In a move that may set a precedent for future winter storms, NJ Transit shut down of its rail, bus, and light rail services early Saturday morning in anticipation of Winter Storm Jonas.

According to their website, NJ Transit rail service should “resume when conditions permit and when mandatory federal inspections can be completed.” As of 12 PM no timeline for this has been released. However in past years NJ Transit had indicated that “it takes at least 12 hours to restore rail service once it has been suspended,” pegging reopening at 2 PM at the earliest.

Prudent or a Dangerous Decision?

Shutting down has some obvious benefits. It reduces the chances of a train being stranded if the storm causes some part of the railroad’s infrastructure to fail. Downed trees can knock down the overhead wires that power trains on NJ Transit lines. Power failures may shut off the signal system, forcing trains to limp along at heavily restricted speeds. Downed trees can block the railroad. And the condition of the roads can make it unsafe for train crew members to drive to their sign-on points as they normally would (though having crews come in prior to the storm and sleep at major terminals such as Hoboken can mitigate this last risk).

However there are also some major problems. As noted above, heavy inspections are required to resume service after it has been shut down. And the absence of rail service eliminates what is often the safest travel available during extreme winter weather.

A Recent Trend

This marks the third time NJ Transit has suspended rail service ahead of a winter storm since 2013, and the second time that shut down was system-wide.

In February of that year service on the tree-heavy Morristown, Gladstone, and Montclair-Boonton lines was halted for about 24 hours based on the havoc Hurricane Sandy’s winds had wreaked on their overhead wire systems the previous October. Last January all rail lines were shut down for half a day for Winter Storm Juno, which largely went north of the New York metro area.

It wasn’t always this way. Between 2001 and 2013 NJ Transit rail ran either a full or reduced schedule through every winter storm, according to their press release archive. And in marked contrast to the Metro North and the Long Island Railroad across the Hudson, NJ Transit ran throughout the famous Blizzard of ’96.

Other Local Transit: A [Wintry] Mixed Reaction

Several other northeastern public transit agencies also chose to shut down before Jonas hit. WMATA in the Washington DC area and the Maryland Transit Administration both halted all services. In Philadelphia SEPTA suspended nearly all rail service, running only its two Subway lines through the storm.

However NJ Transit’s nearest neighbor, New York’s MTA, chose to remain open. While bus service in the city will halt at noon, the New York Subway, Long Island Railroad, and Metro North Railroad all continue to operate [Update: Metro North and the LIRR both shut down at 4:00, after running throughout the day, while the subway halted above-ground service at the same time]. It is noteworthy that all three MTA systems’ third rail powered trains are particularly vulnerable to heavy snowfall in their above-ground portions – a problem NJ Transit does not share. Amtrak, which owns the Northeast Corridor route that many NJ Transit trains use for part of their trips, has also chosen to continue to run a limited schedule.

Note: an earlier version of this article indicated that NJ Transit had run a nearly full schedule during the Blizzard of '96. The system was actually on a significantly reduced schedule, though they continued to run throughout the event. The article has been updated to reflect this.