Ex-official information federal security grievance towards NJ Transit

A former NJ Transit official who testified about the agency’s safety and patronage problems to state lawmakers has filed a federal complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, saying the agency gives lip service to commuter rail safety and tried to punish him for saying so.

Todd C. Barretta, the agency’s former chief compliance officer, who was hired in April 2017 and terminated in August, filed a complaint on January 10.

In the complaint, Barretta blasted the agency for paying lip service to federal safety rules and said officials were punishing him for raising safety concerns.

“On paper, NJ Transit says safety is its first priority, but in reality I found a profoundly unsafe public agency culture where managers where allowed to give lip service to federal rail safety rules and regulations,” Barretta wrote to OSHA.

NJ Transit officials “deny every allegation in his complaint,” said Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman. She also cited numerous safety improvements made such as stepped-up testing of crews for sleep disorders, installing cameras on trains that record events, installing devices on tracks to reduce derailments. Speed limits have been lowered at three terminals and new safety jobs have been budgeted for, she said.

Barretta asked OSHA to levy “the maximum amount of punitive damages to send an unmistakable message to NJT that its unsafe culture of retaliation against employees who report safety hazards or rule violations must end.”

After his late August testimony to a state legislative committee, NJ Transit sued Barretta in September, contending he was fired for misusing a company car, not returning a company laptop and failing at his job. The agency’s suit contends he set out on a campaign to malign and damage NJ Transit. Barretta denied the allegations.

The complaint to OSHA charged NJ Transit’s suit was a “strategic lawsuit” designed to silence a critic. Barretta said that violates the Federal Railroad Safety act, which bars railroads from punishing employees who refuse to violate Federal Railroad Administration rules. He cited the high number of safety violations and fines levied by the FRA as examples.

In his complaint, Barretta said he briefed NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro that he believed NJ Transit would miss a December 2018 federal deadline for installing PTC and said he seemed “unfazed and did not share my sense of alarm.”

Barretta alleged that a deadly Sept. 29, 2016 train crash into Hoboken terminal that killed a pedestrian and injured 108 others could have been prevented by installing PTC and that the agency will miss a federal deadline to install it. NJ Transit officials contend they will meet a the December 2018 deadline. 

Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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