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Report issued on NJTransit during Sandy

The superstorm showed a need for better flood mapping, protection of facilities.

NEWARK, N.J. - Better flood mapping and protection of critical facilities is needed for New Jersey Transit to survive the next major storm, a review of the agency's performance during Superstorm Sandy concluded in a report released Tuesday.

Among the recommendations is that NJ Transit consider portable or permanent flood barriers at facilities such as the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, site of severe flooding in October 2012. The agency was heavily criticized for not moving rail cars and locomotives out of that facility and another one in Hoboken, resulting in more than $100 million in damage.

The report was prepared by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, a specialist in emergency response training and preparedness that is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The decision to leave the equipment in place was based on "the storm information available at the time, past storm experience and the need to keep the equipment as close as possible to meet demands for prompt restoration of service," the report concluded.

"Had portable barriers been available, they may have prevented or minimized flood damage at MMC," it went on. "Additionally, had an alternate storage location in close proximity been available, some rail parts and equipment could have been moved prior to the storm. Similarly, the existence of a backup shop facility at another location outside of the flood zone would allow continued maintenance of heavy equipment if the MMC is damaged."

Among other recommendations, the report urged NJ Transit to prepare new storm surge and flood models and conduct vulnerability studies for all key facilities; improve its communications with the public during emergencies; increase its emergency-management staff and train more employees in incident management; improve the sharing of information between emergency staff and upper-level management and find a permanent location for an emergency operations center, which operated during and after Sandy out of a trailer in a bus depot in Orange.

In a response, NJ Transit said Tuesday that it had addressed or is addressing each recommendation. The agency said it has contracted with a private weather service to create modeling and flooding projections and with an engineering firm for storm surge maps. Stevens Institute of Technology will provide real-time surge modeling during significant weather events, NJ Transit said.

NJ Transit has put sandbags around electrical substations at the Meadows Maintenance Complex while it prepares for the replacement and raising of the substations, expected to cost millions of dollars. The agency said Tuesday that it had identified alternative storage sites for rail cars and locomotives.

The report gave NJ Transit high marks for conducting an efficient shutdown of its rail and bus lines before the storm and for repairs and debris removal that allowed for the prompt restoration of most lines within two weeks of the storm.