NJ Transit shut down service before the blizzard struck on Saturday, Jan. 23, which meant that the Garden State had essentially no public transportation until service came back over the next three days. Did management make the right decision?

John Bobsin, our Online Editor and former Vice-Chair, says YES:

As the blizzard of Jan. 23 bore down on the Northeast, no one could say it was a surprise: TV weather forecasters had accurately predicted the course of the storm for days. Of course, there was always the element of uncertainty: what if it goes out to sea? With the clock ticking, transit managers faced the usual, unenviable decision: tough it out and keep running, or take the safe course and shut down operations, risking media opprobrium should the storm prove a bust.

 In the event, NJ Transit chose to lead the way, announcing that no service at all would run after close-of-business the night before, Friday, Jan. 22. Other systems waffled, trying to run through the storm, and mostly came to grief as the storm worsened, services had to be canceled at the height of the storm, and thousands of people were left stranded, unable to get home on the same trains and buses they had used Saturday morning. Not so in New Jersey, where everybody stayed home, or set forth in cats at their own risk.

But even if the storm had proved to be minor, did NJT make the right decision? Yes, they did: the risks of operating into a severe storm are just too big, putting the customers into real danger. Sure, it might be possible to keep tracks open and the trains running, but what happens when people are dropped off at suburban stations into the teeth of a blizzard? They find platforms deep in snow, and their cats buried in unplowed parking lots. Their reliable transit system has just catapulted them into a life-threatening situation. Transit operators have to look at more than running their trains and buses, they have to look at the big picture. Fortunately, NJ Transit this time did so.

Coalition Technical Director Jesse Scott Gribin disagrees.

He says:

On the day of the blizzard, New Jersey Transit stranded millions of New Jersey’s residents in their homes with no way to move about the region. No trains into the city. No way to get to work. No way for businesses to open and serve their customers. The effect on the region’s economy of this decision was potentially crippling.

During the blizzard, our state’s State Of The Art ALP-45DP locomotives are designed to be able to go into New York under the wire, or serve as a diesel engine and keep the carriages warm and cozy. At $12 million apiece, these locomotives, ideally suited to surviving all that a blizzard could throw at them, sat idle, as if laughing at the riders for not being able to get anywhere.

NJ Transit has shut down more times during the Christie Administration than in the rest of its history combined. Yes, the blizzard was a significant, even historic, storm. But 50 years ago trains not only set out in storms like this or worse, they generally often still arrived at their destinations on time. Every objection to service that existed on Jan. 23 existed 50 years ago, including uncleared platforms, and the difficulty of crews getting to work. Bunks could have been set up at major terminals to allow the crews to come to work, but they were not.

This is a continued part of the pattern on the part of our government to use “safety” as a blunt beat-all tool for avoiding providing the public services they need and deserve; even as they spend money on tools for them to provide these services