Light Rail Operators Say They No Longer Feel Safe at Work: ‘Am I Going to HCMC on a Gurney?’

Multiple operators for Metro Transit’s light rail system told lawmakers this week that they no longer feel safe at work.

Metro Transit

Multiple operators for Metro Transit’s light rail system told lawmakers this week that they no longer feel safe at work.

The joint House and Senate Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government held a hearing Wednesday on a number of bills aimed at improving the light rail system and heard testimony from two concerned workers.

“A lot of the focus in the media has been on the public and that is a very important issue—public safety. But one thing that gets left out is the workers. We have the train operators, we have the cleaners on the platform that are constantly assaulted—verbally, physically. There’s not much that happens. It gets reported, police come, and by that time usually the criminal is gone. When we have criminal activity on the train, it goes on all night,” said Honey Darling, a light rail operator.

Darling said workers have been pleading with management to make changes, noting that she regularly experiences long delays in police response times.

“I’ve got operators that are scared to come to work. They’re wondering if they’re going to make it home. We have murders on the platform. We have murders on our train. We’ve had rapes, numerous rapes. On any given night, there is an excess of 100 people riding the train. Half of them aren’t fully clothed. They’re drinking, they’re doing drugs. Sexual activity, urinating, defecating on the train. When we call this in, we’re lucky if police meet up with us,” she continued.

At the end of the night, Darling explained, operators are responsible for clearing passengers off the trains before parking them in the yard for maintenance and cleaning.

“Most people are passed out, sleeping. There are people who are awake that refuse to get off the train,” she said.

Darling criticized the Metropolitan Council for wasting money on “made up positions” and “promoting people that are family members.” She said Metro Transit has one of the largest police forces in the state, but “all the officers are out in the day when most of the criminals are asleep on the train.”

“You need to stop hiring officers that cannot work nights and weekends,” she suggested, saying the Met Council is failing to take care of its employees.

“People come into the Twin Cities and they want to use the transit system,” Darling concluded her testimony. “It’s a mess. There’s nowhere to sit. It’s embarrassing. I love driving the train, I love my job. I’ve been in transportation for almost 18 years and I’ve been a rail operator for a little over six. I love it, but it’s embarrassing.”

A second light rail operator, Jeff Ziegler, said he retired from his truck driving job of 30 years and moved from Ohio to Minnesota “specifically to do light rail for Metro Transit.”

“Over the last year of light rail operation, my job has gotten much more dangerous and unsafe, putting the safety of me and my passengers at risk. I no longer feel safe at work. I’m dealing, in addition to the job I was trained to do, with people who are belligerent and violent toward others and toward myself,” he said.

Like Darling, Ziegler expressed frustration with police response times, saying they “take hours to arrive.”

“Two Wednesdays ago on the train directly ahead of me there was a murder on the train. Last Saturday night, a gang of unruly teenagers and young people held my train hostage for 11 minutes, holding my doors open, throwing homeless people’s belongings throughout the train and on the platform, breaking two of my passenger doors,” he said.

Ziegler said he can’t calm down when he leaves work “due to trauma caused on the job.”

“Right now, we have a dangerous, unsanitary, unsafe, dirty mode of transit to offer our guests visiting and our citizens. Those trains are my office. They’re my workplace,” he said. “With the murder two weeks ago, I now have to ask myself everyday: am I going home tonight? Am I going to HCMC [Hennepin County Medical Center] on a gurney for major surgery? Or am I going to HCMC in a black body bag?”

“Customers are now murdering each other,” he concluded. “When are they going to turn their gun, their knife or their club to me? Something has to be done now. It’s so unsafe I’m contemplating leaving a job I waited 56 years to do.”

As The Minnesota Sun reported, light rail experienced 59 aggravated assaults between January 1, 2019 and July 31, 2019. In 2018, the total number of aggravated assaults was 52 while 41 were reported in 2017.

As of October 28, 2019, the light rail system had 384 incidents of robberies and theft, compared to 330 in all of 2018 and 374 in 2017.

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to anthony.gockowski@gmail.com.
Photo “Metro Train” by Tony Webster. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Minnesota Sun