Paterson calls for LIRR fraud investigation

September 22, 2008 3:30:45 PM PDT
The head of the Long Island Rail Road says the company has no role in the granting of federal disability pensions worth hundreds of millions of dollars to its retired employees and says the practice does not accurately reflect the railroad's actual safety record. Responding to a published report that a huge majority of LIRR retirees receive disability payments whether their claims were justified or not, company president Helena Williams described the awards by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board pension system as "alarming and out of sync with our workplace safety record," and "inconsistent with social security disability rates."

In a statement, Williams said she asked the inspectors general of both the Railroad Retirement Board and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR's parent body, to review the situation.

Gov. David Paterson called on Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to look into the disability payments. Cuomo said he was "troubled" by the allegations in the report and would be "aggressively investigating the issue."

The LIRR said it would cooperate fully with Cuomo's office.

The New York Times said in Sunday's edition that an analysis of data from the Railroad Retirement Board found that "virtually every employee" retiring from the LIRR after age 50 in recent years had applied for disability and that more than nine out of 10 had received benefits, "far above the average" for railroads in general.

The rate peaked at 97 percent in 2004 and last year was 94 percent, according to the paper, which went on to describe a state-owned golf course on Long Island where it said former LIRR workers gather by the dozens to play golf free, and even walk the course although officially listed as having been disabled on the job.

The Times said the LIRR disability rate "suggests it is one of the nation's most dangerous places to work," even though the railroad has earned national awards for worker safety in recent years.

Williams said a "sustained effort" to improve safety had led to a decline in injury rates, and less than 1 percent of employees had received disability pensions from the MTA. She said the MTA has taken the position that it could save millions yearly by having its pensions under Social Security rather than the rail board.

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