LIRR: Loose track switch component may have caused derailment

An Eastbound LIRR train that officials say "probably An Eastbound LIRR train that officials say "probably derailed" just after leaving the Penn Station platform on track 14 rests as it is looked over by officials. (June 17, 2013) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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A loose component in a track switch appears to have caused Monday's Long Island Rail Road train derailment, officials said yesterday.

Amtrak, which performed the repairs in the East River tunnel where the train went off the track, reported "a switch point protector guard cover" was to blame for the derailment of a Hempstead-bound train seconds after it left Penn Station around 6 p.m. Monday. About 800 passengers were evacuated, but none was injured.

The component "appeared to have come dislodged," which let the train wheels go up and over it, and off the rail, Amtrak said in a statement. Agency spokesman Clifford Cole said the steel protectors, used at track switch points, are inspected twice a week.

Amtrak crews completed repairs Tuesday night, and the LIRR resumed normal service yesterday morning.

The derailment -- the LIRR's second since March and the fourth of a MTA train in that time -- led Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) to send a letter yesterday to MTA interim executive director Thomas Prendergast and Amtrak president Joseph Boardman calling for a report on how the incidents occurred and how future derailments can be prevented.

"With more than 5 million people depending on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on a daily basis, it is now more important than ever to remember the safety hazards and costs to families and businesses that these derailments present," Israel wrote.

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MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said in a statement that the agency was "reviewing the Congressman's letter and will be providing him with a formal reply."

Monday's derailment also reignited a decades-old debate over which agency should be responsible for maintenance and repairs in the East River tunnels. A 1988 agreement requires that Amtrak do the work, and that the LIRR pay most of the costs.

MTA board members, LIRR union leaders, and elected officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have said Amtrak should consider letting the LIRR take over tunnel work.

"One of the biggest things, common sense-wise, is having control of the destiny of our own trains," said Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, which represents many LIRR track workers.

In a statement, Amtrak said it "looks forward to continuing its existing agreement" with the LIRR.

MTA board member Mitchell Pally, who has criticized Amtrak for not making the LIRR a high priority, said Wednesday that after clashing in recent years over service disruptions and maintenance issues, the LIRR and Amtrak are working more closely together.

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