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Schumer: Address freight car debris danger

New York State Senator Charles Schumer call for

New York State Senator Charles Schumer call for legislation for trains carrying debris to be covered in Mineola. (May 21, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Mineola residents who live along the Long Island Rail Road tracks say they're fed up with debris falling off uncovered freight cars as they roll by, prompting Sen. Charles Schumer to call on the federal agency that oversees railroads to investigate and create regulations to require freight be covered.

Earlier this month, the LIRR acknowledged the problem in a strongly worded letter to the freight company that uses its tracks, saying that the company's practice of hauling uncovered freight "raises serious safety concerns" for LIRR passenger trains that share the tracks.

Standing outside the Birchwood Court co-ops in Mineola on Monday, Schumer (D-N.Y.) held up a heavy rod residents said had flown off one of the freight cars and through the windshield of a car sitting in the co-op's parking lot next to the tracks. "This is a dangerous condition," he said. "The havoc it's wreaked on this co-op is not fair."

In a statement Monday, the Federal Railroad Administration said it was investigating the situation.

"We are looking into reports that debris has been falling from uncovered freight cars along the Long Island Rail Road, and we will take all appropriate action to ensure the highest standards of safety along our nation's railways," the statement read.

Dennis Walsh of Mineola, whose house on Albertson Place backs up to the LIRR tracks, said he photographed the uncovered freight cars as they rolled past his backyard several weeks ago and brought the pictures to the village, which began discussing the matter with State Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola).

"Stuff was falling off that thing and dust was flying around," Walsh said. "I have no idea what this stuff is, but I know it has to be contained."

LIRR vice president and general counsel Richard Gans wrote on May 3 to Paul Victor, president of New York & Atlantic Railway of Glendale, Queens, saying that the railroad had received numerous complaints about debris falling off freight cars that were using the LIRR tracks along the Main Line in Mineola, and noting that the LIRR had previously requested that the company cover its freight cars to avoid spills.

"NYA's current practice raises serious safety concerns with respect to LIRR passenger operations, and is being viewed as a safety hazard and substantial nuisance by those in neighboring communities," the letter read. "NYA must immediately correct this situation."

The LIRR has had a long-term lease with the company since 1997, allowing the company to haul freight on the tracks mainly during off-peak times, an LIRR statement issued Monday said.

New York & Atlantic Railway officials did not respond to a request for comment. According to its website, the company hauls 20,000 carloads a year on Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens for such customers as Gershow Recycling, Allied Extruders, and Waste Management.

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