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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
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Rail Unions Fight New Jersey Measures on DUIs

Two unions brought a federal complaint to nullify a New Jersey law that benches train engineers who have lost their driver’s licenses.

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Two railroad unions sued Gov. Chris Christie and New Jersey Transit over a new state law that can take away train engineers’ certifications if their motor vehicle driver’s license is suspended.

Filing the complaint on Jan. 9 with a federal judge in Trenton, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division say the Rail Safety Act of 1970 already regulates engineers who have lost their driver’s licenses.

The federal Rail Safety Act grants federal authorities the ability to decertify any train engineer whose driver’s license has been suspended for driving under the influence. Other federal regulations also allow authorities to decertify an engineer whose license was suspended due to refusing to undergo substance abuse testing, the lawsuit states.

Rather than mandating decertification in such cases, however, the Rail Safety Act only “requires consideration” of an engineer’s motor vehicle driving record.

Federal regulations also offer waivers for engineers who lost their licenses after DUIs if they complete rehabilitation programs.

The two unions claim that the Federal Railroad Administration’s certification requirements are sufficient, and that the state law merely adds to red tape.

Dennis Pierce, national president of the engineers union, said in a statement that the 2016 state law “does nothing to make the railroad safer” and “is incompatible with the federal law and is a solution in search of a problem.”

The state law states that any person who has had their driver’s license revoked or suspended would not be able to operate a New Jersey Transit train. Lawmakers proposed the bill after reports surfaced of a NJ Transit engineer who was still operating trains after receiving two tickets for driving while intoxicated.

When Christie signed the state law in August 2016, state lawmakers from both parties roundly supported the measure. New Jersey Senate President also lauded the bill at the time, saying that “if they aren’t allowed to drive a car, they shouldn’t be entrusted with the safety of train passengers.”

Sen. Cory Booker has said he will pursue similar legislation on the federal level to beef up certification.

A number of high-profile train accidents, some due to engineer error, have prompted legislative action on how train engineers are certified. After a train accident in Hoboken in September, it was found that the engineer who crashed the train had an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

Last month the Metro-North engineer blamed for a train derailment in the Bronx that killed four passengers sued his employer for $10 million, claiming Metro-North should have had installed better automatic brakes on trains that exceed the speed limit.

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