A month-long investigation by New York public radio station WNYC, New Jersey Public Radio, and The (Bergen) Record newspaper has resulted in extensive reporting questioning NJ Transit’s response to Hurricane Sandy, which struck the region on October 29, 2012. The report contrasts the extensive damage suffered by NJT in comparison with the generally minor damage to other transit systems and attributes the damage to NJT’s ignoring warnings both long before the storm and as the storm approached; bad decisions regarding storing equipment; and NJT’s response to a public-information request (nearly all of the reply was blacked out). The report was previously available at http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/transportation-nation/2013/may/13/njtransit-sandy.
Author Kate Hinds was interviewed on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer talk show Monday morning, May 13. The segment replayed NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein’s testimony on NJT’s Sandy response; Weinstein had said that the models that NJT used in forecasting hurricane damage predicted that the probability that the Meadows rail storage yard would not flood was 80–90%. This sparked pointed comments from host Brian Lehrer, who noted that 10–20% damage probability of billions of dollars in assets should have sparked immediate defensive action; Lehrer asked if you would get on an airplane if there was “only” a 10% chance of a crash. Hinds noted that other agencies, such as Metro-North Railroad, used the same computer software to estimate storm impact, but seemed to have prepared their strategies in advance and did not input possibly faulty data into the software. A U.S. Weather Service expert was brought in; he commented that the numbers used to predict the course of the storm, including its course and forward speed, were completely wrong. Hinds and Lehrer also discussed possible political impacts on NJT’s actions: Hinds noted that planning for environmental disaster might not be a wise course in an organization that works for N.J. Gov. Christie, who has slashed funding for environmental preparedness. She also noted that the relationship between NJT Director Weinstein and his boss, NJ Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, was frosty: “They don’t get along at all.” Finally, she noted that although Gov. Christie has been getting high marks for the overall New Jersey response to the storm, there has been little public discussion of the experience of NJ Transit, which is part of Gov. Christie’s responsibilities.
Following legal action by The Record, NJT did release part of their storm planning document. Apparently it was a very slim plan, nothing like the more comprehensive plans created by other railroads, which had much better experiences when Sandy struck.