Senator Carl Marcellino hosted the New York State Senate Transportation Committee hearing at Syosset High School Feb. 8 on the Long Island Rail Road platform gap problems. Investigations into the safety issues and concerns of gaps at all 246 LIRR and Metro-North train stations have been ongoing and this hearing afforded the opportunity to review the status of the investigation and the solutions that will enable the MTA and its constituent agencies to enhance their safety protocols.
"We must do all that we can do to make sure that passengers can safely board and disembark from the trains," said Marcellino. "The LIRR has been making announcements at the stops to remind riders to watch the gap. These steps were taken while they investigated and reviewed all of the platform gaps to seek a corrective solution. It is important for the committee to now question the status of this investigation and review the recommendations."
Senator Dean Skelos, a member of the committee, added, "The MTA has a responsibility to address the gap problem and ensure the safety of Long Island commuters and this senate hearing is an important step in this process."
Acting chairman of the senator's transportation committee Charles Fuschillo said, "We can't wait for another tragedy before finding a solution to this problem and the MTA needs to move as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of LIRR passengers."
Testimony was offered by various individuals regarding the Long Island Rail Road including Ellyn Shannon, transportation planner for the LIRR Commuters Council, Elliot G. Sander, executive director and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Raymond P. Kenny, Long Island Rail Road acting president, Peter A. Cannito, Metro-North Railroad president, written testimony by Thomas J. Madison Jr., commissioner of the Public Transportation Safety Board, Jason Hayday and Joris Banning vice president of engineering for Jaygo Incorporated/Manning & Lewis Engineering, team leader for the last Gap Filler Project with the NYCT/MTA.
Ellyn Shannon, transportation planner for the LIRR Commuters Council, addressed the committee first and said that customers have lost faith in the system and that commuters are concerned about the LIRR's complacency regarding this issue.
She offered suggestions to the MTA and LIRR including identifying the hazards, costs and funding and making the information known to the public. She also suggested starting a task force to identify gap problems and dedicate a staff to safety concerns.
Elliot Sander, executive director and chief executive officer of the MTA, said that many of Shannon's suggestions are positive and they will be considered by the MTA.
Sander said that $3.2 million has been spent thus far to reduce the largest gaps between station platforms and train cars and $10 million more is earmarked to reduce gaps at other stations, excluding the Syosset station which has additional issues due to a curved platform creating 15-inch gaps at some locations.
According to Raymond P. Kenny, Long Island Rail Road acting president, the gap-related standards on straight tracks, as opposed to curved tracks, is a 5'8" space from track centerline to the platform's edge. He said a standard gap here would be 8" and stated that gaps are needed for the trains to avoid hitting the platform as they sway from side-to-side as they move.
Kenny said that from August to November 2006, electronic measurements were taken at all stations and some actions have been completed since then. Seventy-one thousand feet of track was moved through track surfacing to reduce the gap and also, at some stations, the platform was moved closer to the rail. Also, wooden edgeboard was installed at seven stations to reduce the gap. Operational solutions were also implemented. Platform conductors were increased during peak hours and signage warning people about the gap was increased.
The Long Island Rail Road's objective in all of this is to provide customers with a safer environment while continuing to maximize capacity and reliability and they acknowledge that gaps need to be minimized to allow for the safe passage of trains as well as the reduced risk for customers. Better communication between the MTA and the public is going to be a goal in this process as it continues forward.