LIRR escalator where woman died running again

Bonnie Brosan-Moore, originally from Lindenhurst, now living in Bonnie Brosan-Moore, originally from Lindenhurst, now living in Denver, Colo., rides the escalator at the Lindenhurst LIRR station which was out of service for six months after an 88-year-old woman died while on it. (Sept. 17, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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The Long Island Rail Road's Lindenhurst station escalator is up and running, six months after an 88-year-old woman died while riding on it.

The LIRR sent an alert to customers Monday morning telling them the Lindenhurst escalator had been restored to service "following a major overhaul."

That overhaul included replacement and refurbishment of major components, including all the steps and brake mechanisms, LIRR officials said. The agency had hoped to have had the 18-year-old escalator ready late last month, but final testing found another problem with a worn undercarriage that had to be addressed.

"We know it's been a long haul and we're grateful for our customers' patience," said Joe Calderone, executive vice president for customer service for the LIRR. "Like all the older escalators in our system, it required major component replacements, and that took time."

The improvements were spurred by the March 13 death of Irene Bernatzky, who fell on the escalator while riding up to the station platform. LIRR officials said she was asphyxiated when a piece of clothing became entangled in the machinery.

After that accident, the LIRR launched a review of all 19 of its escalators and hired a new company to perform maintenance and repairs on them

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Eleven of the LIRR's escalators were taken out of service for several weeks as improvements were made, and six remain out of service. The LIRR hopes to have them all back in operation by November.

Monday afternoon at the Lindenhurst station, Adelphi University student Austin Miller-Smith, 18, said he has become so used to climbing the 53 steps to the platform that he didn't notice the escalator was running again.

Miller-Smith, who takes the train to Adelphi in Garden City, said he was at the station when Bernatzky died.

"It needed to be replaced. But nobody really looked into it," said Miller-Smith, who said he had worried about the escalator's safety before the March death. "That's what it took, I guess."

In addition to repairs, the LIRR is adding new safety technology at all restored escalators.

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At Lindenhurst, the escalator now includes sensors at the sides, every 10 feet, that shut down the system if they detect something is caught in the moving stairs. Previously, the escalator had such sensors only near the top and the bottom.

The LIRR added sensors at the top and bottom "comb plates." Previously, sensors detected only horizontal pressure -- as if something was pushing the plates back. Now they also detect vertical pressure -- as if something is caught underneath and pushing them up.

The LIRR also reduced the weight threshold that triggers the sensors from 150 pounds to 60 pounds.

For Tiyhanni Moses, 21, of Freeport, the Lindenhurst escalator's return was a welcome relief.

"I have asthma, so walking up and down the stairs is extremely hard," said Moses, who works in a medical billing office near the station. "It's much better that it's safer. I don't have to worry about anything."

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Escalators still out of service

LIRR escalators still out of service, with estimated times of renewed operation:

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Babylon, westbound platform: Next week

Amityville: Next week

Freeport: Possibly next week

Wantagh: October

Baldwin: October

Copiague: November, perhaps earlier

Source: Long Island Rail Road

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