Recent reports of Main Line shutdowns as a result of problems on the Main Line of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) aired on ABC News recently have drawn attention to the track between the New Hyde Park Railroad Station and the Merrillon Avenue Railroad Station, in close proximity to the Village of Garden City and used daily by countless Village residents as they commute along the Main Line. As a result of the safety concerns and worries that commuting schedules would be disrupted, Garden City Life called the Public Affairs Office of the LIRR and spoke with Sam Zambuto about the history, current status, and future of this issue.
According the LIRR, the impression that there were faulty parts used with full knowledge that the parts were unsafe for use was conveyed by the television reports and misrepresents the situation. The problem originated with attempts by the LIRR to address the construction work by the Department of Transportation (DOT) at the Herricks railroad crossing, which forced the railroad company to divert trains away from that location. In an effort to maintain the level of service provided, the speed of crossovers from one part of the track to another was increased with the implementation of new high-speed crossover switches which allowed the trains to move from one track to another at 60mph instead of the previous speed of 45mph. Special switches were used for this purpose and since their employment by the LIRR, accelerated wear has been observed in the switches.
Zambuto explained that all switches wear and that "all switches are high-maintenance items," but that on these particular switches the wearing was occurring sooner than considered normal. The LIRR then had to take portions of the Main Line out-of-service in order to "perform maintenance on the switches," Zambuto continued. Welding was done to replace metal in the worn spots of the switches. A week ago there was a crack on the top of the rail of one of the switches, which was then the cause for another closing and more work by the LIRR crews. Zambuto noted that, "the crack did not go through the rail" and that these switches pose no safety threat to passengers riding the LIRR.
One switch, termed a "frog" had an internal irregularity within its metal which was discovered through ultrasonic testing and X-rays, regularly performed by the LIRR to monitor the switches and conducted frequently now in light of the accelerated wear. The irregularity was within the federal guidelines for usability, according to the LIRR, and so any "implication of safety concerns" is considered unfounded by the company.
The LIRR is currently pursuing the issue of accelerated wear with the manufacturers of the switches while they continue to perform frequent ultrasonic tests and X-rays to monitor the rate of wear and make any repairs necessary to keep them in a useable condition. The LIRR stressed that there should be no cause for concern over the safety of these switches. The switches currently fall within federal guidelines and are "a maintenance issue, not a safety issue."