Whistleblower Withdraws Suit Alleging Metrolink is Unsafe — Questions Linger
ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–A federal whistleblower lawsuit alleging Metrolink riders are in danger of “serious injury or death” due to “shoddy” construction and “fraud” has now been voluntarily withdrawn by the Metro insider, after the federal government failed to join the case.
The sealed suit filed last October by Metro engineer and senior project manager Eric Fields claimed that the Metro board and Metro executives had knowingly committed fraud involving “false certifications of transit construction projects that are exposing the public to substantial risks of serious personal injury and death.”
The suit was unsealed only last week, after it was withdrawn. Among the claims Fields had made:
**Metrolink contractors cut off anchor bolts attaching girders to piers and failed to install proper reinforcing on the Eads Bridge.
**Shoddy construction has led to major collapses of walls and slopes that support Metrolink Light Rail Lines.
**Metrolink contractors placed a Vandeventer bridge pier above a sewer line, instead of attaching it to bedrock.
Fields has not returned calls to KMOX seeking an interview about his case. The attorneys who represented him in the case are no longer involved and declined comment.
U-S Attorney Richard Callahan says the federal government decided not to join the suit, after an investigation by the Department of Transportation, the main Department of Justice and Callahan’s office.
“I am confident that the Department of Transportation does not allow bridges and the like to be built when they’re not meeting the specifications called for in the contract,” Callahan said.
When asked if he would have any qualms about riding Metrolink over the bridges that were alleged to be unsafe, Callahan responded , “I would not.”
Metro President and CEO John Nations says he only learned about the allegations contained in the suit earlier this week, but is pleased that the suit has been withdrawn.
“Well, I think the federal government reviewed it and declined to pursue it, and what we would like the public to known is that our alignment is safe,” Nations said.
Nations was asked to comment on some of the specific safety allegations:
**On the claim that Metrolink contractors cut off anchor bolts attaching girders to piers and failed to install proper reinforcing on the Eads Bridge, Nation said, “Well, that’s frankly the first that we had ever heard of that. Frankly, I have no response to it at this time.” Nations went on to say that the Eads bridge alignment “is safe.”
**On the claim that a pier for the Vandeventer Metrolink bridge is supported by an underground sewer, not bedrock, Nation responds, “The bridge is fundamentally sound and it carries a critical portion of our alignment.” Nations was asked what would happen if the sewer collapses. “I can’t speak to that,” he said. Nations added that the pier placement was “reviewed and approved by the Metropolitan Sewer District.”
**On the claim that shoddy construction has led to major collapses of walls and slopes supporting the Metrolink light rail lines, Nations responds, “Every once in a while, when you look at 46 miles of line, it’s not that we have major collapses, but we’ll have issues with it over time. And we go out with routine maintenance and make sure that we correct them.”
Nations declined to comment on the whistleblower, engineer Eric Fields, except to say that he is still an employee of Metro.
The withdrawn suit also involves allegations of political contributions playing a role in Metro’s contracting selection process, and an allegation of taxpayer money funneled through Metro to bail out a real estate developer. Nations denied any wrongdoing. More on that in our next report.