NJ Transit a safety nightmare? Fired officer files whistleblower complaint
TRENTON — A compliance officer fired by NJ Transit says there are "dozens" of safety violations that still exist months after he was dismissed.
Former chief compliance officer Todd Barretta, who testified before a legislative hearing last summer that NJ Transit is "one giant runaway train," told New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea Monday that over the last week, he filed a whistleblower complaint under the Federal Railroad Safety Act with the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA.
During the legislative hearing, NJT executive director Steven Santoro dismissed the criticism and said Barretta had been suspended a month earlier for “significant misuse” of his agency-assigned vehicle, then ultimately terminated after just six months on the job. His termination letter said he lost his job because he didn’t turn in an agency laptop as requested – though Barretta has a records receipt showing it had been turned in.
Barretta told Spadea he was "saddened and angered" by his termination and that many of the issues he raised have proven to be true.
He said NJT was a “constant culture of non-compliance." He said he was supposed to improve the culture and make the system better and safer for commuters by making sure all state and rules and regulations are followed. "We don't do that," Barretta said.
He said there were “dozens” of safety violations when he worked at NJ Transit that e believes continue to exist, based on his continued contact with current employees.
“I still hear things that would shock the conscious of the commuter that’s getting on that train every day," Baretta told Spadea.
Barretta said that sleep apnea, which plagued the engineer operating a train in a fatal October, 2016 Hoboken crash, is a real problem — it's one NJ Transit has been testing its engineers for. But he said that's no excuse for not taking another major, Congressionally mandatred safety step that might have prevented the crash — implementing positive train control, which
NJ Transit will be fined $12,000 for failing to meet benchmarks to install the collision-avoidance system. Barretta said sleep apnea was "scapegoated" for the crash.
Barretta told Spadea his hope is to to be reinstated following an investigation and resolution of his complaint.
Spadea spoke with Barretta separately for the Fox 5 program Chasing News, which Spadea hosts. In a statement issued to Spadea's producer on that show, NJ Transit "categorically denied" Barretta's allegations.
According to a Gannett report, NJ Transit sued Barretta last fall, seeking a declaration he wasn't shielded by the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which protects whistleblowers. He had claimed in his own complaint he wasn't served with notice of the suit for months.
"Furthermore, Mr. Barretta’s contention that he was not served for months was not the result of delay on our part. Mr. Barretta actively evaded service until we were forced to serve him via mail," NJ Transit wrote.
The agency also said it has made several safety improvements, including removing employees who show signs of sleep apnea from duty, upgrading stub-end tracks with bumper blocks, implementign measures to control train speeds and installing advanced track switches.
NJ Transit said it "continues to have every expectation that we will meet the federal implementation deadline," for positive train control.
"This important safety technology remains a priority and we work every day to keep it moving forward," it said.