DA Rice urges LIRR changes to safeguard passengers

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice Thursday called upon the Long Island Rail Road to consider several internal changes - including requiring engineers to wear uniforms - to prevent unauthorized people from operating trains.

A day after her office charged a suspended LIRR engineer and a passenger with reckless endangerment, Rice Thursday sent a letter to LIRR and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials outlining a four-point plan that could "hopefully negate or, at least, minimize conditions which could give rise to such unlawful behavior."

Rice's recommendations include: improving event recorders - or "black boxes" - on trains to make them record data about the use of the "dead man pedal," which must be constantly compressed for the train to operate; installing video and audio recording devices in the engineer's cab; and requiring engineers to wear identification badges and uniforms while on duty.

Authorities have said Ronald Cabrera, 40, allowed William Kutsch, 47, to drive a 500-ton diesel train for more than 24 miles during the morning rush hour on July 2.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges stemming from the incident.

"We have been cooperating with the Nassau district attorney's office and MTA Police since these allegations first surfaced," said Joe Calderone, a spokesman for the LIRR, which suspended Cabrera without pay on the day of the incident. "We welcome the district attorney's recommendations and will review them carefully."

Calderone said LIRR engineers are already required to wear their green ID badge when operating a train. New regulations have been put in place since the July 2 incident requiring engineer trainees to also wear a brown ID badge, and also for train crews to be briefed whenever an engineer trainee is on board.

LIRR officials also said relatively few of its trains have a dead man pedal and most are already equipped with event recorders that monitor "alerter" systems, which function similarly to the dead man pedal.

Rice put particular emphasis on her recommendation regarding uniforms for engineers. Unlike its conductors and ticket agents, LIRR engineers are not required to wear uniforms.

"This will enable the general public to quickly identify them, particularly when an emergency arises, or when there is some question about their conduct," Rice said.

LIRR officials said requiring engineers to wear uniforms is an issue that would have to be taken up during collective bargaining. Officials with the Brotherhood of Local Engineers and Trainmen, the union representing the LIRR's engineers, declined to comment.

They are only required to wear safety shoes and are prohibited from wearing shorts, LIRR officials said.

The union declined to comment Thursday.

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