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LIRR freight provider a dangerous employer, safety group says

A New York and Atlantic Railway train, the

A New York and Atlantic Railway train, the Long Island Rail Road's freight provider, approaches the intersection of Grand Avenue and Railroad Avenue in Lindenhurst on Nov. 25, 2013. Credit: Steve Pfost

A national worker safety watchdog group has named the Long Island Rail Road’s freight provider as one of the most dangerous employers in the United States.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group, included the New York and Atlantic Railroad, or NYAR, in its “Dirty Dozen” list of companies that put workers and communities at risk.

The distinction follows a lawsuit filed in February by several day laborers accusing NYAR of having them carry out dangerous jobs — including re-railing derailed trains — on LIRR tracks without the proper certification, equipment or training.

The safety council report said NYAR workers had suffered “amputation, brain injury, and impaired vision.”

“There’s very compelling testimony from these workers about the conditions they faced,” said council spokesman Roger Kerson. “We thought it was something worth highlighting.”

In a statement Friday, NYAR president James Bonner said his company only appeared on the list “as a result of a baseless lawsuit.”

“Not a single person featured in the lawsuit, or cited in this report, was ever employed by NYAR, nor have they ever filed a complaint with NYAR or any state or federal agency,” Bonner said. Safety is paramount to the company and “something we take very seriously,” he said.

The LIRR has faced increasing pressure to break ties with NYAR, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Anacostia Rail Holdings, after the Federal Railroad Administration raised serious concerns about the company’s safety practices. Those were listed in a 2016 review that stemmed from a 2015 train crash in which an uncertified locomotive engineer fled the scene.

The report was issued just after NYAR renewed its contract with the LIRR, ensuring that it would continue operating on its tracks for another 10 years. The LIRR has said NYAR has implemented safety upgrades to address the federal government’s concerns in the 2016 review and that it would continue monitoring the freight company.

“Safety is our top priority and the LIRR is reviewing its relationship with New York and Atlantic,” LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said Friday.

The LIRR is also reviewing the recent lawsuit by the laborers, which an NYAR spokesman has called “unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and unsupported.”

The Glendale, Queens-based railroad, which has worked as the LIRR’s official freight service provider since 1997, was among other U.S. employers on the list, including Amazon and Tesla Motors.

The safety council said its criteria for inclusion on the list was “severity of injuries to workers; exposure to unnecessary and preventable risk; repeat citations by relevant state and federal authorities; and activity by workers to improve their health and safety conditions.”

The report was released to coincide with Workers’ Memorial Day, happening Saturday, which looks to honor workers who were injured or killed on the job.

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