Engineer Files Lawsuit Alleging NJ Transit Ignored Whistleblower Concerns About Safety Hazards on Portal North Bridge

KEARNY, New Jersey – A lawsuit has been filed against NJ Transit by the engineer in charge of the Portal North Bridge project, alleging that the agency ignored his concerns about design defects and safety hazards in the new bridge. Mohammed Nasim, the former chief of construction management at NJ Transit, claims that he repeatedly raised issues regarding track settlement, construction work proximity, and navigation problems in the river. These problems, according to the lawsuit, posed a risk to public safety, potential dangers to passenger trains, and disruptions to the project. Nasim, who previously worked on the Portal Bridge and other Gateway projects at Amtrak, asserts that his warnings were disregarded and he faced retaliation and discrimination.

The $2.3 billion Portal North Bridge is a major project for NJ Transit and is part of the Gateway program’s first phase. The program aims to address various infrastructure needs, including the construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and the rehabilitation of the existing tunnel damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The Portal Bridge, a swing span that is over a century old, has been a frequent cause of delays on the Northeast Corridor and will be replaced by the new bridge. The design of the replacement bridge, completed by Gannett Fleming, HNTB Corp., and Jacobs Engineering, is among the concerns raised by Nasim in the lawsuit.

During his employment at NJ Transit, Nasim claims to have voiced these concerns publicly, as well as in emails and private conversations with his boss, Richard Schaefer. However, Nasim alleges that his warnings were met with dismissal and even derogatory remarks from Schaefer. In October 2023, Nasim was fired by NJ Transit, and at the time, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision. Nasim has named NJ Transit and Schaefer as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that after Nasim raised red flags, Schaefer started assigning project work to others and dismissed Nasim’s suggested mitigations. It further claims that Nasim’s office was searched, and his work documents were seized, indicating evidence of retaliation. Nasim asserts that his concerns eventually reached Amtrak, the owner and operator of the current Portal Bridge, and an Amtrak employee sent him a letter expressing alarm about the movement issues and the potential risk to passenger train safety.

In addition to the allegations against NJ Transit and Schaefer, Nasim claims that top engineering firms were advised not to hire him by Schaefer after his termination. As of now, NJ Transit and Schaefer have not commented on the pending litigation. Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration also declined to provide comments regarding the matter. The lawsuit sheds light on the potential whistleblowing issues and safety concerns surrounding a significant infrastructure project critical to the region.