LIRR labor leaders are calling on the MTA to pause all construction being carried out by outside workers following what they say is a string of safety-related mishaps in recent weeks, including the electrocution of a contractor on the Third Track project Saturday.
MTA officials, who are investigating the electrocution and reviewing protocols, responded that safety remains their "top priority" and said all work on the Third Track project has been paused pending the investigation, but declined to stop work by outside contractors on other projects.
In a letter sent to Janno Lieber, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s infrastructure chief, Anthony Simon and Christopher Natale — the heads of two of the railroad’s largest unions — called for "safety stand downs" for all third-party contractors working on the railroad, "to ensure the safety of all the workers in our system, as well as LIRR customers."
The letter follows several incidents in recent weeks that the labor leaders suggested were caused by the MTA prioritizing speed over safety in carrying out big-ticket infrastructure projects, like the ongoing $2.6 billion effort to construct a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville.
On Saturday, a contracted ironworker was electrocuted at the LIRR’s Mineola station when a crane being used to erect a pedestrian bridge made contact with a high-voltage line. The 25-year-old woman was treated at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island, and is in stable but serious condition, according to MTA and union officials.
The incident came just five days after another contracted crew, working on the third track, demolished a decommissioned electrical substation in Mineola, even as LIRR employees were working in the building next door. The demolition buried part of the adjacent building under rubble, forcing four LIRR signal workers to escape through a window, unharmed. MTA officials said they are still investigating that incident.
And a week earlier, riders experienced several days of delays after problems with contractors’ installation of a new signal system in Mineola — also part of the Third Track project — required lengthy repairs, according to union officials, who said the problem could have resulted in train accidents, had they not discovered it in testing. MTA officials disputed that the issue posed any safety risk.
In their letter, Simon, who chairs the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, and Natale, who heads the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, said they have recently learned of other recent safety incidents, including the electrocution of another contractor with 3TC — the firm carrying out the third track project — at an LIRR yard in December, and a January incident during which a 3TC contractor put work equipment on a main LIRR track without permission.
"These incidents are incredibly concerning to us as labor leaders," wrote Natale and Simon, adding that MTA leadership "must do better."
In a written response, Lieber, president of MTA Capital Construction, rejected the suggestion that construction work handled by contractors other than the Third Track project should be paused.
"These projects often require specialized trades and have historically employed skilled contractor labor," said Lieber, who added that the MTA officials are "aggressively investigating" Saturday’s incident "and intend to continue working toward a perfect safety record."