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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