Despite Sandy, Stevens Alumnus on Track with PATH Career

4/25/2013

Imagine landing your dream job promotion in transportation, a job where your main objective is to keep the trains operating, trains that take approximately 259,000 people a day to their jobs. It’s an enormous responsibility. Now imagine getting the promotion just days before a major storm is predicted to make landfall.

That’s what happened to Pete Harris ’88, who was promoted to assistant superintendent for the PATH Car Equipment Division less than a week before Superstorm Sandy hit.

Harris has spent 14 years at the Port Authority, previously working as a supervisor for technical services for PATH cars, the “engineering part ,’’ he says. Now, as assistant superintendent, he is responsible for the technical services, and the inspection, repair and overhaul of all PATH cars in the fleet, 350 revenue cars a day during normal operating procedures. His new job encompasses more managerial skills, as he is handling personnel issues, and he helps lead a team of 218 people in the PATH Car Equipment division.

“I enjoy the work, it’s definitely a new world for me,’’ he says.

But this new world had some unique challenges, mostly due to timing. Harris was told of his promotion days before Oct. 29, the day Sandy struck. That October morning, he went to work at 7 a.m. and anticipated some damage, but held out hope it would not be too severe.

“We got lucky with past storms,’’ he says. But this time, no one was crying wolf and the damage to PATH cars and tracks was extensive due to flooding. Harris worked around the clock during the storm and 12-to-16 hour days during the first week after Sandy struck, driving home in the dark on most nights and arranging for cots and food to be delivered to his crew in Harrison, who were also working round the clock to get the transit system up and running.  

His task that first week was simple: get rid of the flooding in the PATH Car Equipment’s Harrison site, look for signs of damage, clean it up, and get the site functioning again.

“Water needed to be pumped out, we had to assess the damage, and get any equipment to Harrison to get the trains up and running,’’ he says. “I needed to find out what was ready to go. Salt water is incredibly corrosive to electrical equipment.’’

He praises the crew at the Port Authority for working quickly and diligently to get the fleet ready for the job of moving hundreds of thousands of people daily. “It was an all-hands-on-deck type of atmosphere. Job titles didn’t mean much in that first week,” he says.

Harris always knew engineering was the field for him and he feels gratified in his work. “I like creating something. Every day I am responsible for getting 295 cars (which is down from the normal 350 daily) ready for service. That’s every day. It’s not like I work in a field where I have six months to get a project done,’’ he says, adding that his job creates the channel for the workforce in New York and New Jersey to flow. He credits his Stevens education with instilling a good work ethic.

“A lot is expected of you at Stevens,’’ he says. “They set the bar very high and I learned that if I work at it, I can achieve anything.’’ 

Read more about Stevens and Sandy at /news/sandy.

Photo Credit: Port Authority of New York & New Jersey