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Lawyer for woman who fell into LIRR gap says dangers persist

Sima Hakimian sustained minor injuries when she fell

Sima Hakimian sustained minor injuries when she fell into the gap between the platform and a train car at the Long Island Rail Road's Great Neck station Thursday evening, July 2, 2015, railroad officials said. Credit: Ryan Sprotte

The attorney for the woman seriously injured a week ago when she fell onto Long Island Rail Road tracks while exiting a train said the gaps between rail cars and the platforms at some stations remain dangerously wide.

Sima Hakimian, 65, of Great Neck, was getting off a Port Washington-bound train July 2 when she fell six feet onto the tracks at the Great Neck Station.

As a crowd of rush-hour commuters watched, first responders transported the bloodied woman by stretcher to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset; she was released Monday.

Hakimian's attorney, Michael Levine of Hauppauge, said the woman's injuries included multiple fractures of her ribs and a collapsed lung.

"I imagine it could have been much, much worse," Levine said.

LIRR spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said the incident is under investigation.

Daniels said, and a Newsday reporter confirmed, that the gap from the train door step to the platform measures 8.45 inches. But Levine said that Hakimian was "jostled" by another passenger while getting off the train, and was sent into the far wider gap between the train's exterior walls and the station platform.

Responding to a Newsday investigation into the high incidence of LIRR gap falls, including one that resulted in the 2006 death of Natalie Smead, 18, of Northfield, Minnesota, the LIRR took on an extensive effort to narrow the gaps, the widest of which measured 15 inches at Syosset.

Completed in 2012, the project included installing nearly 32 miles of edge boards across 126 stations and adding 2-inch threshold plates at the doors of its entire fleet of nearly 1,200 train cars. Daniels said the LIRR has spent $42.4 million since 2007 on the effort, which includes extensive customer outreach on gap safety.

With its fixes, the LIRR achieved its goal of shrinking gaps to a maximum of less than six inches at 126 stations. But at stations with curved tracks, including Great Neck, the gaps can still range from 10 to 13 inches "due to operational issues," Daniels said.

"Engineering conducts an annual survey to measure gaps throughout the railroad, and mitigate any that are determined to be overly large," Daniels said.

Levine said that while acceptable to the LIRR, the gaps at some stations remain unreasonably wide for some riders, including Hakimian.

Levine said that for people considered seniors, a gap of 8, 9 or 10 inches can be "a scary event." He said what might be seen as "a normal step" for more-vibrant people "can almost be insurmountable" for some seniors.

Last year, the LIRR reported 34 gap incidents -- a 33 percent drop from 2013 and a reduction of 80.6 percent since the railroad began its "gap remediation project" in 2007. That year, there were 175 gap incidents, according to the LIRR. Through May of this year, nine gap incidents were reported, Daniels said.

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