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LIRR president apologizes after fatality snarls commute

One commuter said passengers waited about two hours after their train hit the unidentified person before they were transferred to a "rescue train."

Commuters wait at the LIRR station in Mineola

Commuters wait at the LIRR station in Mineola on Friday. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The president of the Long Island Rail Road apologized to customers Friday after a fatal train accident snarled the morning commute—the third major rush hour service disruption this week.

Shortly before 5 a.m., a westbound train that originated in Huntington struck and killed an unidentified person on the tracks near Woodside, the LIRR said. MTA Police were still investigating the incident Friday and additional details were not available.

The accident caused a temporary suspension of all service between Jamaica and Penn Station, as well as the cancellation of more than a dozen trains and lengthy delays that lasted through the morning rush.

On board the train involved in the accident was Jill Vitale of Huntington. Several minutes after the train came to a sudden stop, she said a conductor announced to passengers, “It looks like we hit something.”

“Then they had to turn all the power off, so it started to get hot and stuffy . . . Everybody was shouting, ‘Let’s just open the emergency windows to get some air.’ But nobody did,”  said Vitale, a producer for the Bernie & Sid In The Morning radio show. “There were people that started to feel faint.”

Vitale said passengers waited on the stopped train for about two hours before they were transferred to a “rescue train” that pulled alongside it.

Later Friday, Eng offered an apology to customers affected by the disruptions and assured them the railroad is “working hard to minimize these inconveniences and communicate with you effectively.”

“When someone is struck and killed on our tracks, it’s a horrible situation for everyone involved, including the train crew and passengers aboard,” Eng said. “Our focus is to make sure our trains operate safely and on time, but when incidents occur, we make it a priority to recover as quickly as possible.”

The disruption was the latest in a challenging week for railroad commuters.

The LIRR attributed delays and cancellations during the Wednesday evening rush to a disabled Amtrak train near Woodside. And signal trouble near the Babylon station caused delays of more than a half hour and cancellations during the Monday evening commute.

However, statistics show that LIRR service has improved over the last year, when the railroad was crippled by major service disruptions leading up to Amtrak’s emergency “summer of hell” repairs at Penn Station. After hitting a 22-year low point in January, when 83.9 percent of trains were on time, the LIRR has improved its on-time performance in every month compared to the same month last year.

Some of those improvements have coincided with the arrival in April of Eng, who has laid out a multifaceted plan dubbed LIRR Forward to address riders’ frustrations, including upgrading antiquated infrastructure, doing more to prevent weather-related issues and communicating better with customers.

On Friday, Eng said service disruptions like the ones that affected commutes this week “reinforce just how important it is for us to continue forging ahead” with the LIRR Forward plan.

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