tracks to accommodate longer, multi-level trains and will be flood-proofed against a storm surge.
“We need a place, facilities in and around that storage area crews can report to after the storm, so we can inspect the trains and get them functional again, for quicker return to service after a storm,” said Santoro.
The hurricane season may be heating up, but NJ Transit won’t be able to use the hurricane storage facility this season or the next. It’s not slated to open until 2021.