Pump Train at NY's Cranberry Street tunnel. Photo courtesy of MTAPhotos. Creative Commons.
Super Storms Deliver a One, Two Punch
At the end of October, hurricane Sandy brought devastation and ruin to the shorelines of New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut. A short eight days later, a nor’easter named Athena compounded the troubles of already weakened communities still reeling from Sandy with heavy, wet snow and rain.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of residents experienced power outages from the one, two punch of the super storms rolling through the Northeast. Gas shortages and rationing due to inoperable filling stations and/or sold out gas inventory created multi-hour waits for drivers wanting to refuel vehicles. Tree blocked streets and flooded transit tunnels further complicated movement throughout the region. The destruction was extensive.
Tragic personal loss and distress underscore the recovery efforts, which are still underway to bring relief to local communities. Linemen from power companies across the country were called in to restore power, volunteers set up aid stations to distribute water and cleaning supplies and the National Guard stepped in to offer assistance.
Trouble for New York and New Jersey Rail Transits
In addition to great personal injury, the area’s infrastructure took a crushing blow with New Jersey Transit and New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority experiencing some of the most severe damage. According to NJ.com, “The hurricane storm surge flooded the tunnels for the first time in their 102-year history.” Bloomberg reported that “Its rail operations center was flooded, ruining the computers that control the movement of trains and their power supply, as well as the backup power and the emergency generator. Downed trees brought down overhead wires on track powered by electricity.”
The same Bloomberg article posted that “The Newark-based agency had 23 percent of its rail cars and 35 percent of its engines damaged or ruined by Atlantic superstorm Sandy, said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman. The agency hasn’t determined how many, if any, can be repaired, she said.”
The damage could have been worse, but luckily it wasn’t thanks to the preventative efforts of the NJ Transit Authority workers. “There would have been more damage to rolling stock had New Jersey Transit not moved trains from flood-prone areas to higher ground ahead of the storm, Snyder said.”
The Long Road to Repair and Recovery
Unfortunately rail car repair or replacement may take longer than anticipated. A Canadian paper reported that Bombardier, a rolling stock supplier to NJ Transit had extended an offer to help in whatever way they could. Then on November 1, Bombardier union workers went on strike, after being without a contract for over a month, dashing hope for a speedy delivery of 100 multi-level New Jersey transit cars currently on order.
The damage to rails, tunnels and rolling stock could have a long-term impact that lingers long after the super storms have moved on. Flood damage, track restoration and rail car repair may turn into a capital expense that takes years to recoup. And with more super storms predicted, “Major U.S. East Coast transportation agencies hit by super storm Sandy may face "substantial" costs to beef up defenses against flooding and other severe weather in coming years and will likely need to issue more debt to do it” according to a report by Reuters.
Meanwhile New Jersey rail commuters are growing more frustrated reports NorthJersy.com, despite the fact that “NJ Transit acted quickly to create a bus and ferry service to fill in gaps left by train service that has been largely crippled by storm damage. Those lines that have been restored are offering only limited service, resulting in overcrowding.”
Recovering from the super storm damage and fully restoring commuter service in the metro New York and New Jersey area will be a challenge. As a software supplier to DART, a major U.S. light rail transit system, Enigma understands the depth of the challenge when it comes to repairing complex equipment and infrastructure.
Full recovery may require an extended, multi-step process. The first step is to address the immediate short-term repairs in order to restore local commuter services. Next, may be an intermediate plan to establish a resilient repair and maintenance program that is able to be at-the-ready for major service interruptions. And third may be to establish a long-term preventative plan for unexpected future weather events that could once again cripple the entire metro transit system.
Given the critical nature of transit services, the complexity of the equipment, and the fact that the location or severity of damaging storms cannot be accurately predicted or averted, it makes sense that the intermediate plan to beef up maintenance and repair operations will have the most significant impact on the ability to recover from future super storms. An integrated parts catalog like InService EPC would go a long way toward ensuring that mechanics have the information they need to quickly troubleshoot problems, look up and order the right parts, and repair affected rail cars as quickly as possible to restore service.
Whichever path is taken and no matter how long it takes, we’re confident that the oldest and most extensive public transit systems in the world are in good hands and will once again flourish under the careful guidance of their governing organizations.