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Long Island

LIRR gap accidents down one-third

Accidents on the Long Island Rail Road involving gaps between trains and station platforms were down 33 percent in 2008 as compared to 2007, LIRR officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came as LIRR president Helena Williams updated the MTA's Long Island Committee on the progress made so far in the rail road's ongoing efforts to repair the dangerous gaps.

"We still have a long way to go in terms of educating the public," Williams said. "We're very proud at the reduction. We'd like to bring that down some more."

Williams also acknowledged that the reduction in accidents in 2008 followed a year in which there was a higher than usual number of reported incidents because of the attention drawn to the issue.

The LIRR embarked on the $20.7-million effort to shrink gaps between train cars and platforms after a Newsday investigation found there were more than 800 gap accidents from 1995 to early 2007.

The investigation was spurred by the August 2006 death of Natalie Smead, 18, of Northfield, Minn., who fell into a gap at the Woodside station and was hit by a train.

The project includes extending platforms by attaching 1-inch-wide boards and installing 4,560 metal threshold plates on the doors of passenger cars in the LIRR's fleet. Officials say they expect to complete the project by January 2011.

According to a memo written by Williams and released Wednesday, the LIRR installed 41,610 linear feet of one-inch edgeboard to platforms in 2008 and plans to add another 55,743 feet this year.

The LIRR also adjusted platform heights at 26 platform edges in 2008 to reduce vertical gaps, and installed two-inch threshold plates on 86 of its "M-7" train cars. It has a goal of installing the plates on 672 cars this year.

In the memo, Williams also lauded the LIRR's public awareness efforts, including recorded announcements by celebrities, in helping reducing gap accidents.

There were 117 such accidents in 2008, compared with 175 in 2007. In 2006, the year in which Newsday began its investigation, there were 129 accidents.

In the memo, Williams wrote that she was "pleased" with the reduction.

Through 2008, the LIRR spent $12.2 million on its gap project, including $9.9 million in operating funds and $2.3 million in capital funds. It has set aside another $11.3 million in operating funds and $3 million from its capital budget to continue efforts this year.

Williams proposed in November scaling back gap repair efforts in 2009 as part of $53 million in budget cuts -- potentially setting back completion of the project by two years.

However, she later reconsidered the cuts and announced the gap-fixing project would go forward unhindered.

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