By Erin Delmore
“It’s basic New Jersey common sense i f you’re not able to operate your car, you should not be entrusted with the safety and the lives of thousands of residents of New Jersey each and every day,” said Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti.
Elected officials and commuters are reeling on the heels of a report that a New Jersey Transit engineer with multiple DWIs and an actively suspended drivers’ license is still operating commuter trains.
“Knowing that every single week hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans are on trains, to know that one of them was being conducted by someone who had a shown patter of abuse of substances, that was seen by us as not being worthy to drive car, they should not be worthy of driving a train,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
New Jersey Transit engineer Thomas Broschart lost his drivers’ license for 10 years due to repeated drunken driving charges. And yet he is still legally allowed to operate a train.
New Jersey Transit says its hands are tied due to weak federal regulations. But the senators say that’s not true. They don’t need a new law to take action. They said that existing law is just the floor, not the ceiling.
“We’ve confirmed that while the Federal Railroad Administration sets minimum standards, railroads like New Jersey Transit have the discretion to pass tougher guidelines and set minimum guidelines and set company policies that could prevent these situations from occurring,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
New Jersey’s senators are introducing a measure to create a new federal standard.
“Anyone with a DWI or a suspended driver’s license due to a DWI will be prohibited by federal law from operating a train. The bill is simple because this is a common sense issue,” Menendez said.
“If you have DWIs, you don’t need to be behind the wheel. I don’t even know if trains have wheels, but you don’t need to be driving anything,” said NJ Transit rider Kathy Robertson.
“It makes me question the ethics of the train system a little bit,” said rider Siobhan MacDonah.
“Understand this. We have had disastrous, disastrous loss of life, crashes, injuries that have resulted on rail lines because of the errors of conductors,” Booker said.
While lawmakers said the engineer should be relieved of his position, they didn’t rule out reassigning him.
For its part, NJ Transit told NJTV News it’s working with the Federal Railroad Administration and union partners and welcomes efforts to tighten regulations governing engineers. “We are checking the status of locomotive engineer driver’s licenses on a daily basis. We will also continue to review those records when individual engineers are due for re-certification, and keep in place NJ Transit’s long-standing policy of administering random drug and alcohol tests to all 7,400 safety-sensitive employees.”
“This issue isn’t about any individual. We all recognize that there are a number of people in our community with a substance abuse issue. This issue is about the safety of every man woman and child who rides NJT,” Chiaravalloti said.
Chiaravalloti introduced legislation at the state level — in conjunction with a bill by Senate President Steve Sweeney — to clarify and strengthen the law. Chairavalloti is hoping for a vote by the end of June.