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Hoboken waiting room reopens; closed since Dec. 19

HOBOKEN, N.J. (AP) -- The majestic waiting room at the Hoboken train station reopened Monday, more than five weeks since its closure due to concerns about mold caused by flooding spawned by Superstorm Sandy.

NJ Transit had closed the room Dec. 19 after specialists detected the presence of mold. The room, not to mention the rest of the massive low-lying terminal next to the Hudson River, was inundated with several feet of water from Sandy at the end of October.

The wood fixtures and benches remained covered with plastic Monday, and require further cleaning and refinishing. But the waiting room has a temporary heating source and seating, albeit sparse.

"We felt that our passengers' safety is more important than opening it quickly," said NJ Transit executive director James Weinstein, who walked through the station handing out coupons for free coffee Monday during the early evening commute.

NJ Transit's rolling stock, terminals, tracks, signals and other infrastructure suffered $400 million in damage from the storm, according to the agency's estimates. Weinstein has told lawmakers that $800 million more would be needed to safeguard the system against future flooding.

Some of the damages will be covered by insurance, particularly the damage to the rail cars and locomotives, an NJ Transit spokesman said. The agency is looking to FEMA to cover the rest.

As commuters hurried through the station Monday, many seemed not to notice that the waiting room was open. Others rushed through from the ferry to connecting trains and looked around briefly.

One woman noticed Weinstein and some television cameras and asked someone what was happening. When told, her mood brightened.

"Hallelujah!" she said.

About 94 percent of NJ Transit's service is back to pre-Sandy levels, though the Hoboken station won't have full electric power back until March.