Both the electric car starter and the mechanical movie camera, invented in 1912, replaced hand-cranked models.

Those first models have long been retired, unlike the concrete conduit and 750-volt cable, installed in 1912, that sparked a fire and service interruption at the Long Island Rail Road's Jamaica Hall Tower switching station last month.

The conduit degraded because of exposure to de-icers. Chemical- and salt-saturated water seeped in and acted as a conductor, allowing electricity to arc, melting insulation and wiring and sending a massive surge into the station.

Hundreds of cables melted, the switching system went down and tens of thousands of riders were stranded as trains were delayed and canceled for a week. The crisis cost the LIRR $2 million and commuters incalculable time and inconvenience.

A new switching system is nearly ready. However, renovation of the old conduits - part of the LIRR's 5-year capital plan - is planned but not funded. That fits a decades-long pattern of infrastructure neglect by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and political leadership that, regardless of party, has put expediency before prudent management.

Fixing a leaky roof costs money. A responsible owner does it because the cost of neglect is so much higher.

Albany and the MTA need to fund a capital plan that will allow it to provide safe and reliable service. It will be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as failing to do so. hN