GUEST OPINION: NJ Transit Bay Head Substation BAD FOR Our Lungs & Barnegat Bay
Monday, March 29, 2021
BY NEW JERSEY SIERRA CLUB
NJ Transit is moving forward with its Bay Head Yard Substation Replacement Project. The project would replace two aging substations that were damaged in Superstorm Sandy. The proposed substation location would be on the banks of Twilight Lake, an estuary of Barnegat Bay.
“NJ Transit is headed down the wrong track once again. They want to build a new substation with a diesel generation that will be around for another 30 or 40 years. Instead, they should be electrifying the rest of the New Jersey Coast Line from Long Branch to Bay Head to save costs and improve air quality. Investing in dirty diesel infrastructure will pollute the area around the railyard as well as increase air pollution along the train route,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is why NJ Transit is rated one of the worst transportation agencies in the country. Continuing to use diesel trains not only pollutes the air for the people living near the line, but poisons the people riding the train itself.”
The project is part of NJ Transit’s Sandy Resiliency Program, which aims to harden infrastructure against the effects of severe weather. In 2012, the rail yard was flooded and commuter rail service was disrupted for months after the storm. However, the project is proposed for an area on wetlands that are frequently flooded.
“Governor Murphy has said that he wants to reduce greenhouse gases and electrify our transportation system. Now NJ Transit is doing the opposite. This is just like the dirty power plant in the Meadowlands that they were trying to push through. What’s worse is that this project is part of their resiliency programs, but it can’t be resilient if it is built next to a pond in flood-prone wetlands. Building the substation in this location will permanently impact the environment and pollute the bay. This substation will go underwater with the next storm, and rail service will be disrupted just like after Sandy,” said Jeff Tittel. “NJ Transit just wants to cut corners and save costs. They would rather build on the wetland instead of choosing a sustainable location that will be more resilient to future storms.”
The new substation, which is funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), will be protectively encased and elevated above anticipated saltwater storm surges and flooding levels. Redundancy will be provided by a new backup generator and a connection to the public electric grid to reduce service disruptions.
“Instead of building this project, this money could be spent electrifying our transit system like San Francisco and other cities. The New Jersey Coast Line is already electrified from New York to Long Branch. Electrifying the rest of the Coast Line from Long Branch to Bay Head would save money in the long-term and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These trains are 70% cheaper to operate and they last longer than diesel trains. Not only does this project support dirty diesel infrastructure, but it will include diesel generators to power the train station and equipment. NJ Transit could use clean technology like solar-powered generators with battery backup,” said Tittel. “By investing in dirty diesel trains and infrastructure, NJ Transit is speeding us backwards to the 1960s.”
The project would permanently damage 120 square feet of freshwater wetlands and would temporarily disrupt another 213 square feet. Power generated at the substation will be used to operate switches and train signals. The substation will also have a back-up diesel generator.
“NJ Transit’s plan to invest in dirty diesel and build a substation on the wetlands of Barnegat Bay is a one-two punch to our lungs and the environment. This project will threaten a sensitive ecosystem that provides important habitat for threatened species like the Black-crowned Night-Heron and the Bald Eagle. Building the substation in this flood-prone location will mean that it will be damaged and train service will be disrupted after the next storm. This project also puts too much emphasis on diesel trains when NJ Transit needs to be moving us toward 100% renewable by 2050,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Nature is already planning for us with flood after flood. NJ Transit needs to change the location of this project and invest in clean technology to protect our environment, our health, and our future.”