LIRR service is back on track after derailment in Queens last week

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Monday, August 7, 2023
LIRR service is back on track after derailment in Queens
There's good news for commuters who take the Long Island Rail Road, the MTA has full service restored following last week's derailment. NJ Burkett has the latest.

JAMAICA, Queens (WABC) -- There's good news for commuters who take the Long Island Rail Road, the MTA has full service restored following last week's derailment.

Eight train cars derailed in Queens last Thursday, injuring 13 people and damaging about 1,600 feet of track.

MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said transit crews worked around the clock to ensure that stretch of track is good to go.

The FDNY said train 722 departed Grand Central Terminal and was heading toward Hempstead when it derailed east of Jamaica Station at 175th Street and 95th Avenue after 11 a.m. Thursday.

Of the 13 injured, nine were minor, two were considered moderate and two were considered more serious.

"The train started bouncing all over the place, everyone started screaming and yelling and then it stopped," a passenger named John said, describing the chaotic moments of the derailment.

While the injuries were generally minor, the question remains on what caused the derailment in the first place.

Crystal Vidal was one of the 13 injured. She is calling for a system-wide review of the rails.

"Checking the safety of the tracks and whatever initiatives they need to take to install new tracks, I think they have to do that quickly," Vidal said.

The train derailed at the hall interlocking, which is the second largest area of switches and signals in the LIRR system.

Sources familiar with the investigation told Eyewitness News that the train derailed after passing over a switch at more than 50 miles per hour, a switch that was set to reverse.

The train's engineer spotted the problem and jammed on the brakes, but it was too late to stop the train.

Officials said the train was traveling 54 mph, in an area with a speed limit of 60 to 80 mph. Authorities said they were confident that speed was not a factor in the derailment.

MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said it was too soon to speculate on the cause.

"We are doing a proper investigation," he said. "We don't just pop out hypotheses. It takes more than four days."

Train controllers monitor switches and signals, but sources say they had no indication the switch was in the wrong position, leading to speculation that a fault in the wiring was the likely cause.

Robert Paaswell of CCNY Transportation Research Center once ran the Chicago Transit Authority. He says the cause might well have been weather-related.

"It might be one of those freakish things where there was a sudden failure of the switch," he said. "Especially during periods of freakish weather like this intense heat that causes some switches to expand or some parts to expand, or the internal mechanisms to jam-up."

Thursday's derailment marked the third on the LIRR in less than three months. A non passenger train went off the tracks near Long Island City and May and in July, a train car holding 50 passengers derailed as it entered the Far Rockaway station. No one was hurt.

"Derailments are extremely rare so I'm confident this is not indicative of any pattern but we are looking closely," Lieber said.

The Federal Railroad Administration is taking the lead on determining exactly what caused the train to go off the tracks.

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