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'Gap rap' features LIRR's medical director, students

In its latest effort to warn riders to "watch the gap" between train cars and platforms, the Long Island Rail Road has a "gap rap" video featuring the railroad's medical director and fifth-grade students from Long Beach.

Dr. John Clarke and 22 Lindell School students appear in the safety-awareness video, showcased Thursday at a news conference at the Mineola train station.

In the video, Clarke, dressed in his physician's white coat, leads the students onto a train at the Long Beach station, reminding viewers to "look down, step over and watch the gap."

It's yet another high-profile public-service rap for Clarke, 38, of Baldwin. Last fall, he won the U.S. Health Department's nationwide contest for the best H1N1 flu public-service announcement with a rap song.

The H1N1 rap was what led to the Long Beach students' involvement. Connor Lent, 11, heard it and wanted Clarke to come to the Lindell School to perform the rap. Clarke did.

When LIRR officials asked Clarke to come up with a "gap rap," Clarke asked Connor and his classmates if they wanted to participate in the video. The answer was an enthusiastic yes.

"I wanted to learn about stuff you could help people with," Connor, who will be a sixth-grader at Long Beach Middle School, said Thursday of his initial interest in Clarke's H1N1 rap.

Teacher Juan Gil, 59, of Long Beach, whose class was featured in the video, was an unabashed fan of the effort.

"I strongly believe in the message saving some kids' accidents in the future," said Gil, who is not in the video. "For the children to learn that precaution is a good thing when boarding the train."

The LIRR launched a multimillion-dollar effort to reduce gaps and to warn the public to watch the space between cars and platforms after the August 2006 death of Natalie Smead, 18, of Minnesota, who was killed after she fell through the gap at Queens' Woodside station. Smead, who was with friends and had been drinking, was on a westbound train when she fell. She was trying to cross to the other side and climb onto the platform there when she was struck by an eastbound train.

Subsequently, a Newsday investigation found gaps as large as 15 inches at some LIRR train stations. In addition to on-train announcements and posted warnings, the railroad has adjusted some platforms' heights, installed wooden edge boards at some platforms and affixed metal plates at the base of nearly all its train-car doors.

Thursday, LIRR President Helena Williams said of the "gap rap" video: "Anytime you're communicating with the public, you want to freshen up the message."

Clarke said he heard his first rap song 30 years ago. During his medical schooling, he began a research project using rap songs to teach students about asthma and has continued to use rap as a way to educate the public.

"Rap in particular helps things to stick in your mind," Clarke said. "Especially if you're trying to reach young people."

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