New questions about LIRR safety

February 4, 2009 6:12:09 PM PST
An Eyewitness News investigation into the Long Island Railroad raises some disturbing questions. Four times this year, state investigators have been called in to try to figure out what caused an LIRR train to derail. Four times riders escaped serious injury, but not the fear.

"Thought the side of the train was going to collapse," Peter Haynes said.

That fear still lingers.

"All of these derailments and accidents are leading up to something that eventually could be much worse," he said.

The president of the LIRR commuters campaign says the rash of derailments is a clear wake-up call.

"Clearly, something is not right here and its waiting for a major incident," Haynes said.

Our analysis of derailments on the commuter rail line during the past eight years reveals a disturbing pattern of mistakes and mismanagement. Out of the 16 derailments investigated by the state transportation safety board, at least, 60-percent were caused by human error.

Errors like installing "a defective switch," "failure to perform quality control" or "failure to correct a known track deficiency," "use of wrong size bolts" and, in 2006, a derailment caused, in part, by "incorrectly installing switch wires."

"Some of them are really inexcusable. When a part falls off the bottom of the train engine because it hasn't been put on with proper bolts and they vibrate over a couple of months something falls off and causes a derailment, that's inexcusable," Noah Kushlefsky said.

Kushlefsky, a transportation safety attorney, says the derailment reports show that in some cases, the railroad was aware of the safety problems and ignored them.

"They provided inaccurate drawings to the company that was machining the track and they knew they were inaccurate and never corrected them," he said.

The LIRR says it "is one of the safest commuter railroads in the nation." And that there has been "no serious injuries associated with any derailment in decades." The railroad further states that "when derailments happen, they conduct thorough investigations and take corrective actions immediately." an internationally renowned rail safety expert says the recent derailments, 3 in the past 6 months, signals trouble on the tracks.

"That's systemic. Those things should not happen. It means there is something wrong with the system that somebody hasn't reviewed. Those things need to be corrected right away," NTSB safety engineer Russ Quimby said.

Federal records show that the Long Island Railroad has had 55 total derailments in the last 8 years.

That compares to 33 for Metro North and 14 for the commuter rail system in Philadelphia.

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