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LIRR president praises crash response

Phillip Eng delivers comments at legislative public hearing in Mineola to cover a range of LIRR-related issues. The hearing had been scheduled before Tuesday's fatal crash in Westbury.

From left at the table, State Sens. Anna

From left at the table, State Sens. Anna Kaplan, Kevin Thomas, Monica Martinez, Timothy Kennedy, Leroy Comrie, Todd Kaminsky and John Brooks during a joint public hearing Friday in Mineola. The hearing was to examine the effectiveness of the state's transit networks. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

LIRR President Phillip Eng on Friday praised the workers who helped get trains running through the Westbury station by Wednesday's morning rush, within hours of the crash and derailment that killed three people, injured seven and damaged trains, track and a concrete platform.

“I cannot say enough to acknowledge and thank all of the outstanding effort displayed by the women and men of Long Island Rail Road along with our other partners including the emergency first responders, Red Cross and local leaders. The tireless work by our forces under extreme conditions were monumental in enabling us to safely restore service the next morning,” Eng said before a panel of state senators in the Nassau County legislative building in Mineola.

He added:  "Power, Track, Signal, Transportation, Service Planning, Maintenance of Equipment, Corporate Safety, Medical Examiner's Office, (Office of Emergency Management), and third-party environmentalist all banded together to make sure our forces had the right tools, strategy and support — a true testament to how we are collectively making timely decisions and managing resources differently.”

Eng’s comments were delivered in a room packed with legislators, local politicians and their aides, as well as members of the public. He and his aides testified before a legislative public hearing held jointly by the Senate's Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; Transportation; and the Environmental Conservation Committee. The hearing, to cover a range of LIRR-related issues, had been scheduled before Tuesday's fatal crash.

Despite Eng heaping praise on his employees for their efforts in restoring service after Tuesday’s accident, railroad union leader Anthony Simon, in his testimony, criticized railroad management for what he called a “communication breakdown” with its labor force. 

Simon, who was joined by the heads of 10 different railroad unions, harshly criticized the agency for spending millions on private consultants, while not providing its workers “the support and resources necessary to get the job done.” He said recent initiatives, including a mobile app that labor leaders have said will give riders more real-time information about service conditions than train crews have, were pushed along with no input from unions.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said Simon, pointing out that Eng and most other railroad managers didn’t stick around the hear his testimony. “Where are they? They left the building. That’s an insult.”

The fatal crash Tuesday was on the minds of both the legislators and the officials as several senators asked about the LIRR’s response to it. But Eng and his questioners raised a host of issues from financing — the LIRR’s parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, just approved a fare hike on Wednesday — to the status of big capital projects and technological tweaks that could make the system run better.

Eng said ridership has increased to its highest ever, adding that some 89.9 million people rode the LIRR last year. So, he said, the improvements and funding for them are necessary.

“It is a growing ridership,” he said. “We need to grow the system with the ridership.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he was concerned about the everyday nuisances that riders report — delayed and canceled trains — the frequent mishaps that are “making commuters miserable.”

Eng said switch improvements should make the commute more pleasant by cutting down on delays. He and Janno Lieber, chief development officer and president, MTA Capital Construction, said big initiatives like the Third Track project in Nassau and the Double Track project in Suffolk would allow the system to more easily accommodate expanding rider volume.

And State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) asked what was being done about safety at grade crossings like the one in Westbury where the fatal crash occurred Tuesday evening.

Eng said that as many as seven grade crossing already have been scheduled for removal — including the School Street crossing that was the site of Tuesday's accident — but that there are 296 of them Islandwide. He said the LIRR has installed reflective delineators and road striping on streets to better highlight the intersections for motorists and pedestrians.

State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) asked how responsive the LIRR was to disabled passengers, to which Eng said the railroad had unveiled LIRRCare, a service for customers with mobility limitations who need help boarding and exiting trains, a program that he said has served 1,100 people.

“We are accountable and we are challenging ourselves and the organization to continuously look for new ways to better use our resources to produce meaningful results,” Eng said. “And just as we are holding ourselves accountable, we are holding contractors, their subs, and suppliers accountable to make sure deadlines are met. We are managing with a sense of urgency, understanding that time is money.”

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