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Long IslandTransportation

Fix-it solutions offered

When the Long Island Rail Road's gap problems were highlighted last summer, a retired civil engineer from Kings Park started thinking about a solution.

Tom Rosati, 76, thought that perhaps the LIRR could benefit from a rubber bumper on platform edges, similar to the rubber fenders used for boats in marinas. "This would be hard rubber so if the train bumped it, it wouldn't tear," he said.

Rosati said he built a model of the rubber bumper and sent a picture of the model as well as a catalog describing the maritime fenders to LIRR officials for them to consider. Other than acknowledging receiving the catalog, Rosati said he hasn't gotten a response.

Rosati isn't alone in wanting to help the LIRR. Railroad officials have received suggestions ranging in price and complexity. They include an automated bridge that would deploy from the train door to the station platform, and a retractable platform extender already in use at three New York City subway stations.

Taking them all in

Ray Kenny, LIRR acting president, said he hasn't ruled out any suggestions but is now focusing on three possible solutions: widening train doorsteps; installing mechanical gap fillers on sharply curved platforms; and reducing the railroad's standard for the distance between platforms and tracks, with platforms then extended to reduce the gap.

While the search continues for solutions to some of its worst gaps -- which the railroad itself has measured as being as wide as 151/2 inches -- the LIRR is making efforts to reduce gap sizes by moving platforms, realigning tracks, tacking wooden boards to platform edges and ratcheting up its education campaign with new signs and brochures. The railroad expects to make improvements to 100 of its 262 platforms at passenger stations by the spring of next year.

LIRR officials have not disclosed dollar amounts for the partial fixes, and it's likely that later measures will be more costly.

A possible solution that's already being used in the subways, specifically at the Times Square, South Ferry and Union Square stations, could run at least $400,000 per train doorway. The gap fillers used are large, metal sections that are about 18 feet long by 6 feet wide and extend from the edge of the platform as the train arrives. LIRR officials say they are reviewing gap fillers used at various cities.

John Hayday, the president of Jaygo Inc. in Union, N.J., which manufactured the product for the subways, said it's not clear how much the project would cost the LIRR, as it depends on how many doors they opt to outfit with the retractable platforms.

A retractable bridge

The LIRR also has considered a variation of the gap filler that extends from trains rather than platforms. Kenny said his team studied a video of a European train with a retractable bridge. The railroad initially ruled out the device because the manufacturer of LIRR trains warned that it would interfere with train components. Kenny said the railroad would continue to look for more practical versions.

A similar device to the retractable bridge is the brainchild of an Australian inventor. Kevin Fullerton's Glidelok is a ramp that finds the platform level and deploys within six seconds. So far, Fullerton's contraption is just a prototype, as it is not being used in any rail system. He said he is currently seeking a patent for his product and envisions selling it at between $4,000 and $15,000 per ramp.

In dealing with especially large gaps at the ends of platforms, LIRR officials said that currently, conductors are instructed not to open the doors at those spots. Metro-North, .LIRR's sister rail system, also does the same. In addition, at Metro-North's Marble Hill station, which is curved, workers erected a 3-foot-high fence to serve as a visual indicator that the engineer shouldn't pull up to that spot. The fence also serves as a physical barrier for passengers in case the train goes too far and the doors open to a large gap, Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said.

While many of these solutions address gaps of wide spaces, there are measures railroads have taken to reduce gaps by a few inches.

The Metro in Washington, D.C., is proof that Rosati might be on the right track with his bumper idea.

Bumper cars

Since 1999, Metro trains have used rubber strips to widen the doorsteps of its subway cars, reducing the distance between the edge of the doorstep and the platform. The strips were installed soon after a passenger caught his leg in a gap and was dragged to death by the train. Transportation officials in Washington said that even before the death, they were already looking into the rubber strips to improve access for the disabled. The rubber strips have reduced gaps from 4 inches down to 11/2 inches, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

While most transportation experts agree that education is not itself a solution to the gap problem, Carl Berkowitz, a transportation consultant from Moriches and former engineer with the New York City Transit Authority who has studied foreign transit systems, believes that a comprehensive awareness campaign goes a long way.

He notes that in London, "Mind the Gap" is widely associated with the Underground system. The slogan is so pervasive there that it has even carried over into popular culture with songs and T-shirts. Berkowitz said similar warnings also are used in other countries such as Japan, China and Singapore, where people have an understanding to be mindful of the gap.

It's unfortunate, Berkowitz said, that the LIRR has only recently begun to focus on its education campaign in earnest.

"Why didn't they do it 30 or 40 years ago?" he asked.

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