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Sources: One of two LIRR trains involved in derailment was too long for track

"We are aggressively investigating this and will apply

"We are aggressively investigating this and will apply any lessons learned to prevent a repeat occurrence," said LIRR president Phillip Eng. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The derailment of two LIRR locomotives near Speonk on Saturday happened, in part, because one of the two trains involved was too long for the side track in which it pulled over, sources with knowledge of the accident said.

One of the trains was the “Cannonball” express to the Hamptons, returning westbound without any passengers after its first run of the year Friday afternoon, according to sources. It was sideswiped by a Montauk-bound train carrying 32 passengers, causing the diesel locomotives from each train to leave the rails.

There were no injuries, but the damage caused the Long Island Rail Road to suspend service to the South Fork during much of Memorial Day weekend — one of the busiest for Hamptons travel.

The express train engineer pulled into a side track just east of Speonk to allow the eastbound passenger train to pass, but his locomotive, which was pushing the train from the rear, was still sticking out onto the main track, sources said.

After making a stop at the Speonk station, the eastbound train struck the other train — causing  both locomotives to come off the track, sources said. The engineer of the westbound train pulled away, dragging the derailed locomotive some distance and causing significant damage to the tracks.

The LIRR has declined to comment on the circumstances around the accident, citing an ongoing investigation that includes the Federal Railroad Administration and the bNew York State Passenger Transportation Safety Board. 

“We are aggressively investigating this and will apply any lessons learned to prevent a repeat occurrence," LIRR president Phillip Eng said in a statement Tuesday evening. "We apologize to the customers who were inconvenienced by this and thank everyone for their patience.”

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said the round-the-clock repair effort required re-railing the two locomotives; clearing them from the area; rebuilding a destroyed track switch; repairing extensive damage to two other switches; repairing and replacing damaged signal components; and reconstructing hundreds of feet of track that were heavily damaged under the weight of the derailed engines.

Repairing the damage, restoring service and assisting customers required a team of about 100 employees at any given time, working at various sites and stations, the LIRR said. The LIRR restored service to Montauk by Monday morning.

“Given the extent of the damage, that we were able to restore service as quickly as we did is a testament to the hard work of our employees, who took action immediately and worked throughout the holiday weekend,” Eng said.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — the LIRR’s largest union — said workers pushed ahead with the repair effort even after a “failing, aged crane” broke down, leaving them to continue the re-railing effort manually until another crane could arrive.

Simon said the service restoration “is a true testament to what railroad workers needed to do and the sacrifices they made when called upon during a holiday weekend.”

The LIRR, and its workers, have been under fire in recent weeks because of alarmingly high overtime costs. The MTA, its inspector general’s office, the Queens district attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Southern District are looking into potential overtime fraud at the authority.

Donovan confirmed that many of the LIRR employees involved in the repair and restoration effort over the weekend worked on overtime. Simon said the laborers did “what some MTA officials deemed impossible” — a reference to the scrutiny from some MTA Board members over the legitimacy of 48-hour-long work shifts approved by LIRR managers.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said the weekend derailment spoke to the need for LIRR capacity upgrades on the East End, including more and longer side tracks — and, eventually, an extension of a second track, which goes only as far east as Sayville.

“When something like this happens on Memorial Day weekend with a single track, it shuts down the entire system,” said Thiele, who praised the railroad for “getting things back up and running” by Monday.

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