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Groups sue LIRR over disabled-accessibility issues

Raimond Harewood, of Amityville, walks away from the

Raimond Harewood, of Amityville, walks away from the podium after speaking at a press conference at the Suffolk Independent living Organization in Holtsville on Wednesday, June. 27, 2018. Credit: James Carbone

A group of disabled train riders have filed a federal lawsuit against the LIRR, accusing the railroad of discrimination for not doing enough to make its system accessible.

The class action suit was filed earlier this month by the Suffolk Independent Living Organization of Holtsville and members of the Long Island chapter of ADAPT, a national disabled advocacy group.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction requiring the LIRR “to make all necessary modifications” to address the complaints. LIRR officials on Wednesday said they could not comment on pending litigation.

Among the suit’s claims is that LIRR conductors consistently fail to deploy metal “bridge plates” to help mobility-impaired users navigate the gap between trains and station platforms.

Raymond Harewood, a plaintiff, told News 12 Long Island on Wednesday that he has repeatedly been stranded on a train or a station because of the lack of assistance from train crews — an experience that has left him feeling “helpless.”

“Just imagine. You have some place you need to go, want to go, whatever the case, but you’re not able to, because of somebody not paying attention, not doing their job,” said Harewood of Amityville, who uses a rolling walker, at a Holtsville news conference. “Something’s got to change.”

The suit, filed by North Bellmore attorney James Bahamonde, also challenges the railroad’s operations at Penn Station, where disabled riders often have 10 minutes from when a track assignment is announced to navigate the busy station, get to an elevator, and find a train crew member to assist them.

“Consequently, disabled passengers are regularly left on the waiting platform watching their train leave without them,” the suit said.

Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa), who has pushed for improved accessibility throughout the LIRR, said Thursday he supported the suit, but was also confident that an out-of-court agreement could be reached.

“The railroad clearly has to take some steps to improve access to people with disabilities,” Brooks said. “Imagine being a blind person trying to manipulate your way around Penn Station to find the right track. That’s a really hard process.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent agency, has taken steps in recent months to address accessibility issues, but those efforts have largely been focused on its subway system. Earlier this month, the agency hired its first senior manager for systemwide subway accessibility.

At a customer forum in Garden City last month, new LIRR president Phillip Eng said the railroad needs to focus on “making sure all of our stations are accessible.”

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