Rail spur at center of safety complaints

Residents and fire officials say New York &

Residents and fire officials say New York & Atlantic Railway has been allowing crossing gates near the spur to stay down for 20 minutes or longer, potentially blocking emergency vehicles. (Oct. 16, 2012) (Credit: Johnny Milano)

No one is disputing the crossing gates go down. But how long do they stay down?

That's the key question in an ongoing clash between Lindenhurst residents and a company using a rail spur in the village. Now fire officials and a state senator have stepped into the fray.

Residents and fire officials say New York & Atlantic Railway has been allowing crossing gates near the spur to stay down for 20 minutes or longer, potentially blocking emergency vehicles. NY&A denies the gates are down for more than five minutes at a time and say they keep someone on hand to raise them.

Since 2008, NY&A has leased tracks from the Long Island Rail Road for transporting freight to and from the spur, which branches off a central rail line that parallels North Queens Avenue. The spur serves One World Recycling Inc. and two subsidiaries of Nicolia Industries Inc.

Residents have long complained that nighttime and weekend spur activity has impacted their quality of life. "It's been an annoyance, but now it's truly a safety issue," said Kathy Harvey, who lives near a crossing at Grand and North Railroad avenues. (The other crossing is at Albin and Henry avenues.)

In September, the chiefs of the Lindenhurst and West Babylon fire departments wrote to government officials describing how crossing gates remain down for long periods as rail cars are maneuvered in and out of the spur.

The gates cut off a major thoroughfare, they wrote, and emergency vehicles could have to be rerouted to overpasses more than a mile away. "It is only a matter of time before a critical response . . . is delayed by the failure of [the] railway to properly act," the letter states.

Paul Victor, president of NY&A, said the railway complies with a state law that restricts crossing gate down times to no longer than five minutes. He said a key man on board can raise the gates if needed.

Residents and fire officials disputed both claims and said NY&A has repeatedly been made aware of these issues, but Victor said he has not seen specific reports of incidents.

"They assume it to be a problem," Victor said.

Several months ago, the village mounted a 24-hour surveillance camera to monitor freight train activity. John Lisi, a local civic leader, said portions of the video confirm long gate times and a lack of a regular key man on the scene.

Victor, who said he has not seen the video, said One World has volunteered to call Babylon Town central fire alarm whenever trains arrive or leave. But West Babylon Chief James Campbell Jr. equated that to "putting a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed" because vehicles still could have to be rerouted.

State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon), sent a letter to Victor stating that if the problem is not resolved, he will ask the state Department of Transportation to rescind NY&A's use and occupancy permit.

DOT spokeswoman Eileen Peters said the agency has not been asked to investigate whether NY&A is violating its permit, which requires the "safe operation of a railroad siding [or spur]."

Salvatore Arena, spokesman for the MTA, said the LIRR has been made aware of the concerns and is trying to arrange a meeting that includes the LIRR, NY&A and the fire chiefs.

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