So, you think Bridgegate is a train wreck? Well there is actually another Chris Christie train wreck story, and it's literally about a train wreck. In fact, it was several wrecked trains (to the tune of $120 million), and all due to his administration's incompetence and negligence. And in my opinion, it's a much worse story than Bridgegate- instructive on this man's governance habits, and quite predictive, past-to-prologue, in what we're seeing play out this week.
With the illegal George Washington Bridge lane closure story, we have gotten a good glimpse of the truly despicable nature of who and what is Chris Christie and his (mal)administration. However, what follows is arguably an even worse story, showing how craven, ethically and morally challenged, and probably most important of all: just plain old incompetent this man who wants to be president is. Worse still, it reveals (in the most fetid tradition a la George W. Bush), someone so arrogant, immature, and childlike, that they cannot take personal blame, tell the truth, and admit mistakes. The likelihood of such similar behavior taking place in a Christie White House should give serious pause to any of his potential voters. What follows is the story of the completely unnecessary loss of $120 million worth of New Jersey Transit assets to Superstorm Sandy.
To summarize: New Jersey Transit, the largest state-wide mass transit operation in the country, had emergency plans in place ahead of Hurricane Sandy to protect its commuter rail assets (diesel locomotives, passenger cars, and self-powered passenger cars) by moving them to designated “safe” areas above the expected high floodwaters of the storm surge. What ended up happening is that in two of the areas chosen: Hoboken Terminal and the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex (aka MMC or Kearny), the rail yards were substantially inundated and thus $120 million worth (or nearly ¼ of its entire fleet) of New Jersey Transit equipment was ruined, much of it still “brand new”.
How did this happen? Let's dive right in and start asking questions:
I: Chris Christie the Incompetent
Were Hoboken and Kearny the correct safe-storage areas? Good question- and the answer is NO! Because as it turns out, NJ Transit had in its possession in June 2012, (a full three months before the storm), a report complete with maps, showing Hoboken and Kearny fully sitting in CAT 1 hurricane flood zones (note: Sandy was still Cat I just before landfall).
Now, when the news of this $120 million screw-up came out following the storm, NJTransit Executive Director Jim Weinstein willingly acknowledged the mistake. However, at that time he stubbornly insisted on defending the decision, using the faulty reasoning that there was “an 80 to 90 percent chance there would be no flooding”. Why was it faulty? Well, because in hazard management you forecast the chances of something bad happening, and you try to reduce those chances down as close to zero as possible. But what Weinstein in fact did, for the sole purpose of positive spin, was flip the warnings from the forecasts he actually had, taking a "glass half full" perspective rather than a "glass half empty". Forecasts in fact indicated a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of flooding in the yards. As Joseph Clift, a regional rail advocate and former planner for the Long Island Railroad noted, one should have been concerned about the agency’s gamble on the 1-in-5 chance that the rail yards would flood.
“If someone said there is a 10 to 20 percent chance you’ll get hit crossing Route 1, would you?” Clift said. “That’s basically the equivalent risk they took in the Meadowlands.”in addition, Weinstein defended the decision in the best tradition of Condi "who could have imagined" Rice
that “the yards had never flooded before in 30 years.” Neither Weinstein nor Durso offered details on the data the agency relied upon. “There is no history of flooding at the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex,” he said.Evidently Weinstein was oblivious to the December 1992 Nor'easter which did flood Hoboken due to a tidal surge.
Hoboken Terminal December 1992. From hoboken411 The 1992 storm surge reached higher than a foot above the Hoboken platforms, water has already receded in the photograph. The MMC, built in 1987, existed in 1992, so apparently, by dint of it being a foot or so higher in elevation than Hoboken, it escaped harm in the '92 Nor'easter. However, it's safe to say that the writing was on the wall and NJTransit had ample warning 20 years before Sandy, nevermind the flood maps published in the June 2012 study!
So THAT was the excuse in December 2012- 'oh it was just bad luck'. Fast forward to this past October 2013 and here’s where the story gets really good, or I should say, particularly damning for Christie:
II: Chris Christie the Coward
And here’s where the story gets particularly damning for Chris Christie:
Almost a year after Superstorm Sandy flooded hundreds of pieces of rail equipment that had been left in low-lying yards, Governor Christie said the head of NJ Transit was not to blame, but rather an employee who deviated from the storm plan — a move that caused $120 million in damage to rail cars and locomotives.Ruh roh... Is that a bus I see coming? ... and is somebody is about to be thrown under?
Why, yes it is!:
Christie said that in the chaos of Sandy’s approach, a low-level manager who was in charge of securing hundreds of pieces of equipment at the last minute ditched a plan that was in place to protect the equipment, all without the knowledge of Executive Director Jim Weinstein….Full STOP.
… “It was a lower-level manager that made the decision on the cars … where they were placed,” the governor told The Record’s editorial board on Thursday. “It was not vetted up the chain as it was supposed to be vetted up the chain.
You got that?
Even though, in the immediate aftermath of the storm in 2012, NJTransit head Jim Weinstein was defending the Hoboken and Kearny sites, suddenly, in 2013 they were disowning that decision!!! It turns out, NJTransit did have higher and drier locations than Hoboken and Kearny. Problem is, to those of us with discerning eyes, their initial behavior indicated that Governor Christie and Jim Weinstein actually had no clue even as late as December 2012 that that was the case. Do you think they read that climate report? Do you think anybody at NJTransit did? Of course they didn't. And guess what- we have proof!
Because the next link is an email sent to Weinstein on the evening of Sunday Oct. 28 as Sandy was bearing down. In it there are multiple references to the Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny ("MMC") and the Hoboken yards ("Hobt"): NJT email informing Weinstein of train movements including to MMC and Hobt
III: Chris Christie the Liar
But wait, it gets better (or worse, if you’re Christie, because he just couldn't stop himself.) Nope, not content to let this be an everyday ordinary under-the-bus-throwing, the governor decided to double up on the lies and told reporters that the unnamed employee was a civil servant, and because of civil service rules, could only be demoted:
"Mr. Weinstein handled it internally because he’s a civil service employee, and you can’t just fire the person."Problem is:
However, several officials close to NJ Transit said none of the agency’s employees fall under civil service rules, and that the law that created NJ Transit in 1979 excludes the agency from the civil service system.DUHOH!!!! Is you head spinning yet from all this lying and bullshit? Well if not, get ready, there’s even more:
IV: Chris Christie - Stonewaller of investigations
This past spring and summer, pestered by the relentless pestering of a team of reporters from The_Record and WNYC (and BTW, hats off to this team for committing an excellent act of journalism), NJTransit finally caved and responded to their requests for the official “NJ Transit Rail Operations Hurricane Plan”. Of course, these reporters were simply doing their due diligence and trying to confirm exactly "what" the plan was at the time of the storm. So on May 13 of this year, here's what they got:
Release 1: Totally redacted. Yes, they got a completely 100% blacked out four pages of "plan". And of course there was the standard post 9/11 explanation of "security" and need to withhold "sensitive" information, etc, etc, etc...
But wait! After three days of even more pestering, our intrepid reporters managed to get more of the plan, but it was still missing an important bit of information: where were the trains supposed to be safely stored?. If you click the scribd.com link, you'll see we're almost there!
Not content to stand for the stonewalling, The Record sued for these public records and won, finally receiving them on Friday, August 16th. And now Christie needed to lie to cover up for his and Weinstein's incompetence, because the newspaper's headline story on August 18th now read: NJ Transit didn't follow its own storm plan.
But hey, that was a lot that happened which I just attempted to diary, so let's try and re-cap our sad and soggy saga:
1. Dec. 2012 Post Sandy, NJTransit tells the public that they drowned $120 million worth of equipment/25% of the entire fleet, but only because (according to NJTransit's initial version) instead of getting the 80% chance that that wouldn't happen, uncooperative mother nature gave them the 20% scenario wherein their plan was revealed to be incredibly stupid.
2. Oct. 2013 On second thought no: NJTransit drowned $120 million worth of equipment because even though we actually had a fool proof high and dry plan, some rogue train engineer thought he had a better idea and moved all the trains to Hoboken and Kearny. But please never mind that we initially acted like Hoboken and Kearny was the plan all along and bent over backwards to defend that decision, because then we'd have to admit that we didn't know what the hell the plan really was.
3. Oct. 2013 Christie (all on his own mind you) fantasized that the evil rogue train engineer who drowned $120 million worth of equipment was not only a bad boy for going all rogue and shit, but was an extra bad boy because he was intrinsically flawed: e.g: unions. e.g. union members are incompetent, can't be trusted, and habitually disregard orders. See what a threat to civilization these civil servin' low-level managers can be?
4. May-Aug 2013 Those pesky reporters kept asking to actually see "the plan", even though Weinstein had told them he had executed "the plan", (crummy though it may have been) Reporters didn't believe NJT could be THAT stupid, and it turns out they were right.
5. Aug-Oct 2013 Telling the truth is too easy which is why NJT needed all summer to stall and figure out why they didn't execute the storm plan they had written themselves three months before Sandy. They refused to admit to incompetence on their part.
What is the truth about "the plan"?
My theory? Circulation and digestion of the storm impact report was ongoing, and proposed strategies for protecting the rail assets was most likely still only in the initial stages of planning and review- so that as of Sandy/October 2012 the truth was they really didn't have a better plan than what Jim Weinstein first said was implemented. Why do I think this? Because as so often happens in engineering cultures, development and implementation of new protocols takes time, and more often than not must filter upwards to the top/management levels from the actual designers and engineers in the trenches who are actually crunching numbers and vetting it to make sure it works. As further evidence: the "plan" (which the investigating journalists ultimately received and is dated June 29th 2012), appears to be less of a formal/final thoroughly vetted "plan" and more of an email summary. I especially think this is the case since it is dated so soon after the state of NJ received the climate report, as well as the fact that it looks suspiciously like an email, crudely formatted and bulleted as it is.
My final evidence that the "plan" was half-baked and not ready for prime time? There are no maps, plans, or diagrams. If you take a look at the physical footprint of the mass of NJTtransit equipment in Kearny and Hoboken, you'll be able to appreciate the fact that there are literally miles of trains that will need miles of track elsewhere if they are be stored elsewhere. This is not an insubstantial problem, and I contend, this requires a lot more thought than dashing out a few lines of generic description in an email. But don't take just my word for it: by contrast, as reported by WNYC, the MTA storm plan was five binders, each several inches thick! And so that, I believe is the final lie to this whole story: There never was a plan in place at the time of hurricane Sandy.
So, if past is prologue, Bridegate appears to be yet one more train wreck, in a long line of train wrecks.