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NJ TRANSIT Approves $17 Million To Continue Post-Sandy Repairs

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- NJ TRANSIT on Wednesday approved $17 million in contracts for companies that are already involved in post-Superstorm Sandy repair work.

The move that will allow work to continue, as the agency awaits word on how much it will receive from the federal government for long-term flood prevention projects.

The agency's board approved the additional funding at its monthly board meeting.

The $17 million will go to engineering and consulting companies that have been involved in repairing hundreds of damaged rail cars and locomotives and the flooded Hoboken Terminal and Meadows Maintenance Complex yard in Kearny.

This week, NJ TRANSIT was approved by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to apply for $1.275 billion in grants from the federal government for flood prevention and mitigation projects. The authority is a federally authorized organization that must approve transportation improvement projects in northern New Jersey that seek federal funds.

Several engineering and consulting companies have been involved in projects that include repairing electrical wiring poles on the Gladstone Branch of the Morris & Essex Line; work at the Hoboken Terminal and the Meadow Maintenance Complex, both of which sustained historic flooding in the late October storm, and repairing waterlogged rail cars and locomotives.

The federal money NJ TRANSIT is seeking would continue that work and fund other projects. About $565 million would be used to safeguard NJ Transit's rolling stock and rail yards by building, buying or leasing temporary and permanent rail yard locations for use as emergency storage and inspection facilities and protecting existing yards system-wide against flooding.

NJ TRANSIT was sharply criticized for failing to move its cars out of yards in Hoboken and Kearny before Sandy. The Kearny rail yard is located where the Passaic and Hackensack rivers feed into Newark Bay. The site at its peak is not even 20 feet above sea level.

Nearly a third of NJ TRANSIT's locomotives and a quarter of its rail passenger cars suffered storm damage.

In total, 62 locomotives, and 261 rail cars, stored in the Meadows complex and in Hoboken during Sandy were water-damaged and out of commission.

"They should have had some contingency -- 'If it were flooded, where we would get other rail cars?'" Robert "Buzz" Paaswell, director of the City College of New York-based University Transportation Research Center and a former executive director of the Chicago Transit Authority, told CBS 2 in November.

Paaswell, who called NJ TRANSIT a very well-run system, said the impact of the damage to the agency's rolling stock and the operations of the railroad may be serious.

"There isn't a rail car store that you go to," he said in November. "They're all specified for the system, so to replace them would take a certain amount of time."

As of Wednesday – nearly five months after the storm -- 200 train cars were still are awaiting repair, according to information on the NJ TRANSIT Web site.

Other proposed projects include $150 million for flood control at the Hoboken, Secaucus Junction and Bay Head stations and nearly $200 million for measures to protect electrical substations, build a sea wall and other structures to protect bridges damaged by Sandy and replace or safeguard electrical poles and signals.

NJ TRANSIT executive director James Weinstein called them ``hardcore infrastructure projects,'' some of which may have been contemplated previously but became necessities after Sandy.

``What we're trying to do is make sure the structural integrity of infrastructure doesn't get undermined,'' he said.

NJ TRANSIT assistant executive director of capital planning and programs Steve Santoro said the electrical substation that serves the Hoboken Terminal and that was only restored this week could cost $20 million to $25 million to rebuild to new flood-prevention specifications. He said smaller substations could cost $5 million to $10 million.

As much as $300 million of the estimated $450 million in damage system-wide to NJ TRANSIT could eventually be covered by insurance, Weinstein said Wednesday.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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