New York PATH’s Sandy Repair Costs Could Top $700 Million

Costs to repair damage to the New York region’s PATH train system from Hurricane Sandy may be more than $700 million, compared with the earlier estimate of $300 million, the head of the train’s operator said.

The Oct. 29 storm that slammed into the U.S. East Coast caused “tsunami-like conditions” in PATH stations, said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Repairs and upgrades are needed to stations, tunnels, tracks and bridges, he said.

“None of our agencies are talking about a bridge to nowhere,” Foye said today at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, at which executives from New Jersey Transit and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority also testified. “We’re talking about restoring tunnels, bridges and train stations.”

Foye and the other transit system leaders are seeking funding from President Barack Obama’s proposed $60.4 billion disaster-relief package to help the region recover from the Atlantic’s largest-ever tropical storm system.

New York City area transit service may have to be cut and U.S. taxpayers may face more costs if Congress skimps on spending for recovery from the storm, the top U.S. transit regulator said at the hearing.

“There is a risk of serious service degradation to the public if they can’t restore their equipment stocks,” Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff told the committee.

Model Ts

PATH trains between Hoboken, New Jersey, and the 33rd Street station in Manhattan resumed yesterday following almost two months of repairs of water damage from Hurricane Sandy. The storm flooded the tunnels with as much as 8 feet (2.4 meters) of water and destroyed critical signal and switching systems.

PATH has spent about $200 million of its own money so far, Foye said. Repairs are hampered by the fact that some destroyed parts are no longer made, Foye said.

“It has been like trying to find replacement parts for an entire fleet of Model T Fords in the 21st century,” he said.

Some trains are being directed by employees using radios to communicate in areas where signal systems haven’t been restored, Foye said.

The Port Authority said Dec. 18 that service between Hoboken and the World Trade Center remains several weeks away because damaged signal equipment needs to be replaced.

Republican Opposition

Rogoff pushed for Obama’s disaster-relief package, which would include $11.7 billion for his agency that would go to repair, replace and upgrade transit infrastructure harmed in the storm.

Republican lawmakers have questioned the amount in Obama’s package, saying the U.S. can’t afford that much as the country approaches the automatic tax increases and government spending cuts that would take effect in January without an agreement between the president and Congress.

“We’re prepared to demonstrate and be accountable for every dollar,” Foye said.

Of the president’s request, $6.2 billion is targeted to repair and restore public-transportation infrastructure controlled by the MTA, the Port Authority, New Jersey Transit and New York City’s Transportation Department. Obama asked for $5.5 billion to prevent damage to transportation infrastructure from future storms.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, was the sole lawmaker to attend today’s hearing, meaning the witnesses faced no questions challenging the need for emergency relief.

Family Heirlooms

Spending now to upgrade transit systems in flooded areas and move things like propulsion power and signal systems out of areas likely to be hit in future storms would save taxpayers money in the long run, Rogoff said.

“No homeowner who has had their basement flood takes their family heirlooms and stores them in the basement,” he said.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration oversees reimbursement to transit systems for costs of damage in natural disasters after the operators spend their own money.

New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein said his system is asking for $1.2 billion in U.S. funding for repair and upgrades following Sandy’s damage of about 25 percent of the system’s rail fleet.

That spending would include $500 million to build new railyard and inspection facilities in areas not prone to flooding. An additional $200 million would pay to raise power and other systems above foreseeable flood levels at the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, New Jersey.

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