After Irene Bernatzky death, LIRR to review escalator safety

At the Lindenhurst station, the LIRR's maintenance logs At the Lindenhurst station, the LIRR's maintenance logs showed two reports of handrail problems in October and November. Maintenance crews responded to those reports, inspected the escalator, found it to be working properly and returned it to service. (March 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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The Long Island Rail Road will install new sensors and monitoring systems on its oldest escalators and examine all escalators, less than two weeks after a woman was strangled when she fell on the Lindenhurst station's moving stairs and her clothing got stuck in the mechanism.

The comprehensive review of "safety measures, maintenance practices and reporting procedures" will cover all 19 escalators, and new sensors will be installed on the 12 oldest, railroad president Helena Williams announced Monday. The oldest of them all, at the Massapequa station, dates to 1980.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority," Williams said. "We're going to move as quickly as we can on this program."

The LIRR has not calculated a cost for the project. The railroad is responsible for 19 escalators, most of them on the Babylon branch. It is not responsible for those at Penn Station, which are maintained by Amtrak, or at Jamaica Station, maintained by the Port Authority.

The new technology will be installed at Lindenhurst, where Irene Bernatzky, 88, died March 13 after she fell on the upward-bound escalator and was asphyxiated by a piece of clothing that got entangled in the moving steps. MTA Police continue to investigate the case.

The LIRR's escalators already have sensors that detect horizontal pressure, indicating that something is caught in the side of the steps. The new sensors also will detect vertical pressure, such as something being caught under the comb plate at the landings at the top and bottom of the moving stairs. If the new sensors are triggered, the escalator will automatically halt.

Additional new sensors will monitor the speed of escalator handrails. Escalators will shut down if one of the rails is moving 15 percent or more out of sync with the other rail, or with the steps.

Several Lindenhurst commuters interviewed after Bernatzky's death said the handrail had been stalling or jerking in recent days. The LIRR has not said whether the handrail contributed to the accident.

New components must be made to the specifications of each escalator. Williams said crews have begun inspecting and taking measures of the 12 older escalators.

She said she expects most safety enhancements to be in place within three months. Going forward, Williams will report to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board on escalator safety on a quarterly basis.

In addition to sensor enhancements, new remote monitoring technology will allow the LIRR to detect problems immediately and respond quickly, rather than having to wait on a report from a customer or railroad personnel at a station. It also will let the railroad monitor whether a repair was effective.

The LIRR hopes to be able to combine the remote monitoring technology with a diagnostic system to be able to more closely analyze a recurring problem.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, applauded the railroad's safety review and said he'd like to see it expanded to include deteriorating station platforms.

"We call for the LIRR to begin this review immediately and to commit to a date by which they will complete the review and release its results," Epstein said.

"The safety of its riders must be the top priority of the LIRR, and the MTA must make available the necessary resources to ensure that hazards are detected and corrected promptly."

At the Lindenhurst station, the LIRR's maintenance logs showed two reports of handrail problems in October and November. Maintenance crews responded to those reports, inspected the escalator, found it to be working properly and returned it to service.

"These new sensors, while designed to improve safety, are not a guarantee against the potential for all accidents on escalators," LIRR spokesman Sam Zambuto said in a statement. "As always, we urge our customers to use caution when on escalators."

Patrick Carrajat, an expert witness on escalator safety, said stalled handrails are the most common cause of escalator falls. He said the standard test of an escalator handrail is to have a 175-pound man stand at the top or bottom of an escalator and try to stop the rail with his hands. He should not be able to do so, he said.

"Once you get two or three of these calls and you get there and everything is good, you know you have a problem," said Carrajat, of Long Island City. "People are not just reporting this for fun. You have to do a little more digging."

 

 

LIRR ESCALATOR SAFETY

 

 

PLANNED REVIEW

 

A comprehensive review of the LIRR's "safety measures, maintenance practices and reporting procedures" will cover all 19 escalators, and new sensors will be installed on the 12 oldest.

 

STATUS OF EQUIPMENT

 

Review "safety procedures, including maintenance and inspection practices, reporting procedures" for all of its 19 escalators and consider replacement of older escalators under the MTA capital plan. The LIRR's president will report findings to the MTA board on a quarterly basis.

 

SHUTDOWN SENSORS

 

Install sensors at the handrails and comb plates of its 12 oldest escalators. The sensors would shut down the escalator if they detect objects stuck on the steps. The sensors would be placed:

Under the handrails: Sensors will be installed halfway along the escalators. If a stuck object causes one of the rails to move 15 percent or more out of sync with the other handrail or the steps, the escalator will shut down.

At the landings: Pressure sensors will be placed at the end of the escalator (at the top if escalator goes up, at the bottom if it goes down). If an object becomes stuck at the comb plate, the sensor detects the pressure and triggers a shutdown of the escalator. If there's horizontal pressure, the object jammed will push steps sideways. If pressure is vertical, the object jammed underneath will push up the comb plate at the landing.

 

MONITORS

 

Install 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.

 

DIAGNOSTICS

 

Examine whether it can add diagnostic capabilities to the remote monitoring system that will allow for a more detailed look at problems.

 

12 OLDER ESCALATORS EYED

 

The 12 LIRR escalators getting new sensors are at these stations: Amityville, Baldwin, Copiague, Freeport, Lindenhurst, Massapequa, Rockville Centre, Wantagh and two escalators each at Babylon and Hicksville.

-- ALFONSO A. CASTILLO

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