In Washington, transportation chiefs talk of rebuilding, not replacing

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The heads of the New York region's four main transportation agencies made their way to Washington this morning to press Congress for federal money not just to restore the area's ailing transporation systems, but to redesign them to stand up to future storms.

"You can't replace exactly what has been damaged, but even if you could, you wouldn't want to," said Senator Chuck Schumer, who testified alongside Kirsten Gillibrand and Robert Menendez before the transportation commissioners.

M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota detailed the extensive damage to the city's subway system, saying the recovery had used 80 percent of the agency's inventory, "nearly exhausting almost all of our replacement supplies" and shortening the life of many others.

"After marinating for weeks, the useful life of many of our signals, switches and relays has depleted exponentially," he said.

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"Over and above that, it's critical we make the critical investments we need to protect our system from future storms. As President Obama has said, we must act and we must rebuild."

Officials from across the region have stepped up their lobbying efforts, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo visiting Washington earlier this week and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the Capitol today, to press the case for a long-term investment in the region's infrastructure.

Lhota was joined on the panel by Joseph Boardman, the C.E.O. of Amtrak; Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority; and James Weinstein, the head of New Jersey Transit. The subcommittee hearing was chaired by New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg, who noted that he previously served as executive commissioner of the Port Authority, and was also attended by ranking Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who said he wanted "to particularly assure those in this room, that you have my condelences and my empathy."

The transit commissioners struck a similar chord in each of their remarks.

"It's time to repair, rebuild and invest," said Boardman, who added that the decision to invest in pumps and other emergency infrastructure after 9/11 had accelerated Amtrak's ability to restore service after Hurricane Sandy.

"If they hadn't been there, senator, we would be talking not just days but we'd be talking weeks before we returned service to New York City," he said.

Weinstein noted that "every one of New Jersey Transit's 12 rail lines was damaged," in asking for $400 million dollars to cover the costs of the storms, but said it would take an $800 million investment to make the system "resilient and redundant in the face" of future storms.

Lautenberg pressed Weinstein on one noted failure of his agency: the decision to leave dozens of rail cars in low-lying areas that eventually flooded.

Weinstein defended the decision, saying at the time they made it, weather reports indicated that there was a "likelihood in the 80 to 90 percent range that no flooding would occur there." He said the system was trying to learn from a mistake during Hurricane Irene, when they stored cars at a railyard in Pennsylvania that became disconnected from the rest of the system by flooding.

"We can't just rebuild what was there," Weinstein said later. "It would be foolish to do so in my opinion."

Lhota, in particular, called for a comprehensive analysis between the three states and the private sector.

"We will find a way to fix this, we will find a way to get back to where we were the day before the storm," he said. "But what's really important is we all come together and try to figure out when this happens again, we don't have all this damage and we allow our economies to operate immediately after the storm."