LIRR to replace last 6 of aging escalators

Commuters ride the escalator at the LIRR station

Commuters ride the escalator at the LIRR station in Freeport. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

The Long Island Rail Road will replace the last six of its aging escalators, including one on which an elderly woman was killed in Lindenhurst in March.

The railroad also plans to replace the company responsible for inspecting and maintaining the system's 19 escalators and to create a new unit within the LIRR to oversee escalator and elevator safety, officials said.

The announcement comes two months after Irene Bernatzky, 88, fell on an upward escalator at the Lindenhurst station and was choked to death by a piece of her clothing that became entangled in the moving stairs.

The new escalator replacement plan is expected to cost $14 million and last three to four years, officials said. It will install new escalators at the Amityville, Baldwin, Copiague, Freeport, Lindenhurst and Rockville Centre stations.

Lindenhurst LIRR rider Douglas Ferraro, 65, called the replacement plan "wonderful," but was skeptical about its implementation. "Time will tell. The plan sounds solid, but it's in the implementation where it counts," he said. "When are they going to do it and are they going to do it to the extent they say they are?"

Ferraro's wife, Susan, struggles to climb stairs during escalator outages.The LIRR also has 50 elevators in its system, including at some stations with escalators.

Two weeks after the March 13 accident at the Lindenhurst station, the LIRR announced plans to install new escalator safety sensors that will stop the movement when they detect that something is caught in the steps.

The LIRR already planned to replace six other aging escalators as part of platform replacement projects including the system's oldest at Massapequa, which was installed in 1980.

When the LIRR completes all of its planned replacements, the oldest escalators will be at Valley Stream and Lynbrook, both of which were installed in 2003. LIRR officials have said escalators have a useful life of about 20 years.

LIRR president Helena Williams said the decision to replace the escalators was motivated, in part, by the difficulty in finding replacement parts for the older units.

"The supply chain has pretty much dried up," she said. "It became clear that it was important to make an investment in replacement . . . We want to give our customers the best possible experience arriving to and leaving a station."

Williams said that new escalators also come with improved safety features, including remote monitoring and diagnostics that will allow the LIRR to more quickly detect and fix a problem.

The LIRR also announced this week that it had issued an emergency bid to replace its existing escalator maintenance and inspection vendor, the Essen, Germany-based ThyssenKrupp AG. The MTA Board will vote Wednesday to hire Brooklyn-based Nouveau Elevator Industries to a one-year contract that will begin immediately.

"The Long Island Rail Road saw this as an opportunity for a fresh start," Williams said.

The LIRR also plans to hire escalator and elevator experts that will comprise a new unit that will supervise its escalator service vendor. The team will be part of the LIRR's customer service department.

SAFETY MEASURES

The Long Island Rail Road is taking several steps to address escalator safety following the death of an 88-year-old woman on a Lindenhurst station escalator in March.

Replacing old escalators at Amityville, Baldwin, Copiague, Freeport, Lindenhurst and Rockville Centre. The LIRR plans to replace other escalators during station renovations.

Installing new safety sensors on its 12 oldest escalators. The sensors would shut down the escalator if they detect objects stuck in the steps.

Installing new remote monitoring systems on escalators that will allow personnel to make sure the moving stairs are operating correctly, and alert them in real time when a problem occurs so a repair crew can be dispatched immediately.

Hiring a new vendor, Nouveau Elevator Industries, to maintain, inspect and repair its 19 escalators.

Forming a new unit to oversee the maintenance of escalators and elevators.

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