The Long Island Rail Road train car in which Colin Ferguson killed six people and injured another 19 a quarter-century ago is still in service, providing daily rides to hundreds of commuters unaware they’re visiting a notorious crime scene.
Railroad officials consistently have defended their decision to keep the car, which was extensively refurbished after the Dec. 7, 1993, massacre, despite occasional remarks on social media by commuters aware of the history of car No. 9946. It originally was No. 9892 before being renumbered by the LIRR.
Passengers have shared photos on Twitter over the years onboard the car — some calling it “eerie,” “creepy” or “morbid.” Authorities have said Ferguson was seated on the third train car of the 5:33 p.m. train out of Penn Station bound for Hicksville.
As the train approached Merillon Avenue station, Ferguson pulled a 9 mm pistol out of a bag, stood from his seat in the front corner of the train car and began walking along the center aisle of the train, shooting passengers at point-blank range. Ferguson was convicted of multiple crimes, including six counts of murder, and is serving a 315-year prison sentence.
In a statement, LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said "the decision to retain the car was not one that the MTA made lightly."
LIRR officials noted the train's cars were less than 10 years old at the time and mechanically sound. They bear no evidence of the tragedy, Donovan said.
“The whole railroad family understands the difficulty of the situation," Donovan added. "Senior railroad staff maintained contact with victims’ families and survivors and helped to coordinate an annual memorial vigil at Merillon Avenue."
Terry Sullivan of Malverne, who was in the train car during the mass shooting, was unaware that it’s still rolling along the LIRR system 25 years later. Sullivan, an artist who has depicted train cars in several of his paintings, said he understood the railroad’s “pragmatic” decision to keep the train, but also understood while some riders would find it insensitive.
“I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t shot. I didn’t lose anybody in there. From that aspect of it, my sensitivity might be very different from one of the victim’s relatives,” Sullivan said. “I think, myself, if I was in that car — it’s hard to know how I’d respond.”
The railroad initially planned to retire the 1980s-era M3 model cars with the expected arrival of a new generation of cars, the M9, next year. But LIRR president Phillip Eng has recently suggested the LIRR may keep the antiquated cars longer to supplement its fleet, which has at times struggled to accommodate the railroad’s 300,000-plus daily riders.
Ridership is projected to grow further with the completion of the MTA's East Side Access project and the construction of a third track on its Main Line. Donovan said the cars have a life span of up to 40 years. Jayne Nhaisi, who was also in the train car with Ferguson during the massacre, said she doesn’t “feel strongly either way” about the LIRR keeping the car.
“I guess if you look at it like a business, it makes sense,” said Nhaisi, who now lives in Morristown, New Jersey. “It’s lovely to think that they could have made it like a memorial or something like that. Maybe that’s impractical.”