As residents, leaders and emergency officials from across the nation watched Hurricane Sandy make its way up the eastern seaboard in late October, people living in the New York and New Jersey area were preparing for the worst.
For transit officials with NJ Transit and MTA, that meant halting services and trying to get equipment to higher ground. Crews worked feverously to shield the transit systems and to not only protect the systems, but aid in a quicker recovery of transit in an area where residents are heavily dependent on trains and buses to get around.
“I think that first of all, the decision the governor made to stop service was absolutely critical,” said Howard Permut, president of the MTA Metro-North Railroad. “That allowed us to put everyone out of harm’s way and then it allowed us to prepare for service restoration and it allowed us to move equipment around.”
With the storm now months behind the region, transit agencies in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country are now working harder than ever to get their systems back up and running.
Floods overtake the systems
In a Dec. 7 letter from the White House to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) the administration is seeking $60.4 billion in money to clean up and repair the areas damaged by the hurricane. Of that, the Federal Railroad Administration is seeking $32 million for Amtrak repairs and dewatering of tunnels due to the storm and $6.2 billion is requested to repair transit systems in the New York City area. Another $5.5 billion is requested by the U.S. DOT for mitigation efforts to the region in order to prevent future damage and put in place a comprehensive flood control plan.
Flooding in the region wasn’t only a problem for lines bordering the Atlantic Ocean or on Long Island. Roughly half of the Hudson Line running along the Hudson River was covered in water, Permut said, with the flooding issue reaching all the way to Poughkeepsie, which is roughly 70 miles down river from New York City.
Helena Williams, president of the MTA Long Island Rail Road said the weekend before the hurricane hit, workers began to prep by moving rolling stock from low-lying yards, taking key signal board out of low-lying areas and pinning and removing crossing gates. A dam was set up to try and stop flooding at the Westside yard near the Hudson River as well, however, it still didn’t spare that area from flooding.
The most devastated area of the Long Island Rail Road was the Long Beach Branch due to its low-lying location and the floodwaters that inundated the area, but after the storm, Williams said workers were innovative in getting track repairs completed and grade crossings were powered by local generators.
The Babylon Branch was the most difficult to repair due to flooding in the tunnels, but Williams said the railroad has worked with Amtrak to get repairs completed.
Despite the flooding and more than 600 trees and utility poles lying down in the trains’ right of ways, Williams said the agency was able to restart service between Penn Station and Jamaica within 24 hours after the storm was gone and from the Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica. Within 48 hours service from the Great Neck to Penn Station on the Port Washington branch of the rail road was up and running, and within 72 hours the “big four” lines were running. And by Dec. 10, full morning and afternoon service was restored.
“Now of course we’re up and back running, but what we’re doing now is a very extensive assessment of the damage,” Williams said. “We don’t know the long-term impact to the signal system and the circuitry from the flooding and the salt water.”
James Weinstein, executive director of NJ Transit, said the bus system for his system didn’t suffer any significant damage, so immediately following the storm about 80 percent of the buses were running, with more up by Nov. 1. The entire system was unable to get online right after the storm due to damage to roadways, flooding and downed power lines, but many rail lines were devastated, so buses had to take charge in helping riders get around.