NJ Transit Struggles to Find Rail Cars After Sandy

New Jersey Transit’s Damaged Rail Cars Won’t Be Easy to Replace
New Jersey Transit had 23 percent of its rail cars and 35 percent of its engines damaged or ruined by Atlantic superstorm Sandy, Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman, said. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

On top of having to fix damaged tracks and an operations center ruined by floodwaters, New Jersey Transit’s biggest obstacle to restoring full service for 276,000 daily rail commuters may be finding cars and engines.

The Newark-based agency had 23 percent of its rail cars and 35 percent of its engines damaged or ruined by Atlantic superstorm Sandy, said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman. The agency hasn’t determined how many, if any, can be repaired, she said.

New equipment won’t be a quick solution, as about 330 unionized production workers went on strike Nov. 1 at the Bombardier Inc. factory in La Pocatiere, Quebec, that builds the shells for the agency’s cars.

“Our full concentration is strictly on the restoration of service, and the ongoing recovery after this devastating hurricane,” Snyder said. “That’s front and center.”

Replacing rail cars isn’t as easy as borrowing whatever can be found. Rolling stock is often custom-made to accommodate a particular system’s tracks and signals. Parts of New Jersey Transit’s system run on electric power; diesel engines are required on others.

It generally takes years to finish orders built to specifications, like Bombardier’s 2008 contract with New Jersey Transit for 36 electric locomotives designed to haul multilevel commuter rail cars made by the Montreal-based manufacturer.

Through last year, Bombardier had provided 329 double-decker coaches to New Jersey Transit, according to the company.

Beg, Borrow

The U.S. Federal Transit Administration is speaking with transit agencies in other parts of the country to line up rail cars, buses and other equipment that may be available, said Meghan Keck, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department, which includes the FTA.

The regulator will coordinate loans of rolling stock and technical experts to New York metropolitan area agencies if needed, she said.

Amtrak, the U.S. intercity passenger railroad, is negotiating with Via Rail Canada Inc. for extra equipment to boost service in New Jersey, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said Nov. 1.

Via Rail has contacted Amtrak “to offer its support,” Mylene Belanger, a spokeswoman for Canada’s national passenger train company, said in a telephone interview. It’s too early to give details on the possible outcome of the discussions, she said, declining to comment on whether Via Rail is also talking to New Jersey Transit.

Storm Damage

Amtrak probably would be able to move Via Rail equipment into place quickly, as the two carriers cooperate on Amtrak’s service between New York and Montreal. New Jersey Transit’s service between Trenton and New York, which resumed last week, operates on Amtrak’s lines.

New Jersey Transit has offered no timetable for restoring full rail service. Service resumed yesterday on the North Jersey Coast, Raritan Valley, Port Jervis and Atlantic City lines, with some restrictions. Bus service should be fully restored by today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Nov. 2.

Its rail operations center was flooded, ruining the computers that control the movement of trains and their power supply, as well as the backup power and the emergency generator. Downed trees brought down overhead wires on track powered by electricity.

Amtrak Resumes

There would have been more damage to rolling stock had New Jersey Transit not moved trains from flood-prone areas to higher ground ahead of the storm, Snyder said.

Other rail systems were spared damage to cars and engines. The New York City subway, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad moved trains out of harm’s way and they’re all fully operational, said Salvatore Arena, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman.

Amtrak’s trains were also undamaged, said Steve Kulm, a spokesman. The Washington-based railroad restored service between New York’s Penn Station and Washington Nov. 1 and between New York and Boston Nov. 2. Acela Express service between Washington and Boston is operating on a reduced schedule, the railroad said in a statement yesterday.

Bombardier and negotiators from Quebec’s CSN union will resume talks Nov. 7 under the supervision of a conciliator, the labor group said today in a statement posted on its website. Bombardier will present an offer at the meeting, the union said.

Until the strike began, workers at La Pocatiere were busy assembling rail-car shells for New Jersey Transit and Maryland Transit, Mario Levesque, president of the union local, said in a Nov. 2 telephone interview. About a year’s worth of work remains on the two contracts, he said.

Final assembly of the Maryland Transit and New Jersey Transit cars is done at Bombardier’s Plattsburgh, New York, facility, near the Canadian border.

Marc Laforge, a spokesman for Bombardier’s rail unit, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment today. A voice mail message left on the company’s media line wasn’t immediately returned.

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