MTA panel backs plan to hire private buses if LIRR unions strike

A conductor waves his hat as a sign A conductor waves his hat as a sign of departure on this westbound LIRR train at the Mineola Long Island Rail Road station on July 26, 2011. Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

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A key MTA committee on Monday advanced a plan to hire private bus providers to help get commuters to and from work in the event of a Long Island Rail Road union strike this summer, a move some officials said could work against efforts to resolve a contract deadlock.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board's Long Island Rail Road Committee approved issuing the request for proposals from bus companies, despite the objections of one MTA board member, who said the move could be seen as an attempt to "provoke" the unions.

LIRR laborers and MTA management remain at an impasse in their nearly four-year-long dispute. The MTA wants the unions to accept a contract similar to one tentatively reached with bus and subway workers. It would give LIRR employees raises of 11 percent over six years. The unions want the MTA to accept recommendations of a Presidential Emergency Board, which called for 17 percent raises.

"It seems to me that if we spent as much time trying to seek a resolution here as we spend time trying to provoke a strike, we'd be a hell of a lot better off," said board member Charles Moerdler, who voted against the resolution.

LIRR officials said that, although a strike would not come before July, seeking bids now is necessary to properly advertise the contract and be able to choose from several qualified vendors.

Lead LIRR union negotiator Anthony Simon said he sees the situation the same as Moerdler.

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"The LIRR labor unions are working harder to prevent a strike, while the MTA is working harder to provoke a strike," Simon said.

Meanwhile, the LIRR and Metro-North committees also approved an $11.3 million plan to expedite the installation of new crash-prevention technology on both railroad systems.

The measure calls for Bombardier Transportation/Siemens Rail Automation to deliver key components of the federally mandated positive train control system 12 to 14 months earlier than planned.

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After the deadly derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx in December, federal officials directed the MTA to increase efforts to put in place the system, which allows trains to communicate with railside transponders and automatically stop if nearing a potential crash.

The changes in the nearly $500 million contract with the system's developers will allow the LIRR to begin a pilot project in October 2015, and have positive train control largely in place by July 2017, LIRR officials said.

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