LIRR signal system upgrades to cost $500G

A file photo of the LIRR tracks near

A file photo of the LIRR tracks near the Jay switching station on the west side of Jamaica train station. (Sept. 30, 2011) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

More surge protection and improved isolation of computer processors are among $500,000 in upgrades planned for the LIRR's $56-million signal system at Jamaica station that was seriously damaged by a September lightning strike, almost bringing the railroad to a halt, officials said Monday.

The Italian company that designed the system -- Ansaldo STS, of Genoa -- has agreed to pay for those improvements as well as diagnostic capabilities and troubleshooting, they said.

Lightning will always pose a risk to exposed railroad infrastructure, Long Island Rail Road president Helena Williams said, but the new upgrades "will go a long way toward preventing the kind of service disruption our customers experienced on Sept. 29.

"Ansaldo showed real leadership in stepping up to help us get to the bottom of the system issues," Williams said. "I am grateful for the company's support in the implementation of the upgrades."

Mitchell Pally, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member, said the upgrades are valued at $500,000 and Ansaldo also is giving the LIRR a new warranty for its equipment.

"My hope is this time, with these fixes, it will work correctly and we won't have any more problems with it," said Pally, of Stony Brook.

LIRR officials would not say when the work will be complete. An Ansaldo spokesman declined to comment Monday.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said while the planned upgrades are "all well and good," Ansaldo should be on the hook for costs associated with the September shutdown, including to riders who were delayed and bought train tickets that they never used.

"Usually, when somebody makes a mistake, they pay not only for future repairs, but also damages," said Epstein, an attorney.

The lightning strike that night at one of Jamaica station's signal huts damaged several computer processors for the system, which was installed at the crucial hub just a year earlier. The electrical surge also damaged a backup signal system, resulting in the LIRR shutting down nearly all service and stranding thousands of passengers on trains for several hours.

LIRR officials have said the Ansaldo signal system failed to live up to specifications for protection against lightning, as well as those for isolating damage from a backup system and allowing workers to easily diagnose the problem.

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