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LIRR president Eng defends against use of special tape on train exteriors

An LIRR train car that was repaired with

An LIRR train car that was repaired with tape is seen some time between April 2016 and May 2017. Credit: Jason Rabinowitz

Following LIRR president Phillip Eng’s announcement last week that the railroad would do away with its use of duct tape to repair ripped train seats, 30-year commuter John Napolitano shared with Newsday a photograph he took in October at the Mineola station of what he said appeared to be duct tape covering a hole on the front corner of a train car.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was looking at this thing and saying, ‘This can’t be true. It’s a huge hole, and half of it looks like they’re trying to cover it with duct tape,’” said Napolitano, 64, of Williston Park. “I don’t know what to think about this organization anymore.”

Other photos shared by Long Island Rail Road riders on social media in recent years appeared to similarly show two other trains with tape covering damaged exteriors. Railroad officials said at least two of the three trains spotted with tape on their exteriors — including the one photographed by Napolitano — since have been taken out of service.

Eng defended the use of tape in the photos and said it isn't duct tape but a specialized, heavy-duty steel bonding adhesive referred to as “speed tape.” The material, which can cost several hundred dollars a roll, is commonly used in the transportation industry for temporary, cosmetic repairs, including by airlines and race car teams. In the LIRR’s case, it’s been used to smooth out “sharp, rough edges” on the fiberglass exterior of some older train cars, according to Eng, who assured riders that the practice was safe and the damage was not structural.

Eng said the tape only has been used on its older-model electric trains, known as the “M3s.” Because the railroad initially planned to retire the 1980s-era trains beginning this year, it made the decision not to invest in more costly, permanent repairs — and instead use the tape to help keep the trains in service. The cars, which come in pairs, contain about 100 seats each.

“This was a cost-effective way to address a cosmetic issue, and at the time the M3s were not something that were planned on being retained,” Eng said. “It really is just a cosmetic repair that has nothing to do with the safety of the fleet.”

Facing a record ridership, and an occasional shortage of trains, Eng has said recently that he intends to keep some of the M3s around even after the new trains arrive. Eng said the railroad is “reviewing” the future of the fleet, and will consider making more long-term repairs.  

Some of the photos also showed that, in addition to the tape, adhesive poster ads were used to cover up the damage. Eng said he doesn’t believe the LIRR’s work crews “know how those ads got in those places.”

Jason Rabinowitz snapped photos 13 months apart of the same train car with an ad covering frontal damage. In May 2017, the LIRR responded publicly to him on Twitter, acknowledging it “looks like we dropped the ball on this one.”

The railroad could not verify Monday the status of that train car.

“I don’t know why they’re there, but they were there for over a year, so it kind of makes me feel like they were intended to be placed there,” Rabinowitz said. “I’m sure they’re not doing anything structurally, but it just makes the train look awful.”  

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