LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi walks along one of the...

LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi walks along one of the new platforms at Grand Central Madison, part of the East Side Access project, in December. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Long Island Rail Road does not have the equipment it would need to tow a disabled train out of the tunnels leading into its new Grand Central Madison station in the event of a power outage, the head of the LIRR recently confirmed.

Interim president Catherine Rinaldi said the issue would not impact the already-delayed launch of the railroad’s East Side Access service plan for Grand Central, and noted that the railroad has procedures in place to safely evacuate passengers.

Rinaldi confirmed that the railroad was without a diesel locomotive for the newly-bored tunnels to Grand Central that could tow away a disabled train — as the railroad has used for years inside the East River Tunnels connecting to Penn Station. She said during a tour of the new station last month the railroad was “in the process of procuring the rescue locomotive" and expected to put it out to bid early this year. 

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan on Wednesday said that the railroad has no plans for a formal procurement of a locomotive — a bidding process that could take years — but was looking into other ways to bolster its fleet of work trains that could be used for towing. 

MTA external relations chief John McCarthy said train technologies are being developed to address some of the issues involved in operating diesel locomotives in the tunnels, including their size, strength, and emissions.

Until the railroad secures the needed engine, Rinaldi said that in the event of a third rail power failure isolated to one track, the LIRR “could do a train-to-train transfer,” which would entail evacuating passengers from the disabled train to another train that would pull up beside it.

“You could just bring in another train” until the power returned and the train was able to move on its own, Rinaldi said.

If a train-to-train evacuation is not possible, the railroad’s published emergency evacuation procedures allows for passengers to “be evacuated to track level using evacuation ladders or the train’s lower-level platform stairs.”

Kevin Sexton, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 269, which represents LIRR train operators, said because the new station was built below existing Grand Central Terminal, a rescue locomotive would have to be powerful enough to tow a train while up a relatively steep grade.

Still, Sexton said he did not believe the lack of such a locomotive should be a cause for major concern among riders, because passengers could be safely evacuated.

“In a worst-case scenario, which is highly unlikely, everybody is still going to find a way out,” Sexton said. “I’m not overly concerned because passengers and crew members are not going to be trapped down there. There is always going to be a means of egress.”

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers — the union representing LIRR conductors — said he, too, was “confident that we’re going to have a safety protocol in place to protect both the passengers and the crews” until the railroad secures a new tow train.

But, Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 589, which represents LIRR electricians, said he believes “it is a problem.”

“When you get down there, you’re limited in what you can do. And if you can’t retrieve [a disabled train], what happens?” said Sanchez, who noted that third rail power failures, while relatively rare, do occur.

“It’s always hypothetical, until it happens,” added Sanchez, who believes the likelihood of power failures will be greater soon after Grand Central Madison opens. “That’s when you’re going to test the system, and that’s when something is going to go wrong, and you’re going to have to have a contingency plan in place.”

McCarthy noted that the LIRR has already been operating trains, without passengers, to and from Grand Central for months.

 Carl Berkowitz, a Moriches-based railroad safety expert, said it would be “a rare occasion” that the LIRR would have use for such a locomotive, which could run several million dollars.

“The costs could be astronomical,” Berkowitz said. “Everything is a concern. You want to be as safe as possible. But if they do their preventive maintenance, … they inspect their equipment on a regular basis, they check the track on a regular basis, they check the power and everything else, you should have zero defect.”

Samuel Chu, Suffolk County’s representative on the MTA Board and co-chairman of the board’s railroad committee, said he was unaware of the situation involving the locomotive, but said he has “no reason to believe there’s anyone at the agency that is giving short shrift to safety.”

 Mary Parisen-Lavelle, chairwoman of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, a group that advocates for the use of environmentally friendly locomotives, said the railroad has, for years, dragged its feet when it comes to purchasing modern locomotives to meet its needs. She noted that the LIRR began the process of purchasing several new diesel locomotives to be used for freight transport five years ago, and still hasn’t awarded a contract.

“What you’re experiencing now with East Side Access is just one more example of the insular culture that they have. There’s no accountability to the public,” Parisen-Lavelle said. 

The $11.1 billion East Side Access megaproject, which aims to link the LIRR to Grand Central, has been under construction since 2007. After numerous delays, the MTA, in 2018, said the effort would be complete by 2022. But the opening of the station has been held up by an issue with the station’s ventilation system, according to MTA officials.

The agency has not set a new date for the expected opening.

The Long Island Rail Road does not have the equipment it would need to tow a disabled train out of the tunnels leading into its new Grand Central Madison station in the event of a power outage, the head of the LIRR recently confirmed.

Interim president Catherine Rinaldi said the issue would not impact the already-delayed launch of the railroad’s East Side Access service plan for Grand Central, and noted that the railroad has procedures in place to safely evacuate passengers.

Rinaldi confirmed that the railroad was without a diesel locomotive for the newly-bored tunnels to Grand Central that could tow away a disabled train — as the railroad has used for years inside the East River Tunnels connecting to Penn Station. She said during a tour of the new station last month the railroad was “in the process of procuring the rescue locomotive" and expected to put it out to bid early this year. 

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan on Wednesday said that the railroad has no plans for a formal procurement of a locomotive — a bidding process that could take years — but was looking into other ways to bolster its fleet of work trains that could be used for towing. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Long Island Rail Road does not have a "rescue locomotive" capable of towing a disabled train out of the new tunnels leading into and out of Grand Central Madison, according to the LIRR's interim president.
  • Diesel-powered engines are used to move disabled trains in certain circumstances, including if a train was unable to draw power from the third rail. If a train could not be moved to a station, passengers would be evacuated either onto another train or into the tunnels.
  • Although the LIRR has no formal plans to buy a locomotive, agency officials said they are looking for equipment that could address the issues involved in operating diesel locomotives in the tunnels, including their size, strength, and emissions.

MTA external relations chief John McCarthy said train technologies are being developed to address some of the issues involved in operating diesel locomotives in the tunnels, including their size, strength, and emissions.

Until the railroad secures the needed engine, Rinaldi said that in the event of a third rail power failure isolated to one track, the LIRR “could do a train-to-train transfer,” which would entail evacuating passengers from the disabled train to another train that would pull up beside it.

“You could just bring in another train” until the power returned and the train was able to move on its own, Rinaldi said.

If a train-to-train evacuation is not possible, the railroad’s published emergency evacuation procedures allows for passengers to “be evacuated to track level using evacuation ladders or the train’s lower-level platform stairs.”

Kevin Sexton, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 269, which represents LIRR train operators, said because the new station was built below existing Grand Central Terminal, a rescue locomotive would have to be powerful enough to tow a train while up a relatively steep grade.

Still, Sexton said he did not believe the lack of such a locomotive should be a cause for major concern among riders, because passengers could be safely evacuated.

“In a worst-case scenario, which is highly unlikely, everybody is still going to find a way out,” Sexton said. “I’m not overly concerned because passengers and crew members are not going to be trapped down there. There is always going to be a means of egress.”

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers — the union representing LIRR conductors — said he, too, was “confident that we’re going to have a safety protocol in place to protect both the passengers and the crews” until the railroad secures a new tow train.

But, Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 589, which represents LIRR electricians, said he believes “it is a problem.”

“When you get down there, you’re limited in what you can do. And if you can’t retrieve [a disabled train], what happens?” said Sanchez, who noted that third rail power failures, while relatively rare, do occur.

“It’s always hypothetical, until it happens,” added Sanchez, who believes the likelihood of power failures will be greater soon after Grand Central Madison opens. “That’s when you’re going to test the system, and that’s when something is going to go wrong, and you’re going to have to have a contingency plan in place.”

McCarthy noted that the LIRR has already been operating trains, without passengers, to and from Grand Central for months.

 Carl Berkowitz, a Moriches-based railroad safety expert, said it would be “a rare occasion” that the LIRR would have use for such a locomotive, which could run several million dollars.

“The costs could be astronomical,” Berkowitz said. “Everything is a concern. You want to be as safe as possible. But if they do their preventive maintenance, … they inspect their equipment on a regular basis, they check the track on a regular basis, they check the power and everything else, you should have zero defect.”

Samuel Chu, Suffolk County’s representative on the MTA Board and co-chairman of the board’s railroad committee, said he was unaware of the situation involving the locomotive, but said he has “no reason to believe there’s anyone at the agency that is giving short shrift to safety.”

 Mary Parisen-Lavelle, chairwoman of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions, a group that advocates for the use of environmentally friendly locomotives, said the railroad has, for years, dragged its feet when it comes to purchasing modern locomotives to meet its needs. She noted that the LIRR began the process of purchasing several new diesel locomotives to be used for freight transport five years ago, and still hasn’t awarded a contract.

“What you’re experiencing now with East Side Access is just one more example of the insular culture that they have. There’s no accountability to the public,” Parisen-Lavelle said. 

The $11.1 billion East Side Access megaproject, which aims to link the LIRR to Grand Central, has been under construction since 2007. After numerous delays, the MTA, in 2018, said the effort would be complete by 2022. But the opening of the station has been held up by an issue with the station’s ventilation system, according to MTA officials.

The agency has not set a new date for the expected opening.

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