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NJ Transit Had $400 Million in Hurricane Sandy Damage

NJ Transit Had $400 Million in Damage From Superstorm Sandy
New Jersey Transit buses are seen in a lot that had previously been flooded from Superstorm Sandy, October 31, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

New Jersey Transit, the second-largest U.S. public transportation system, sustained $400 million in damage from Hurricane Sandy and needs twice that amount to prevent damage from future storms, its executive director told a U.S. Senate panel today.

The losses included $100 million in train cars, locomotives and equipment, James Weinstein said in written testimony to the Commerce Committee’s surface transportation subcommittee. It was the most detailed estimate provided of the system’s costs from the storm.

“The storm did unprecedented damage to our transportation system,” Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said at the hearing.

Sandy, an Atlantic Ocean superstorm, hit the New Jersey and New York shorelines on Oct. 29, causing more than 100 deaths and leaving a path of destruction. The storm’s wind and high waters crippled transportation networks, downing overhead power lines and flooding train tunnels.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Washington today to press for federal aid to help the state recover from the storm, and met with President Barack Obama and White House officials. The Republican governor’s trip comes three days after New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo traveled to Washington to ask for $42 billion in aid.

Federal Aid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said yesterday that Obama may submit a request as soon as today seeking about $60 billion for recovery. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said today Obama may send Congress a request by week’s end for aid to states most affected by Sandy.

“The administration is committed to helping the region recover,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters today.

Amtrak, which experienced flooding in four of the six tunnels it uses to pass through New York City, is asking Congress for $336 million to improve infrastructure and cover operating losses, it said in a release today.

Some of the most lasting damage occurred on New Jersey Transit’s system. Surging waters damaged 62 of the authority’s 203 locomotives, including one-third of the engines that can run on either diesel or electric power, according to initial estimates, Weinstein said last month in an interview.

It also left 261 of 1,162 rail cars in need of repair, according to John Durso, a NJ Transit spokesman. Many of the cars and locomotives were left at low-lying rail facilities in Kearny and Hoboken, New Jersey.

State lawmakers have raised concerns about why the transit agency left the equipment in the rail yards.

‘Vulnerable Location’

“Those trains should not have been left in such a vulnerable location,” New Jersey state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who heads the body’s transportation committee, said Nov. 20.

The transit authority’s preparations for the storm were based on weather reports and had to be put in place hours before it hit, Weinstein said at the hearing.

The authority needs $800 million to protect the system against future storms, Weinstein said.

New York and New Jersey lawmakers, along with executives of transportation systems, used the platform to urge Congress to invest in transportation networks in the Northeast U.S.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said at the hearing that Congress should give money to an unfunded program to provide emergency relief for transit systems.

“It’s the life blood of New York,” Schumer said of the region’s transit network. “It’s our circulatory system. We depend on it.”

Improvements Worked

Amtrak was able to rapidly pump out water in its tunnels because of improvements made since 2001, Joseph Boardman, the U.S. intercity passenger railroad’s chief executive officer, said in written testimony.

Pipes installed in tunnels to help fight fires were used to suck water out after the flood, Boardman said.

“If there’s a single idea I would ask the committee to take away from this hearing, it’s this: investment works,” he said. “Investment buys more than just capacity. It buys resilience.”

Of the $336 million the passenger rail service is asking for, $276 million would be used for improving protection for New York’s Penn Station and its tunnels, according to a release.

Tunnel Proposal

Lautenberg, Boardman and Joseph Lhota, chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, urged approval of an Amtrak proposal to build two additional rail tunnels under the Hudson River. The tunnels would relieve subway and passenger rail congestion and make area rail systems better able to withstand another hurricane, they said.

“This tunnel is absolutely needed,” Lhota told reporters after the hearing.

Christie in 2010 canceled a $8.7 billion New Jersey Transit project to add a Manhattan rail tunnel, saying the state couldn’t afford it.

Sandy’s waters reached 13 feet (4 meters) above sea level, which was two feet above the predictions for flooding in the worst storm in 100 years, according to testimony by Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The agency oversees airports, the largest port on the East Coast, bridges and tunnels.

The storm’s impact on ports caused a 19 percent decrease in maritime freight shipments in October compared with the same month in 2011, according to the committee.

Replacement Equipment

In New York, eight MTA subway tunnels were flooded when Sandy’s surge coincided with high tide. The largest U.S. public-transit service suffered $5 billion in damage and lost revenue, it has estimated.

“While we have restored service, we are nowhere close to normal operations and won’t be for quite some time,” Lhota said in written testimony.

The system was forced to use more than 80 percent of its inventory of replacement equipment and two subway lines remain out of service, Lhota said. Almost 500,000 commuters still have no service or reduced service, he said.

Lhota also urged lawmakers to invest in improvements to reduce the risks of flooding and other damage.

The New York region accounts for 11 percent of gross domestic product and the area’s economy can’t function without the transit system, he said.

“This is a national issue; a national need,” Lhota said. “And we’re going to need the federal government’s help to rebuild.”

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