Building a Safety Net at the Holland Tunnel

By Krista Didzbalis, Media Relations Staff

The Port Authority has a strong history of helping to train the next generations of builders, engineers and electrical workers. It also has a commitment to ensuring the safety and security of hundreds of thousands of customers who use Port Authority facilities every day.

Those traits are both embodied in Muhammad Rahim, a tunnel systems controller with a 33-year career at the Port Authority. In 1980, Rahim took advantage of a Port Authority partnership with Essex County called Career Bridges, at the time a work-study program at Newark Airport.

Rahim has parlayed that early training into his current role as part of the Holland Tunnel Supervisory Control Room, where he works 12-hour shifts managing lighting and the tunnel’s 84 ventilation fans. He controls the fresh air blowers and exhaust fans, which in turn provide a high level of security to drivers passing through.

His start with the agency came with his enrollment in Career Bridges, a training program that spawned new generations of skilled workers. When Rahim began his junior year of high school, his shop teacher selected him for the program where he would spend the school year alternating days traveling to the airport for work and attending class. At 17, Rahim learned the airport’s electrical system, working on runway and taxiway lights and signs and maintaining electrical systems in the airport terminals.

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Muhammad Rahim (far right) then…

Rahim’s dad used to take him and his siblings to the airport when he was young to watch the jets arrive and take off, and he was hooked. He earned his private pilot’s license in 1999. As a long-time aviation aficionado, it was his dream to learn the electrical trade surrounded by airplanes.

“Through the program, we were provided bus fare and lunch money only,” he recalled. “Living several miles from the airport, this also meant leaving my house an hour early to catch the bus on time. But the knowledge and real-world work experience was well worth it to me.”

Today, Rahim and others who successfully navigated earlier apprenticeship programs are watching as a new training commitment flowers in the Garden State. In partnership with four vocational technical schools in New Jersey, the Port Authority is supporting an initiative that allows more than 150 students to participate in the New Jersey Construction Pre-Apprenticeship training program. The program gives students the ability to prepare either for construction and building trade jobs or maintenance and operations positions, providing hands-on experience on real workforce jobs in cooperation with the Port Authority.

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…and now, in the Holland Tunnel Control Center

For Rahim, his involvement in the earlier program concluded at the end of the school year. The only job available at the airport was in the gardening shop, and Rahim spent a summer elbow-deep in the dirt, yanking weeds and watering plants. Rahim put his gardening days behind him when the Port Authority offered him a job in 1986 as an electrical helper, employed first at Newark Airport and later at LaGuardia Airport. In 1994, he passed the electrician’s licensing test and then the Holland Tunnel, where he’s worked the past 25 years.

As Rahim approaches retirement next year, he’s thankful that other young men and women are following in his footsteps through the New Jersey Construction Pre-Apprenticeship training program.

“I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a great program and learn a skilled trade, which has provided me with a very successful and rewarding Port Authority career,” he said.

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Posted in Uncategorized

The PAPD’s Hidden Inspectors

By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff

On any given day, thousands of trucks travel through Port Authority’s seaport, tunnels and bridges. They’re routinely monitored by Port Authority Police officers on the lookout for traffic violations.

In the background, however, a specialized group of officers roves among the facilities seeking to ensure trucks have no mechanical or other operational issues that might pose a serious safety risk to the traveling public.

The Port Authority Commercial Vehicle Inspection unit (CVI) provides that extra layer of vehicular protection for drivers and passengers alike. Formed in 1998, members of the CVI routinely climb up, below and around stopped trucks, checking for dysfunctional axles, tires, brakes and lights. Trucks with serious safety defects are pulled out of service until repairs can be made.

Part of the CVI team outside the Holland Tunnel

Part of the CVI team outside the Holland Tunnel

In 2019 alone, the unit inspected 4,637 suspect vehicles at Port Authority crossings and port facilities, with 470 of them taken out of service.

“Every truck we knock out of service is a potential AI (accident investigation) because we are knocking them out of service for no brakes, no steering, when they’re heavy and that the vehicle is operating in an unsafe manner because of a mechanical issue,” said PAPD Officer Michael Kostelnik, a 21-year veteran, during a recent shift monitoring trucks on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.

PAPD CVI Walter Franco inspecting a commercial vehicle

 PAPD CVI Francis Franco inspecting a commercial vehicle

Each CVI officer is equipped with a special computer used every time they stop a truck. Inputting the truck’s USDOT number, they can check the truck owner’s database, number of trucks in its fleet, whether the company paid fees to operate that specific truck and the history of past inspections. The unit employs state-of-the-art inspection and weight enforcement equipment, including handheld scales, mobile deck scale systems and mobile motor coach inspection ramps.

In addition to safety inspections, CVI officers also regularly perform radiological screening at the Port Authority’s airports, seaport, bridges and tunnels. They also undertake hazardous material policing and technical decontamination operations in support of the PAPD’s Emergency Service Unit (ESU).  Last year, the unit conducted 25 hazmat inspections.

CVI members also function as decontamination specialists during HazMat incidents

CVI members also function as decontamination specialists during HazMat incidents

Additionally, CVI is part of the PAPD’s Rapid Response Team, tasked with responding to incidents that happen in neighboring towns or to assist ESU or the Counterterrorism Unit. Most recently, the unit’s officers responded to the deadly shooting at a grocery store in Jersey City.

Sometimes, the stops lead to more than the unit taking a faulty truck off the road. Officer Francis Franco, a 17-year member of CVI, once confiscated $1.3 million in fake name-brand bags and clothes at the George Washington Bridge with his partner, Officer John Collins.

“Every day is fun coming to work. We’ve always had a great group of guys, passing onto them the knowledge of the unit to the new members,” Franco said. “Accident investigations are always interesting. It’s never the same one. It’s never a boring day here and always a cat and mouse game.”

PAPD CVI Brett Nigro inspecting a commercial vehicle

PAPD CVI Brett Nigro inspecting a commercial vehicle

 

Posted in George Washington Bridge, GWB, NY/NJ region, Outerbridge Crossing, PANYNJ, Port Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Port Authority Police Department, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

Monica Lam Keeps PATH On Track

By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff

When you walk into the PATH Control Center, a short drive from the Journal Square station in Jersey City, you see lights. Lots of them. Light coming from the dozens of wall screens displaying a diagram of every track and live feeds from overhead cameras of station activity, and computer screens where employees track train movements across the system.

Assistant Trainmaster Monica Lam sits in the middle of this frenetic activity, arriving for work at 1:30 p.m to start her shift. Once seated, the action begins. As she puts it, “Our jobs are to move trains.” PATH has three trainmasters; Lam is one of nine assistant trainmasters on 8-hour shifts dedicated to this pivotal task.

“As trainmasters, we’re the eyes and ears for the whole PATH system,” Lam said. “We have a lot of responsibility, but I like that it’s exciting and different every day. It’s rewarding, too. I take pride in all the things I do behind the scenes to keep the trains moving and keep our passengers safe.”

Monica

The give and take of a trainmaster’s job is ensuring the trains keep running on time, and stepping up when a problem arises. Even then, the pressure to resolve it quickly is constant, particularly during PATH’s busy afternoon rush hour period.

If someone gets sick on the train, it’s Lam who coordinates with Port Authority police on the fastest and safest way to proceed. If an unattended bag is spotted, she’ll try to reroute trains and coordinate a police response, with as little passenger impact as possible. Should a child be separated from his or her parents, it’s Lam and her fellow trainmaster colleagues who scan video footage and contact PATH personnel on the ground to reunite them.

Her shift is rarely uneventful. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the first call came in at 1:45 pm. An employee whose job is greasing tracks needed access to the rail bed. So Lam granted “foul time,” PATH-speak for clearing a worker for an area otherwise in use by trains or other equipment. She checked the map and gave him the go-ahead. A tower operator working with her in the control center puts the train in automatic, assuring it wouldn’t strike the worker.

Many of Lam’s calls cover similar territory. At 3:50 p.m., a conductor at Journal Square notifies her someone fell asleep on the train, in case it takes extra time to awaken the sleeper and remove them from the train, possibly affecting the train schedule. A switchman in the Harrison train yard asks permission for a train to travel past a stop signal — the signal appears not to be displaying. Lam and her colleague determined the coast was clear, and the conductor got the green light. Soon after, a passenger dropped an item on the track. Lam stopped the incoming train for a PATH worker to retrieve it.

“There are so many ways to solve a problem, but it’s all about keeping the passengers in mind,” she said. “Now that I’ve been doing this for over two years, moving the trains is the easy part for me. But the challenge is being able to think ahead and come up with the best solution that will cause the least delays.”

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The PATH Control Center

Even when the job can feel stressful or tiring, Lam is always learning and welcomes the challenge of figuring out how to keep such a massive and complex system running.

“We’re all on the same team here, striving to keep the trains moving and get you where you need to go,” she said. “There are real people behind PATH. In the end, we’re all on the same team, and we all want to help each other.”

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