Why are the executives at New Jersey Transit still employed? And from there, extrapolate a bit

Who knew?

Who knew?


$400 million in damage after executives park trains in flood zone.

New Jersey Transit – which has faced criticism for storing trains in flood-prone areas during Sandy – suffered $400 million in storm-related damages, including $100 million in rolling stock, the executive director testified today.

The staggering losses include heavily damaged dual-powered locomotive engines – which were brand new – and dozens of multi-level rail cars that need repairs, NJ Transit head James Weinstein said at a US Senate commerce sub-committee hearing on the storm’s impact.

Weinstein, however, defended the agency’s decision to place trains in Hoboken and Kearney, two flood-prone areas that were completely inundated in the storm of the century.

“Based on the information that we had … there was a likelihood in the 80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would happen there,” he said. “And that combined with the history that the Meadowlands [Kearney] … has never flooded in the history of our railroad led us to conclude that that was the appropriate place to put the equipment.”

“Obviously we’re informed by this storm and we’ll make adjustments in the future,” he said.

US Senator Frank Lautenberg – who chaired the sub-committee – said that it seemed the agency did the best it could.

“It doesn’t sound like there were other choices,” he said.

Would you risk $400 million on 5-to-1 odds, with no up side? Only if it were other people’s money.

And this is all complete bullshit, of course – the management was warned way ahead of the storm not to do what they did and they did it anyway.. Reuters, Nov. 17th:

The Garden State’s commuter railway parked critical equipment – including much of its newest and most expensive stock – at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy’s expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.

Among the damaged equipment: nine dual-powered locomotive engines and 84 multi-level rail cars purchased over the past six years at a cost of about $385 million.

“If there’s a predicted 13-foot or 10-foot storm surge, you don’t leave your equipment in a low-lying area,” said David Schanoes, a railroad consultant and former deputy chief of field operations for Metro North Railroad, a sister railway serving New York State. “It’s just basic railroading. You don’t leave your equipment where it can be damaged.”

My father used to delight in recounting the story of the operators of the Long Island Railroad who, after three winters without snow, decided that it would never snow again and sold off all of the railroad’s track clearing equipment. The following winter a blizzard hit, of course, and the island was paralyzed for weeks until the sun cleared the tracks for them.

Anyone who works for the government is free to engage in this sort of idiocy, and there are no repercussions. Just this past June, the Army wrote off $7 billion of camouflage uniforms it has researched, designed and deployed over the decade, only to discover – duh – it didn’t work.

After eight years and billions of dollars, the Army has given up on an ambitious effort to clothe its soldiers in a “universal camouflage pattern.” The grey uniform, widely issued and widely loathed, was supposed to blend in equally well in all environments, from desert sand to green forest to city streets. It just didn’t. Now the Army’s going back to the old, obvious approach of having different designs for different places.

So here’s the trillion-dollar question: why does anyone think that a government agency can improve on a service or product currently provided by private enterprise? Not just match that level – private enterprise can screw things up too – but actually do better, because after all, ObamaKare is premised on the belief that private health care isn’t working, so merely expanding that failure is no solution at all.  Railroads, public education, national defense, airline security, the Connecticut DMV – which of these provide an example of the government’s capability of delivering goods and services efficiently and well?


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13 responses to “Why are the executives at New Jersey Transit still employed? And from there, extrapolate a bit

  1. Dollar Bill

    Anyone who’s struggled with claims reimbursement from our bloated private health insurance behemoths — and that’s a lot of us — knows that a trip to the Norwalk DMV is a walk in the park. I’d take the DMV any day over the arrogant, blundering corpocracy at UHC, Aetna, BCBS.

  2. JRH

    I wouldn’t hold up the Norwalk DMV as a good example of how to run anything, but I also wouldn’t say it shows some unique inability of government to provide services well. A simple proposition to disprove: all you have to do is head down the street to Norwalk’s outpost of Cablevision.

    Also, this: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0501.longman.html

    • JRH, I had to replace a lost title and register a new car this summer. To get the proper form to request a replacement rite, I drove 20 minutes to Norwalk and stood in line for 90 minutes, even though I knew exactly the form I needed (no, these forms are not available on line, although you can request a form on line and they will mail you a hard copy “within 10 business days”). Forms used to be available in bins by the entrance so that customers could help themselves, but an accountant figured out that some people were taking more than one, so they were moved behind the protective wall of DMV clerks.
      After being dispensed one form, I drove 20 minutes back home, completed the form, drove to a Notary and, the next day, drove 20 minutes back to Norwalk, waited in line 1:45 to hand in the form and its required fee. Then drove home again, another 20 minutes.
      Why aren’t these forms available on line? Why can’t they be downloaded or better yet, filled in on line? Why is the service desk staffed by just three employees, at least one of whom is absent on a coffee or bathroom break, when there are six staffing slots, with computers, available? Lack of funds. Why are the people behind that desk sullen, contemptuous and unhelpful? political patronage – local politicians get to distribute these jobs to supporters and their family members – they can’t be fired by anyone, and that sense of job security is reflected in their attitude and treatment of their customers.
      Suppose we had two or three private companies licensing drivers and registering vehicles, all competing with each other. Do you think they’d make customers wait 90 minutes to ask a question? Refuse to move paperwork online and thus cut down on waiting time? Of curse not.
      You say Cablevision is worse – in my experience, that is not true.

      BTW – the article you link to was from 2005 and discussed how George Bush had turned around the horrible conditions of VA hospitals. The article lauds Bush for reversing a decades old problem, and it’s nice of any media outlet to find something that they can acknowledge Bush did right (Clinton was president during the previous decade of neglect, but never mind), but the improvements were short lived. By 2011, the VA was once again explaining away their dismal performance and fifty hospitals and vowing to do better.
      Looks like the best hope for all of us is to die before you guys bring DMV and VA standards to our hospitals.

      • JRH

        Well, as I said, “I wouldn’t hold up the Norwalk DMV as a good example of how to run anything,” so I’m not sure what you’re trying to get me to see. Of course you’re right that all of their forms should be available online, as the registration form currently is. Wouldn’t be a bad piece of legislation for our local delegation to offer. Didn’t suggest Cablevision was worse, of course, just that I don’t buy the argument that because the DMV is frustratingly inefficient, that’s all you have to do to prove the proposition that government is uniquely bad at providing efficient service. The VA health service — and despite what you seem to think about Obamacare, only the VA health service is anything like an American analogue to the British NHS, where doctors are public employees — routinely bests private insurers and Medicare in terms of patient satisfaction:

        Veterans who recently used VA services and were interviewed for the 2005 ACSI survey gave the VA’s inpatient care a rating of 83 on a 100-point scale — compared to a 73 rating for the private-sector health care industry. Veterans gave the VA a rating of 80 for outpatient care, five percentage points higher than the 75 rating for private-sector outpatient care and 9 percent higher than the average satisfaction rating for all federal services.

        • 2205 represented a brief blip in the sordid history of VA health care, a blip that has already disappeared. It’s possible that what worked, however briefly, to reform the VA can work again and be scaled to provide a high level of care to 330 million Americans. I don’t share your trust in the government’s ability to do that but obviously, I hope you’re right – this is one case where we all have skin in the game, and you guys are running the game.

        • JRH

          I don’t think it’s right that 2005 was a blip; you’re right that the VA’s past is not something it should be proud of, but it’s recent management — illustrated in the article I linked to — is that it runs very well. Yes, those changes started during the Bush Administration, and I’m happy to give credit where due. Note, though, that these were not the kinds of changes conservatives usually call for, i.e., the administration did not make the VA more like a private sector health provider, but rather figured out what advantages it had as a centrally run system and used those to find efficiencies: For e.g., the VA has actually pioneered the use of electronic medical records and been way out in front of the private health sector on this front, see, e.g., this. And your WSJ story isn’t as you describe it: first of all, it doesn’t at all compare the VA to private sector providers; rather, it emphasizes that the very fact that the VA is a large centrally run network is what is enabling it to collect data and make appropriate changes. If you compared the VA’s readmission rates and hospital death rates with the private sector, I do not think you’d find much in the private sector’s favor. (Not coincidentally, this explains the private hospital industry’s biggest gripe with Obamacare: by changing Medicare to actually reduce payments to hospitals that can’t lower readmit rates and accidental injury, etc., they are messing with the old model, which was the public will foot the bill for whatever service you decide to provide. This is death panels, apparently.)

  3. AJ

    The trains were sacrificed to Global Warming, now know as Climate Change, Gods, who need victims for there to be the ‘lamentations of the women’, hence they were tied to the altar of the lowlands.

    There will be no room for differing opinions.

  4. Al Dente

    $ Bill is full of Linguine Crapola. I wonder why he deals with so many health insurance companies – sounds like a hypochondriac dipsomaniac maniac. I am going through a major hospitalization & follow-up with my son and Blue Cross is handling it just fine. Every bill gets processed, I receive timely Explanation of Benefit forms, and they are pleasant and efficient on the phone. Bill is an agent provocateur and a liar-liar-pants-on-fire.

  5. The Mickster

    I’m stunned that people are surprised by this and other examples of government stupidity.

    Let’s face it, the staff at these and other municipal organizations weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs at school or anywhere else. Most HS kids don’t aspire to be ‘civil servants’ or railroad or municipal workers and the managements there are usually those who have the political clout to advance – people in the private sector don’t move into the public arena.

    Most of these jobs could be eliminated by websites where you can complete and submit your info online with a payment.

    Caveat: I have come across some bright articulate people with superior customer service skills at DMV and other spots over the years, but the vast majority make me wonder what school gave them a diploma.

    I believe most US bachelor degrees are so devalued now as to be worthless in general. Many state and federal agencies are now accepting online bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees for advancement, raises etc etc despite their own studies that a lot of these are worthless.

    The thought of having to deal with this caliber of individual for my healthcare in my later years just fills me with dread. I’ll learn Spanish and move south..

  6. Cos Cobber

    The Mickster, I suspect the MTA is uninsurable in the view of the insurance companies – risks are too high and the agency too large.

  7. AJ

    Seems to me that someone with a silk screen to print fabric, a sewing machine to turn it into clothing, and a digital still camera and video camera for demonstrating the results of testing in targeted environments could have done a very thorough study for a hundred to two hundred thousand dollars, and maybe if he was hungry, for a lot less.

    And is it even possible to camouflage for infrared? I don’t think so, except for Arnold in Predator one with his cold, wet mud.