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Charles Schumer: Feds should probe LIRR safety practices

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer holds a news conference

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer holds a news conference across the street from the United Nations on March 2, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The Long Island Rail Road will adopt some of the safety upgrades recommended by federal investigators for its sister railroad, Metro-North, MTA officials said Tuesday.

The vow from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority followed a call Tuesday from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for a federal probe into safety practices at the LIRR.

At a Mineola news conference Tuesday Schumer said a recent Federal Railroad Administration report that made his "skin crawl" because of its findings about the lax safety practices at the Metro-North Railroad provides ample reason for a similar probe into its sister agency, the LIRR.

"We need to make sure that the same problems that have bedeviled Metro-North are not seeping into the MTA's other, larger commuter railroad, the Long Island Rail Road," said Schumer, who noted that the LIRR's recent safety record is "strong."

"Here's the problem: It was strong on Metro-North until the recent spate of accidents," he said.

In a statement, the MTA said it is "closely reviewing" the FRA's report, and will examine safety needs and requirements at the LIRR the same as it will at Metro-North, "because it holds both railroads to the same standard."

"Safety remains the LIRR's No. 1 priority for customers and for our employees," the MTA said in a statement. "We welcome any additional insights from the FRA on how to improve the LIRR's already strong culture of safety."

The FRA's probe into Metro-North looked at four separate incidents over about a year, including the December derailment of a train in the Bronx that killed three people and injured dozens more.

The report found systemic problems with Metro-North management, who investigators said routinely emphasized on-time performance over employee and passenger safety.

On Friday, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said there's nothing to indicate that the "depth of challenges" the investigators found in Metro-North also exist at the LIRR.

"Safety is our top priority and it should never be compromised on any railroad," Szabo said Tuesday.

The LIRR has already instituted several safety improvements since December's Metro-North derailment, including additional speed control technology on major curves and cooperated with a safety audit conducted by the American Public Transportation Association, which found the LIRR in compliance with accepted industry safety practices.

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