Eyewitness News investigation on train engineers with DWIs prompts legislation

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Thursday, May 26, 2016
Investigators' exclusive on train engineer with DWI prompts legislation
Jim Hoffer is live in Trenton with the latest details.

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- With rare speed, the New Jersey Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would ban New Jersey Transit engineer Thomas Broschart and any other engineer who has had his or her driver's license suspended for DUI from operating a train.

The proposed law comes after the Eyewitness News Investigators found that Broschart has been operating commuter trains despite losing his license for 10 years for repeated drunken driving offenses.

Every state senator backed the emergency ban, acting six days after our investigation showed Broschart driving a passenger-filled train, but at the end of the day, needing someone to drive him home.

"We're not going to let someone who has a couple of drunk driving issues and lost license drive a train," said Senate President Steve Sweeney, who pushed the bill. "It's just unacceptable."

NJ Transit refuses to take the engineer off the rails, saying he is certified to operate locomotives according to federal law. But lawmakers took issues with what they call a loophole.

"They are wrong just wrong," Senator Nicholas Sacco said. "I don't care what federal guidelines are. We have to step up like we did today."

The fast-tracked bill skipped its usual slog through various committees and went directly to the senate floor for a vote. Swift passage is also expected in the Assembly.

"This is something we should get to the governor's desk immediately," Sweeney said. "And he should sign it immediately."

He believes the bill is important to make riders feel safe.

"Passengers have to trust in the engineers for their safety when they board the trains to travel in New Jersey," he said. "A suspended driver's license for DUI should be an immediate exclusion for operating passenger trains. If they can't be trusted to get behind the wheel of a car, they shouldn't be at the controls of locomotives carrying thousands of people every day. A DUI conviction is serious and operating a train is a serious responsibility."

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez has also asked his staff to examine the regulations, and Sweeney said he will work with Menendez, Senator Cory Booker and the New Jersey Congressional Delegation to coordinate efforts to close what he termed "a public safety loophole" in both state and federal law.

"The fact that this engineer can step out from behind the controls of a passenger train at the end of the work day and has to be driven home because he's not allowed to operate a motor vehicle is plain absurd," Sweeney said. "We want safety on the rails as well as safety on the roads."

Menendez said our investigation exposed NJ Transit asleep at the switch.

"I've asked my staff in Washington to contact the Federal Railroad Administration to come to understand how is that possible," he said. "And to judge whether we need to change the law."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)