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MTA officials: Plan to increase speed of subway trains would extend to LIRR

MTA managing director Veronique Hakim said a task

MTA managing director Veronique Hakim said a task force will use a study to come up with recommendations to increase train speeds, including on the Long Island Rail Road. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

An MTA plan to speed up subway trains by as much as 50 percent, including by encouraging train operators to drive closer to the speed limit, eventually will be extended to the Long Island Rail Road, officials said Tuesday.

At a Manhattan news conference Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo joined MTA officials to announce the preliminary findings of the agency’s “Train Speed and Safety Task Force,” which was empaneled in July to find ways to safely increase subway speeds.

The group found that for several reasons, including speed restrictions that were put in place following a pair of accidents in the 1990s, subway trains are moving slower than they were 20 years ago, and slower than they need to.

One key reason behind the sluggish subways, officials said, is train operators drive below speed limits out of fear they will trip improperly calibrated speed signals, triggering a train's emergency brake system and potentially resulting in delays and disciplinary action against them.

MTA managing director Veronique Hakim said the task force will use the early findings of its study to come up with recommendations to increase speeds, including by working with unions to make sure signals are properly calibrated and that speed limits are updated, properly posted and adhered to.

Hakim said the recommended changes, which will be presented to MTA chairman Patrick Foye for approval by the end of the year, could increase train speeds "by as much as 50 percent in certain sections of the track."

“You want to talk about an impactful change? This is an impactful change. You drive the trains faster, you get where you want to go faster,” said Cuomo, who added that the MTA “will do the same thing on the Long Island Rail Road . . . because the same, basic situation applies there.”

Cuomo offered no details for how the task force’s findings would be applied to the LIRR, other than to say the railroad’s system “is somewhat simpler.”

Kevin Sexton, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 269, which represents LIRR train operators, said management has not reached out to him about any potential plans to address train speeds on the railroad, whose speed limits are regulated by federal law.

“If, and when, they do, we’re more than willing to participate in a conversation and offer any meaningful recommendations that we can,” Sexton said.

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