NJ Transit faces FRA fines for injury cover up

NEWARK, N.J. -- NJ Transit failed to alert the Federal Railroad Administration to dozens of accidents and injuries involving its train employees and passengers in 2000, violations that could result in fines as high as $297,000.

The 91 violations, which were uncovered during a review conducted over the past few months, have prompted the FRA to take the unusually harsh step of ordering an audit for all of NJ Transit's safety records for the next three years, said FRA spokesman Mike Purviance.

BLE Internaitonal President Edward Dubroski said the NJ Transit case exposes a trend that is common throughout the rail industry.

"This is most unfortunate news," said President Dubroski. "We also have learned, as a result of the suit to stop genetic testing on the BNSF, that there may be systematic non-reporting of occupational injuries by a number of major U.S. railroads. We urge the FRA to do everything possible to uncover under-reporting of injuries and impose appropriate penalties against violators of federal regulations."

NJ Transit officials issued a two-page statement on the report.

"NJ Transit accepts the results of the report issued by the Federal Railroad Administration and we will fully comply with their recommendations regarding our record-keeping procedures," said the statement. "In fact, NJ Transit has already implemented changes to improve our administrative systems."

"Safety has always been and will continue to be the number one priority at NJ transit," the statement continued.

BLE officers and members, who cooperated with FRA investigators, said the audit's findings exposed NJ Transit's practice of not reporting injuries in order to protect its safety statistics and win national awards.

"The guys with the sharpened pencils win those awards," said Bob Vallochi, BLE General Chairman for NJ Transit. "They're all bogus."

NJ Transit spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett said the agency still would win national safety awards for last year even with the additional injuries and incidents reported.

The auditors determined that NJ Transit was more than just lax in its record-keeping, finding that 28 of the 91 violations were for deliberately not reporting injuries or incidents.

On March 8, the FRA presented NJ Transit with its findings of "significant noncompliance" with regulations for keeping and filing safety records. The violations included:

  • 40 cases of not recording accidents or incidents involving rail equipment.
  • 23 violations for willfully not reporting on-duty employee injuries.
  • 14 cases of not reporting passenger injuries.
  • Seven cases of not recording accidents that involved human error.
  • Three violations for willfully not reporting off-duty employee injuries.
  • Two cases of willfully not recording injuries in an incident record.
  • One case of not submitting a late report.
  • One case of not reporting an accident.

Previous audits of NJ Transit's safety records resulted in 32 violations each in June 1997 and August 1999, said Purviance. He could not ascertain whether any fines were issued in those cases.

The auditors' recommendation yesterday for $297,000 in fines against NJ Transit will be reviewed by the FRA's chief counsel's office before the penalties are levied, Purviance said.

Vallochi said he has complained to NJ Transit administrators for years about inaccurate injury records.

"You know what they do, they pay guys to stay home and they put them on what they call 'light duty,' this way they don't have to report the injury," said Vallochi.

 

(The Newark-New Jersey Star-Ledger contribued to this report.)

 

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March 12, 2001
bentley@ble.org

 

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers