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LIRR cupholders among plans for boosting rail safety

A train at the Syosset station on the

A train at the Syosset station on the Port Jefferson branch of the Long Island Rail Road on July 26, 2011. Credit: Chris Ware

The Long Island Rail Road is moving ahead with two proposed safety initiatives that could help reduce slip-and-fall claims on board trains, and give riders somewhere to put their drinks.

LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski announced Monday that he is considering having cupholders installed on all new LIRR trains to avoid problems caused by spilled drinks.

Separately, the MTA's LIRR and Metro-North Committee on Monday approved a $35 million contract to install security cameras on most trains. The full MTA board will vote on the contract Wednesday.

Nowakowski said the cupholders are being considered for the LIRR's next generation of trains, known as M-9 cars, which are being designed and will come online by 2017.

"In light of our slip/trip/fall category and my experience with the number of times I see liquid spilled on the floor of our vehicles, it's something I wanted to look at," Nowakowski said. "That said, if I have a protruding cupholder that somebody's got to bang their leg or their arm on, I've got to weigh what design options are out there so I don't fix one problem and create another."

So far this year the LIRR has reported 45 onboard customer "slip/trip/fall" incidents. All but nine were by customers boarding or exiting trains. In five incidents, customers have filed claims against the LIRR.

Last year, there were 70 such incidents. Six such incidents in 2013 resulted in customers filing claims against the LIRR.

"I'm certainly glad to hear that the railroad is going to focus on the issue of safety and slips and falls," LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said. Other measures the LIRR could take to reduce falls on trains include reducing how long train doors are open during rain, and putting down mats, he said.

Drink-toting LIRR rider Julia DeMonte, 18, said Monday that she wasn't sure cupholders on trains would be such a good idea. "To me, it would be a waste of space," she said.

Virginia Railway Express spokesman Bryan Jungwirth said cupholders have proved a big hit with passengers since his agency began installing seats equipped with them on trains about eight years ago. The retractable "heavy duty metal" holders on seat backs can be folded flush against the seats when not in use.

"You just pull it down and then when you're done drinking, it just pushes back up so you can get in and out of them easily and they don't get in the way," Jungwirth said.

Chicago's Metra system is also testing seats equipped with cupholders.

While the cupholders could reduce the number of legitimate slip-and-fall incidents on trains, Nowakowski said video cameras could curb bogus claims of such incidents.

Under the three-year contract with 4D Security Solutions, of South Plainfield, New Jersey, security cameras will be installed in each passenger compartment on LIRR and Metro-North trains -- including at each doorway, on either end of a train, and in the middle of a car. Footage will be downloaded to hard drives.

The cameras, recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board after December's fatal Metro-North derailment in the Bronx, will also be installed facing forward at the front of train cars, and inside locomotive engineers' cabs.

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