• EXCLUSIVE: Safety and training questions raised by CATS employees

    By: Paul Boyd

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE - A group of 10 City of Charlotte employees who work within the LYNX light rail system contacted Whistleblower 9 via a former co-worker with a list of concerns about CATS operations and the Blue Line Extension.

    The employees said they did not take their concerns directly to their supervisors because they fear losing their jobs.

    At the top of their list: passenger and train operator safety. The employees said:

    “Trains are being operated daily with the same maintenance issues... major and minor faults” and “operators are not provided training on evacuations of trains in emergency situations” for the new Blue Line Extension.

    The employees explained more when pressed about their lack of training.

    “The training department was staffed by two people at one point, the manager and trainer. Recently, the manager was fired for failing a drug test, so that leaves the trainer - who’s only had about two years of training experience. He was hired from the waste department.”

    Another point on the list says disciplinary actions are not being taken against operators because of staffing shortages.

    RELATED: CATS announces opening date of LYNX Blue Line Extension

    “LYNX began Non Revenue Simulation short over 30 operators of what was needed to adequately staff an operation of this magnitude.  Consequently, operators were forced to operate for 7, 8, and 9 hours without relief leading to fatigue and driver burnout.”

    Furthermore, the employees say that “safety incidents” are not leading to discipline because of staffing shortages.

    The employees say LYNX currently only has 47 operators and that’s not enough. They say there are normally 12-15 operators to cover “open” shifts and now there are only four available, leaving little margin for error.

    The employees say there have been violations of rules requiring a certain amount of time off between shifts. They are afraid to speak up about the violations.

    RELATED: Malfunction causes gates to close again along Blue Line Extension

    Generally speaking, the employees describe internal operations at CATS as dysfunctional.

    “It’s unplanned and unorganized in house.”

    Employees also haven’t raised any of these concerns with OSHA because they fear retaliation.

    Whistleblower 9 took the employee concerns directly to CATS leadership and council representative Tariq Bokhari.

    “My gut reaction is that there may be something here and we need to really look into it,” Bokhari said, “When you see things like this you need to take it seriously up until the point that you know and it’s proven it’s not an issue.”

    Bokhari sat down with Channel 9 at the Government Center on Wednesday and looked at the list of concerns line by line. Bokhari says he’s equally concerned that 10 employees all fear losing their jobs for speaking out.

    “This many people for some reason didn’t feel comfortable reporting this up the chain and they felt the need to go externally,” Bokhari said, “I want every single employee in CATS and every single employee in the City of Charlotte to know, you need not fear retaliation.” 

    Bokhari says there is an established path for employees to anonymously report concerns within city operations and he provided the following hotline number to call: (844) 566-4040.

    Bokhari also told Whistleblower 9 he was not going to just sit on this information but investigate it himself.

    “There are some things I want to take directly to the city manager, literally right when I leave this room,” Bokhari said, “This is a strong city manager form of government. I trust our city manager and I know if this isn’t on his radar, when it is, he will take it very, very seriously.”

    Bokhari says he also wants to see data related to internal CATS operations including employee satisfaction, employee retention, and recruitment efforts.

    “We have to do everything in our power when we see issues or concerns to make sure that we’re doing the proper training and we are following our policies as it relates to staffing,” Bokhari explained.

    Late Wednesday, Bokhari updated Channel 9 on his efforts and said city leaders have been responsive to the concerns brought forward. Bokhari said that CATS assured him all training and safety procedures are being followed. He’s now waiting to look at supporting data.

    “It’s important that as a city leader, I not jump to a conclusion based on one point of view, even if that point of view looks very compelling. I want to get the whole story and understand, is there a problem here or is it isolated in maybe a few examples that aren’t indicative of the whole,” Bokhari explained.

    CATS responded with the following statement: 

    Safety is CATS’ top priority, and we take these concerns seriously. The North Carolina Department of Transportation provides state safety oversight per the Federal Transit Administration’s guidelines. CATS  follows industry standards and best practices to ensure the safety of our passengers, employees, and system. The LYNX Blue Line Extension will open March 16, and the system is safe, just as the existing Blue Line.  The LYNX Blue Line currently averages above 95 percent on time performance.  This can only be achieved with highly-trained employees and rail vehicles that are in proper working condition.

     

    All employees have several channels they can use to express concerns or complaints.  They include speaking with a City of Charlotte human resources representative or calling the Charlotte Employee Hotline which maintains anonymity.

     

    CATS is investigating these concerns and will work directly with our employees.

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