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Under New Leadership, NJTransit to Address Super Bowl and Sandy Debacles at Legislative Hearing

Monday Morning's Hearing Will Address Questionable Decisions That Left The First "Mass Transit Super Bowl" Mired in Delays and Equipment Failures
NJTransit New Brunswick Station
NJTransit's handling of the Super Bowl and Hurricane Sandy have been heavily criticized. Charlie Kratovil

TRENTON, NJ--Delays and mishaps, even before the last month's first-ever New Jersey Super Bowl, have called into question whether NJ Transit (NJT) was truly ready to handle an event of such epic proportions.

Now, a legislative committee in Trenton will be investigating this and other perceived failure's of the state's mass transit system over the past several years.

The rail and bus service provider tried to prepare months in advance for Super Bowl 48, with such extra accomodations as midday service and the sale of a special week-long ticket called a"Super Pass."  The agency also ordered several trains to run a nonstop shuttle between Secaucus and Penn Station in Manhattan.

But still the results on gameday were largely considered a failure as attendees were forced to stand and wait in large crowds as the agency struggled to keep up with the amount of riders looking for a way home.

The high-profile controversy put a damper on the historic event and prompted the legislative hearings.

But it was not the first time NJT had been criticized for its handling of a historic New Jersey event.

Last year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, NJTransit came under heavy criticism for moving a quarter of the agency's fleet of trains to floodprone areas in Northern New Jersey.

The decision resulted more than $120 million in damage, according to WNYC.

Governor Chris Christie refused to blame the agency's Executive Director James Weinstein for the damage, instead placing the blame on an unspecified lower level employee.

But after the Super Bowl fiasco, Christie appears to have cleaned house at the agency, forcing out many top officials who likely would have testified at the hearing.

Originally scheduled for February 24, the legislative hearings were p0stponed after Christie announced Weinstein's resignation as NJT Executive Director last month.

Christie replaced Weinstein with Veronique Hakim, who had previously served as head of the NJ Turnpike Authority.  Hakim took over the powerful, cabinet-level position on March 1. 

And now she will have to explain both of the recent debacles in Monday's Assembly Transportation Committee hearing, which will be broadcast live on the internet beginning at 10am.

The Assembly Transporation committee is the same group that helped spark an investigation into the Christie administration's stunning effort to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee, near the foot of the George Washington Bridge.

That scandal has already cost two Port Authority employees and one of the Governor's staffers their jobs.

But now the committee will tackle the issue of transportation during Super Bowl 48, where crowds swelled and frustrations raged in response to long wait times on the Meadowlands train line.  The newest route on NJT's rail system, the line opened along with the construction of New Giants Stadium in 2009.

The transit agency reckoned that there would be between 12,000 and 15,000 fans coming into the stadium on the train line, some 50,000 by bus, and around 30,000 by private vehicle.

However, more than 27,000 fans came by train, widely exceeding the NJT's expectations and capacity.

Passengers, many dressed in anticipation of cold weather, complained of "sauna-like heat" in the lines at Secaucus Junction., a station where a bottleneck of riders needed to switch trains to locations along the Northeast Corridor including Manhattan.

Secaucus Junction quickly became overcrowded, an interesting fact in and of itself, given its size of 321,000 square feet and its average weekday ridership of 23,440.

Typical crowds at Secaucus and the Meadowlands train stations had been around 10,000 passengers for football games and as many as 22,000 for concerts.

NJT factored this into their calculations when deciding to extend the Secaucus Junction platforms in anticipation for the Super Bowl.

The station was deluged with 27,000 to 28,000 gameday riders, a record for one event, but it might have handled this crowd more easily had it not been for the National Football League's many security checkpoints, where people had to show their passes and their bags.

The three platforms at the Meadowlands station could already hold ten-car trains. The Secaucus platforms could only hold eight-car trains until they were extended lat year.

NJT's multi-level cars can hold between 127 to 142 passengers each, so a ten-car train would be able to hold at least 1,270 fans.

Given those numbers, New Jersey Transit would have needed at least 21 trains to handle its 27,000 customers. The Meadowlands station is capable of handling at least one train every ten minutes. 

At that rate, it would have taken over three hours to handle all 27,000 fans leaving the Meadowlands by train.

The game ended around 10:00 PM, although the trophy ceremony went much later into the night.  NJT provided seven trains from the Meadowlands before the approximate end of the game, and eighteen trains afterwards.

The agency did have a contingency plan, however, but it was not implemented.

NJT had been concerned that more fans than anticipated might arrive by bus, so it had 100 buses on standby at Secaucus in case more passengers came into the Meadowlands in a rush than thought.

However, those buses turned out to be more useful after the game than before, and they sat idle while the crowds grew at Secaucus Junction.

And the tumultuous trip home from the big game was just the last in a long line of problems that plagued the NJT railroads during Super Bowl week.

Four days before the big game, smoke was seen coming from a third rail in the East River tunnel, perhaps leading to electical problems.  On top of that, a train broke down in New York Penn Station's railyard.

That evening, a Midtown Direct train got stuck, this time in front of New York Penn Station, at around 6:05 PM.  It took 20 minutes to get that train out of the way.

Earlier that morning, another Midtown Direct train from Dover had broken down near Secaucus Junction, isolating approximately 800 passengers.  Another train towed the stricken train to Hoboken, where the passengers disembarked to seek other modes of transit.

The night before, a NJ Transit train on the Northeast Corridor encountered a broken overhead power line, leading to an unsuccessful attempt to hitch that train to a diesel locomotive and haul it out.

The train was finally rescued by the Long Island Rail Road, whose train pulled the New York-bound NJT train out of its predicament almost four hours after it had gotten stranded.  Fortunately, only 27 passengers were aboard.

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