Why do NJ Transit rail services remain substantially reduced nearly 4 months after Hurricane Sandy? A shortage of wheels for rail rolling stock is a major factor, according to NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein, reported by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 14). According to operations manager Kevin O’Connor, “There’s only so many people producing wheels. We need wheels for every single vehicle that was damaged, as well as bearings for the locomotives that were damaged. Wheels is a big, big, tough issue.” Many cars and locomotives were damaged when two major storage yards were flooded, in Hoboken and in Kearny. Low-slung “multilevel” passenger cars, the railroad’s newest equipment, were turned into “aquariums” by the saltwater flood.
NJT officials have taken fire for the decision to move the cars into the low-lying yards, relying on forecasts that the yards had never flooded and wouldn’t this time; other forecasts accurately predicted the flood that did indeed materialize. In the event, 70 locomotives and 272 train cars were reported damaged, and an electrical substation supplying train power to the Hoboken area was also taken out by the storm. Electric-powered trains have not yet been able to operate into Hoboken, a restriction that has crippled service on the Morris & Essex lines, particularly the Gladstone Branch, where most of the regularly-scheduled trains operate by electricity into Hoboken. Lackawanna Coalition chair David Peter Alan commented that the Gladstone has “the worst service outside of peak commuting hours since 1984”, citing gaps between trains of 2, 3, and even 4 hours. Alan called the situation on the Gladstone “absolutely unacceptable”. The Hoboken situation will improve with installation of a temporary substation in March, but Weinstein hedged his bets, saying that delays in getting wheels and other parts for the rolling stock might further push back a full restoration of service, saying full restoration might take “the better part of the year”. Meanwhile, to avoid future flooding damage, the railroad is investigating the possibility of developing new storage yards in Linden and New Brunswick on unused property.